I came across a great website recently. Its focus was on proverbs – you know what a proverb is, don’t you? It’s that short, pithy saying that expresses a traditionally held truth or piece of advice, based on common sense or experience. The website is at: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/proverbs.html
According to the site, nothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language, and the element of language that best encapsulates a society’s values and beliefs is its proverbs.
No collection of proverbs in English would be complete without the proverbs collected and published by the Tudor courtier John Heywood. Just in case you’ve never heard of him, or perhaps forgotten who he was, he was born (probably in Coventry) in 1497. He was best known for his plays, poems, and collection of proverbs. He was also active as a musician and composer, though no musical works survive. Although he was a devout Catholic, he nevertheless served as a royal servant to both the Catholic and Protestant regimes of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
The website provides a list of most of the commonly used English proverbs, with links to the meaning and origin of many of them. Here are some to whet your appetite or grey cells (just click on the links below for an explanation):
- A bad penny always turns up
- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush
- A cat may look at a king
- A chain is only as strong as its weakest link
- A change is as good as a rest
- A dog is a man’s best friend
- A drowning man will clutch at a straw
- A fish always rots from the head down
- A fool and his money are soon parted
- A friend in need is a friend indeed
- A golden key can open any door
If you want to explore further, the website has proverbs in their hundreds…