Sprinkle your Conversations with Proverbs

Rick Broadaway

One way to make your conversations more interesting is to use a proverb now and then. Some people love to collect proverbs like they would stamps or seashells, slowly building their collection over many years. Naturally, a proverb must be memorized, but after it is firmly in your repertoire, it can be fun to wait for the right occasion – then, when the time is ripe, take out your pearl of wisdom and show it to everyone.

In my native country, the United States, one of the greatest sources of proverbs was a book (printed annually between 1732 and 1757) called Poor Richard’s Almanac, written by Benjamin Franklin. Many of his pithy sayings have become part of the common language of all Americans. Here are a few of the more famous ones:

  • God helps them that help themselves
  • Necessity never made a good bargain
  • Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other.
  • Little strokes fell great oaks.
  • Never leave that till to-morrow which you can do to-day.
  • Snug as a bug in a rug.

Shakespeare is another important source of proverbs in the English language. One dialogue in particular, appearing in Act 1, Scene 3 of Hamlet, contains a wealth of aphorisms. These lines are spoken by the character Polonius to his son Laertes.

  • Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice.
  • The apparel oft proclaims the man.
  • Neither a borrower, nor a lender be
  • This above all: to thine own self be true

Try learning a few proverbs. Here are some helpful links to get you started. However, I do have one word of warning: it is best to remember that, with proverbs (as with most things in life), “all good things in moderation.”

In English
Commonly-used Proverbs – contains fun quizzes and puzzles about proverbs
English Proverbs and Proverb Humor – five kinds of proverbs: traditional, contrary, anti-, silicon, and new proverbs
In Japanese
『英語のことわざ教訓辞典』 – organizes proverbs by categories of meaning
Proverb of this Month – personal homepage of Misty Kobayashi, offering proverbs with Japanese translations as well as simple explanations in English.

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