A Dictionary of American Proverbs

By Wolfgang Mieder; Stewart A. Kingsbury et al. | Go to book overview
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The title of this dictionary quite naturally leads to the question of what makes a proverb particularly "American." Even a cursory glance through the following pages will show that such internationally disseminated proverbs as One hand washes the other and Time flies are included. The same is true for such Biblical proverbs as Man does not live by bread alone ( Deuteronomy 8.3; Matthew 4.4) and The love of money is the root of all evil ( 1 Timothy 6. 10), which are current in many languages and cultures. And there are, of course, many proverbs in this collection that are of British origin, being registered for the first time in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and other British authors.For all such proverbs, whether international, Biblical, or British, it must be kept in mind that, while they are not of American origin, they are certainly in common use in North America. They are thus "American" proverbs in that the population uses them frequently as concisely expressed, traditional bits of wisdom. As such, they surely belong in a dictionary of American proverbs. Historically, many of the proverbs in this collection appear in British sources dating as far back as the Middle Ages as well as in the seventeenth-century writings of early English-speaking settlers of North America.Yet, a mere second glance into this dictionary reveals many proverbs that are recorded only in American literary sources. Early examples are the proverbs attributed to Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson that have, over time, become traditional. While many of the American proverbs that appear herein are also registered in earlier historical collections of proverbs from written sources, there are literally thousands of proverbs and their variants listed in this dictionary that have never been recorded before. The six proverbs listed under the headword car serve as a clear example of this fact:
1. A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.
2. Don't count your new cars before they're built.
3. If in the car you like to court, change your car to a davenport.
4. If you can't drive your car, park it.
5. It's the empty car that makes the most noise.
6. You can't judge a car by its paint job.


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A Dictionary of American Proverbs


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