Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics

Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics

Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics

Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics

Synopsis

Wolfgang Mieder, widely considered the world's greatest proverb scholar, here considers the role of proverbial speech on the American political stage from the Revolutionary War to the present. He begins his survey by discussing the origins and characteristics American proverbs and their spread across the globe hand in hand with America's international political role. He then looks at the history of the defining proverb of American democracy, "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Subsequent essays consider such matters as Abigail Adams's masterful use of politically charged proverbs; the conversion of the biblical proverb "a house divided against itself cannot stand" into a political expression; Frederick Douglass's proverbial prowess in the battle against racial injustice; how United States presidents have employed proverbial speech in their inaugural addresses; and the proverbial language in the World War II correspondence between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, which sharpened their communication and helped forge bonds of cooperation. Mieder concludes with an insightful, relevant examination of the significance of the ambiguous proverb "good fences make good neighbors."

Excerpt

Several years ago my book on The Politics of Proverbs: From Traditional Wisdom to Proverbial Stereotypes (1997) appeared in print, and I was deeply honored when it was selected for the Giuseppe Pitrè International Folklore Prize. This award most assuredly encouraged me to continue my work on the use and function of proverbial wisdom in political rhetoric, resulting in such books as The Proverbial Abraham Lincoln (2000) and “Call a Spade a Spade”: From Classical Phrase to Racial Slur (2002). It is indeed with much pleasure that I can now present eight additional studies on various aspects of the political employment of proverbial language under the collective title of Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics. While my earlier book contained chapters on Adolf Hitler’s, Winston S. Churchill’s, and Harry S. Truman’s authoritative and effective manipulation of proverbs, the proverbial discourse of the Cold War, and the origin, history, and meaning of the two proverbial slurs “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and “No tickee, no washee,” the present volume is focused on the American political scene ranging from early revolutionary times to the present day. It thus represents a survey of the obvious predominance of proverbs in American political discourse.

The first chapter on “‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’: American Proverbs as an International, National, and Global Phenomenon” serves as an introductory analysis of what characterizes American proverbs. It is shown that many of the proverbs current in the United States have their origin in classical times, the Bible, and the Middle Ages. As such, they were translated into many languages over the centuries, making up a common stock of proverbial wisdom in large parts of the world. of course, new proverbs were also coined in the United States with some of them having only a regional distribution while others belong to the basic set of commonly known American proverbs with a national dissemination. With the important political and cultural role of the United States and its version of the English language in the world today, both sets of proverbs, the international and national texts, have now a significant global influence. With English being . . .

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