A Dictionary of American Proverbs

A Dictionary of American Proverbs

A Dictionary of American Proverbs

A Dictionary of American Proverbs


A Dictionary of American Proverbs is a treasury of more than 15,000 sayings, adages, and maxims commonly used in popular speech in the United States and Canada. As the first major collection of proverbs in the English language based on oral sources rather than written sources, it includes thousands of uniquely American proverbs that have never before been recorded as well as many thousands of traditional sayings that have found their way into American speech from classical, biblical, British, continental European, and American literature. This unparalleled collection will delight the general reader as well as the specialist. Collected here are nuggets of popular wisdom on all aspects of American life: weather, agriculture, geography, travel, money, business, food, neighbors, friends, manners, government, politics, law, health, education, religion, music, song, and dance. Field work on the Dictionary was conducted over thirty years under the direction of the Committee on Proverbial Sayings of the American Dialect Society and resulted in 15,000 records of proverbial texts which have been edited for this collection. The result is an invaluable reference for general readers and students, as well as cultural historians, folklorists, linguists, anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of literature.


A Dictionary of American Proverbs is a comprehensive record of proverbs collected during field research that took place in the contiguous United States and parts of Canada, especially Ontario and the Maritime Provinces. It is the first major proverb compilation in the English language based on actual field research, a painstaking collecting endeavor that was carried out by dozens of scholars under the direction of Margaret M. Bryant, to whom this dictionary is respectfully dedicated. As chairperson of the Committee on Proverbial Sayings of the American Dialect Society from 1945 to 1985, she mobilized her colleagues throughout North America to collect approximately 150,000 citation slips of proverbial texts from the 1940s to the end of the 1970s. Her classic monograph, Proverbs and How to Collect Them (Greensboro, N.C.: American Dialect Society, 1945), established the guidelines for this massive collecting task. She also wrote short essays for regional language and folklore journals that encouraged people to collect proverbs in oral use. (See the Bibliography at the end of this volume.)

It took forty years of active collecting to complete this extensive project, which yielded almost 150,000 citation slips of proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons, superstitions, weather signs, and wellerisms, and yet another ten years to sort and edit the approximately 75,000 citation slips containing true proverbs. Not counting the many duplicates, this dictionary includes about 15,000 proverbs and their variants in actual use in American speech.

Close to fifty years of work have gone into this elaborate project. In the meantime, Margaret M. Bryant has reached the venerable age of ninety, as can be seen from her recently published autobiography, A Story of Achievement (Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1990). May this proverb dictionary be a very special gift to her on her ninety-first birthday on 3 December 1991. She was the impetus and driving force behind this extraordinary project, and we as editors consider it a privilege and honor to have brought her work to fruition.

We thank the following scholars of American language and folklore, who assisted in amassing this unique collection: Owen S. Adams, Harold B. Allen, Frances M. Barbour, Mac E. Barrick, Ernest W. Baughman, F. W. Bradley, Frederic G. Cassidy, L. W. Collins, Ernest R. Cox, Levette Davidson, Audrey Duckert, Byrd H. Granger, Herbert Halpert, Wayland D. Hand, Muriel J. Hughes, Thelma G. James . . .

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