Proverbs have been well defined thus: "Short sentences founded on long experience". They are brief, pithy sayings condensing in a witty or striking form the wisdom of experience. Most of them are anonymous; and many are very old, having been handed down by word of mouth from father to son for generations. Being short and striking, they are easily remembered.
The use of rhyme (or of assonance) and alliteration helps to make a proverb easy to remember. For example: "Birds of a feather flock together"; "Well begun is half done"; "No pains, no gains"; "A friend in need is a friend indeed"; "A stitch in time saves nine". Alliteration helps in these: "Waste not, wants not"; "Look before you leap'; "Where there's a will, there's a way"; "Out of debt, out of danger".
Proverbs are noted for their terseness. They express a lot of meaning in a very few words. They are bits of potted experience, or worldly wisdom in tabloid form. A wise Frenchman said, "Nobody is so weak but he is strong enough to bear misfortunes he does not feel" (16 words); but the same thought is compressed into nine words in the Russian proverb: "The burden is light on the shoulders of another".
As examples of terseness, consider these also: "Forewarned is forearmed"; "Least said, soonest mended" "All's well that ends well"; "Look before you leap"; "Barking dogs seldom bite"; "Early sow, early mow".
Some proverbs disagree; or rather, they express opposite lessons of experience. For example: "Too many cooks spoil the broth", "Many hands make light work"; "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", "Out of sight, out of mind"; "Fine feathers make fine birds", "Fine clothes do not make a gentle-man"; "Appearances are deceitful", "Apparel oft proclaims the man"; "You can't teach an old dog new tricks", "It is never too late to learn"; "Fine words butter no partner-ships", "Honey catches more flies than vinegar".
All nations have their own proverbs. There is a big collection of ancient Hebrew proverbs in the Bible, which can be read in the English version. Here are a few: "A soft tongue breaketh the bone"; "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel"; "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick"; "Pride goeth before destruction"; "The sluggard saith, 'There is a lion in the streets'; 'The wicked flee when no man pursueth'".
The Chinese say; "When fortune smiles, who doesn't? When fortune doesn't who does? ; Those who speak do not know; those who know do not speak"; "Don't throw your hook where there are no fish"; "Bow low when the eaves are low". The Tartars have two striking sayings. "At the torch's foot there is darkness"; and "Ask the neighbouring village what is happening in your own."
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