Home About Us EJournal EBooks Bibliographies Bible Proverbs Quotations Games Proverbium Paremia line Twitter

All that glitters is not gold.

Click here to see/listen to the equivalent proverb in:
rss 2.0
Send the proverb of the day to a friend
Daily Quote :
Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its use-value.
--Get Details
( Lyotard, Jean Francois | Knowledge )




Recent theoretical research on proverbs and proverbial expressions has been primarily linguistically oriented, emphasizing in particular structural and semiotic aspects of proverbs on a comparative basis. The Soviet linguist and folklorist Grigorii L'vovich Permiakov (1919-1983) published his now classic study Ot pogovorki do skazki in 1970 whose English translation with the title From Proverb to Folk-Tale from 1979 has had an invaluable influence on international paremiological scholarship. Matti Kuusi in Finland continues to work Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs (1972), and Alan Dundes' paper "On the Structure of the Proverb" (1975) as well as Shirley L. Arora's article on "The Perception of Proverbiality" (1984) belong to the solid foundation of modern paremiology. It must suffice to mention from among dozens of articles, dissertations, essay volumes and books1 only three additional studies, namely Zoltan Kanyo, Sprichwrter - Analyse einer Einfachen Form (1981), Peter Grzybek and Wolfgang Eismann (eds.), Semiotische Studien zum Sprichwort (1984), and Neal R. Norrick, How Proverbs Mean: Semantic Studies in English Proberbs (1985).

While these contributions represent major advances concerning the definition, language, structure and meaning of proverbs, they fail for the most part to consider two extremely important questions that go beyond purely linguistic aspects of proverbial texts. The one deals with the diachronic problem of traditionality, i.e. the fact that any text to qualify as a proverb must have (or have had) some currency for a period of time. Related to this is the synchronic question of frequency of occurrence or familiarity of a given text at a certain time. None of the dozens of proverb definitions can answer these questions, and yet any proverb must "prove" a certain traditionality and frequency in order to be considered verbal folklore.

As far as proverbs from past generations are concerned, questions as to their true proverbiality can be and have been ascertained by historical proverb dictionaries that amass references and variants for particular proverbs from written sources. Paremiographers around the world have assembled superb diachronic collections, the model being the massive collections of the Anglo-American language which Bartlett Jere Whiting (1968, 1977, 1989) has painstakingly put together. With the use of modern computers such historically oriented volumes will obviously continue to be published for various national languages, but this type of paremiographical work usually stops short of answering some extremely important questions: How about the proverbs right now? Which texts from former generations are still current today? What are the truly new proverbs of the modern age? How familiar are people with proverbs today, etc.?

These questions are not new, but they need to be addressed in a more scientific fashion using modern means of statistical research. The American sociologist William Albig (1931) was one of the first scholars to use demographic methods with proverbs. While his conclusion that proverbs have little use in complex cultures with rapid social change is not valid in light of newer research, he did include a list of the 13 most popular proverbs around 1930 based on the answers of 68 university students who were asked to list all the proverbs they could think of during a thirty minute period. A total of 1443 proverbs or 21.2 proverbs per student were written down. Of these 442 were different proverbs, and the most frequently cited proverb was "A stitch in time saves nine" with 47 of the 68 students referring to it. The following table shows the frequency for the top 13 proverbs (Albig 1931:532):

Times Mentioned / Proverb

47 A stitch in time saves nine.
40 A rolling stone gathers no moss.
39 A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
37 Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.
30 Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
27 Haste makes waste.
26 An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
23 All that glitters is not gold.
23 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
21 Laugh and the world laughs with you.
21 Birds of a feather flock together.
20 There's no fool like an old fool.
20 Make hay while the sun shines.

Eight years later yet another American sociologist, Read Bain (1939), reached quite similar results using almost twice the number of students. He asked 133 first year college students to write down all the proverbs they could. A total of 3654 proverbs or 27.5 texts per student were listed (Bain 1939:436, table 1). Unfortunately Bain did not cite any of the proverbs, but we may assume that they included those found by Albig to be known among American university students a few years earlier. What is of special interest is, however, that on the average students could only cite between 21.2 and 27.5 proverbs in the 1930s. Admittedly, the sample was relatively small, and we know today that it is difficult to quote proverbs out of context, but this number is nevertheless surprisingly low from a cultural literacy let alone a folkloric point of view.

Unfortunately this type of research was not expanded. It took some thirty years until the Soviet folklorist and paremiologist Isidor Levin (1968/69) called for detailed demographic research by paremiologists, especially if they wanted to reach conclusions about the national character or worldview of certain people via proverbs. He refers to a survey which a German Institute of Demography undertook in 1968 that included a list of 24 German proverbs, asking the informants to indicate whether they totally agree with their wisdom. The highest agreement of 69% fell on the proverb "Es ist nicht alles Gold, was glänzt" (All that glitters is not gold). "Reden ist Silber, Schweigen ist Gold" (Speech is silver, silence is gold) received 61%, "Gut Ding will Weile haben" (A good thing needs time, i.e. Haste makes waste) only 36%, etc. (Levin 1968:291). To Levin this showed that much more demographic research is needed about the popularity and acceptance of certain proverbs before they can be interpreted as indicators of commonly held attitudes. Levin's short two-part essay appeared in the international journal Proverbium, and it is surely for that reason that other paremiologists began to heed his advice.

The same journal published only one year later a minute but significant study by the Swedish folklorist Carl-Herman Tillhagen in which he discusses in three pages the proverb repertoire of a number of inhabitants of a small Swedish village in the 1930s. From his field research with informants he was able to conclude that a good elderly informant has knowledge of about 1000 proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons and other phraseological units. In an accompanying statistical table representing the frequency of the different genres of these fixed phrases Tillhagen shows that his informants vary in the knowledge of proverbs as such from a mere 21 texts all the way to 575 proverbs (Tillhagen 1970:539). Again it must be remembered that these texts were collected out of context, but this rural population of retirement age certainly "knew" its proverbs (an average of about 134 proverbs per informant) better than their American college counterparts.

It is to be assumed that these two articles influenced G.L. Permiakov as an ardent reader of and contributor to Proverbium to conduct a major paremiological experiment with the help of folklore students in Moscow. They presented 300 Muscovites with a large list of proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons and other types of fixed phrases. The informants were asked to mark those texts which they knew, and the result was that all informants were acquainted with about 1000 of the texts. Permiakov considered them to be the basic stock of fixed phrases among native Russian speakers, referring to the texts as a paremiological minimum in his short monograph on this experiment (Permiakov 1971). This was followed by a short summary statement "On the Paremiological Level and Paremiological Minimum of Language" in English in Proverbium (Permiakov 1973) that was not published in Russian until eleven years later (Permiakov 1984).[2] A list of 75 of the most frequent Russian proverbial comparisons also appeared in Proverbium (Permiakov 1975) to which Matti Kussi added an appendix of English, French and Finnish equivalents, showing that many of these common comparisons have general currency throughout Europe (Kuusi 1975). Permiakov's most complete essay on his idea of a paremiological minimum appeared in Russian in 1982, and its English translation by Kevin J. McKenna has recently been published with the title "On the Question of a Russian Paremiological Minimum" in the international yearbook Proverbium (Permiakov 1989).[3] Since the short English note from 1973 on the need for establishing paremiological minima for Russian and other languages in the old Proverbium journal did not draw the desired scholarly reaction, it is now hoped that this longer English essay in the new Proverbium will encourage scholars to begin working on the establishment of paremiological minima for other national languages.

Permiakov's aim of establishing the Russian paremiological minimum was anything but merely academic. He had definite pragmatic ideas in mind and discussed them in the publications mentioned above. On the one hand he was very interested in the lexicographical problem of getting the most frequent phraseological units into foreign language dictionaries, and on the other he was committed to the idea that the paremiological minimum was of important consequence in the instruction and learning of foreign languages.[4] Towards the end of his life he finished the manuscript for a small book which combines these two interests for 300 of the most well-known Russian proverbs and proverbial expressions. The book appeared with a splendid introduction and the 300 texts with variants and cultural notes posthumously in Russian as 300 obshcheupotrebitel'nykh russkikh poslovits i pogovorok (dlia govoriashchikh na nemetskom iazyke) (Permiakov 1985a). For German students studying Russian as a foreign language a German edition appeared in the same year (Permiakov 1985b),[5] and a Bulgarian edition came out one year later (Permiakov 1986). It was Permiakov's wish that this book would be translated into many other languages to help those studying the Russian language to gain the knowledge of the Russian paremiological minimum, to become proverbially literate in the foreign language as it were. Realizing the resurgence in studying Russian in the Anglo-American world it is indeed high time that an English version of this standard work be made available to students of Russian. As Permiakov would have argued, no speaker of a foreign language can hope to gain cultural literacy in the target language without the knowledge of its paremiological minimum.

Two friends of G.L. Permiakov are keeping his insistence on demographic research towards paremiological minima alive. Matti Kuusi in a short laudatory essay about Permiakov stressed the fact that he was the first to do systematic frequency analysis in order to establish the Russian paremiological minimum (Kuusi 1981). And the German linguist and paremiologist Peter Grzybek published a longer paper on Permiakov's accomplishments in this vein with the bilingual title "How to Do Things with Some Proverbs: Zur Frage eines parömischen Minimums" (Grzybek 1984:351-358). Three additional German papers (see Daniels 1985, Schellbach-Kopra 1987, and Ruef 1989) have also touched upon the importance of such paremiological or phraseological minima for foreign language instruction and dictionaries. But this is not to say that other scholars have not pursued questions of frequency and currency of proverbs in their societies using statistical rsearch methods. The American psychologist Stanley S. Marzolf, for example, presented 159 college students with a list of 55 "common sayings" (i.e. proverbs), asking them which of the texts were familiar to them. The proverb most frequently reported to be familar (by 87.4%) was "If at first you don't succeed try, try again". Next in familiarity were "Where there's a will there's a way" (73.0%) and "Actions speak louder than words" (69.2%). Unfortunately Marzolf did not include his list of proverbs, but if the above percentages seem already a bit alarming, then what follows indicates indeed a rather low familiarity with proverbs by American students: "Only 16 of the 55 sayings were familiar to more than 50%, 6 were familiar to less than 10%. 'Act in haste, repent at leisure' (6.3%) and 'One bad apple spoils the whole bushel' (5.0%) were least familiar" (Marzolf 1974:202).

Another psychological study used a standard psychological proverbs test to ascertain the familiarity which 278 Afro- American students had with its 40 proverbs.[6] The following table shows the five most familiar and most unfamiliar proverbs with percentages of respondents (Penn, Jacob and Brown 1988:852):

Five most familiar proverbs / Known by (%)

Where there's a will there's a way 90
Don't judge a book by its cover 89
Quickly come, quickly go 89
When the cat's away the mice will play 86
All's well that ends well 86

Five least familiar proverbs / Known by (%)

One swallow doesn't make a summer 12
A golden hammer breaks an iron door 14
The used key is always bright 15
The hot coal burns, the cold one blackens 17
The good is the enemy of the best 18

A larger familiarity test based on 203 "sayings" (i.e. proverbs) given to 50 students who were asked to rate the proverbs on a 7- point scale ranging from low familiarity (1, defined as "sayings that you have never heard or read") to high familiarity (7, defined as "sayings that you have heard or read many times") also showed that there was not one proverb very well known to all students while others, like "One swallow does not make a summer", have a very low level of familiarity. Listed here are the 15 most familiar and the 15 most unfamiliar texts with their average scores (Higbee and Millard 1983: 216-219):

Most familiar / mean value

Practice makes perfect 6.92
Better late than never 6.90
If at first you don't succeed, try, try, again 6.88
Like father, like son 6.84
A place for everything and everything in its place 6.76
Two wrongs do not make a right 6.76
Two's company, three's a crowd 6.72
Where there's a will, there's a way 6.72
All's well that ends well 6.70
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched 6.70
Easier said than done 6.70
Practice what you preach 6.70
An apple a day keeps the doctor away 6.68
You can't tell a book by its cover 6.68
A penny saved is a penny earned 6.64

Most unfamiliar / mean value

One swallow does not make a summer 1.22
Little pitchers have big ears 1.32
It's better to be right than president 1.44
Vows made in storms are forgotten in calms 1.50
It's an ill wind that blows nobody good 1.54
There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip 1.68
A drowning man will clutch at a straw 1.74
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts 1.78
Make haste slowly 1.78
Brevity is the soul of wit 1.82
Rats desert a sinking ship 1.90
He who pays the piper can call the tune 1.94
Hope springs eternal 2.00
Handsome is as handsome does 2.04
Make hay while the sun shines 2.06

These findings certainly show that some of the old proverbial stand-bys as "One swallow does not make a summer" and even "Make hay while the sun shines" have a surprisingly low familiarity level among today's college students. While it is perhaps understandable that such "literary" proverbs as "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts" or "Brevity is the soul of wit" are less known due to the steady decline of cultural literacy, it is amazing to see such "simple" proverbs as "Hope springs eternal" or "Handsome is as handsome does" to fall by the wayside. One thing is for sure - these small psychological tests on the familiarity of proverbs are clear indicators that some of the hitherto commonly known proverbs are definitely declining in popularity and currency. This in itself is nothing new. Proverbs have always come and gone with some of them hanging on steadily, but we appear to live in an age where even the paremiological minimum looks like it is shrinking.

But then again perhaps this is not happening as much as one might at first think. How about the new proverbs of our age that might be replacing some of the overused and outdated proverbs of times long passed? Have the psychologists listed such new 20th century proverbs as "Different strokes for different folks", "It takes two to tango", "A picture is worth a thousand words" or "Garbage in, garbage out"? Of course not, for they have for the most part simply compiled their lists of texts from standard proverb collections that contain plenty of items whose currency is to be questioned today. A German survey of the familiarity of modern slogans, graffiti and certain anti-proverbs by young students certainly revealed astonishingly high ratings for some of them. Even the English language slogan "Make love - not war!" reached a familiarity rating of 85% among young Germans, a clear sign that such sub-cultures have their own repertoire of very frequent fixed phrases (Zinnecker 1981). The fact that the above-mentioned familiarity tests by psychologists were based on only a limited sample of young college students renders them somewhat invalid as far as the actual familiarity of proverbs is concerned among a cross section, both in education and age, of the American population. There is no doubt in my mind that the familiarity ratings of some of the standard proverbs used in these psychological tests would be considerably higher if they would be addressed to the total spectrum of American society.

There exists a fascinating study of 198 pages by the German pollster company Intermarket (Dºsseldorf) that reports in dozens of statistical tables about the familiarity and use of proverbs by 404 informants (203 males, 201 females) of all walks of life, ages and professions (Hattemer and Scheuch 1983). It was based on a large questionnaire that contained 27 questions, among them "Which proverb do you use quite frequently?", "How often do you use proverbs?", "What kind of people use proverbs a lot?", "When do you use proverbs in particular?", "Do proverbs help to cope with certain difficult situations?", "Do proverbs contain a lot of practical wisdom?", "Do you think that men or women use more proverbs?", "How did you learn most of your proverbs?", "What is the educational level of people who use a lot of proverbs?", etc. (see Mieder 1985 and 1989c:189-194 for a detailed analysis of this unpublished study). Permiakov's pioneering paremiological experiment didn't include such questions, but this German study contains truly invaluable statistical information concerning the attitude towards, familiarity with and use of proverbs by native speakers of a modern technological society. Of interest for the discussion at hand are the responses to the first question: "Which proverb do you use quite frequently?" Of the 404 subjects 363 answered this question. The answers contained 167 different proverbs, of which 114 texts were mentioned only once, while the other 53 texts were recorded between 2 and 26 times for a total of 249 citations. The most frequent and by implication the most popular German proverb was "Morgenstund hat Gold im Mund" (The morning hour has gold in the mouth, i.e. The early bird catches the worm) with 26 informants citing it as their most commonly used proverb.7 Next comes the Biblical proverb "Wer andern eine Grube gr§bt, f§llt selbst hinein" (He who digs a pit for others falls in himself) with 21 references, followed by 16 recordings of "Zeit ist Geld" (Time is money). These three texts are then the most popular German proverbs, and they certainly belong to the German paremiological minimum (all the texts are listed on pp. 161-175). What is now needed is that a team of scholars from such disciplines as folklore, linguistics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, paremiology and demography works out an even more elaborate questionnaire to be used with several thousand German citizens. The result of such an integrated study would in turn give us a very precise idea of how proverbs are used and viewed today and which proverbs belong to the German paremiological minimum, or any other nationality for that matter. Once such national paremiological minima are established, we will also be able to determine the most frequently used international proverb types through comparative proverb collections (see Kuusi 1985:22-28). Such work will eventually lead to an international paremiological minimum of the world's proverbial wisdom.

Much work is required before this scholarly dream becomes reality. After all, we are only at the very early stages of establishing paremiological minima for some national languages. Returning to the Anglo-American scene for the final pages of this essay, it must be stated that the few psychological studies already mentioned represent but a meager beginning. Their purpose never was to establish a paremiological minimum, and in order to accomplish that task major cross cultural demographic research will be necessary. But what can be said today at least speculatively about the Anglo-American paremiological minimum? Ever since E.D. Hirsch published his best-selling book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987) educators, intellectuals and citizens at large have in fact been discussing a kind of minimum of cultural knowledge for the average educated person. With the help of Joseph Kett and James Trefil the author added a controversial appendix of "What Literate Americans Know: A Preliminary List" (pp. 146-215). Among this list are plenty of references to folklore in general and to proverbs in particular. Just under the letter "A" alone appear the proverbs "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". "Actions speak louder than words", "All roads lead to Rome", "All's fair in love and war", "All's well that ends well", "All that glitters is not gold", "Any port in a storm", "April showers bring May flowers", "As you make your bed so must you lie in it" (pp. 152-156). In other words, proverbs figure prominently in what Hirsch and his co-authors consider to be part of American cultural literacy. In the meantime the three authors have published their massive annotated Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1988) which after chapters on "The Bible" and "Mythology and Folklore" contains as the third chapter a major list of approximately 265 "Proverbs" (pp. 46-47). Hirsch takes credit for this chapter at the end of a short introduction (p. 46) which unfortunately does not give away the secret of how he came up with this list of Anglo-American proverbs which every American should know. He also is not sure about the difference between a proverb and a proverbial expression. Thus his "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water" (p. 56) would surely be better placed into the following chapter on "Idioms" (pp. 58-80) which contains numerous proverbial expressions like "To throw out the baby with the bath water". Every paremiologist would obviously disagree with Hirsch for including "Carpe diem" (p. 48) or "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" (p. 57) in a chapter on proverbs. Another problem is, of course, the alphabetical arrangement of the texts according to the first significant word which is rather arbitrary to say the least. Hirsch might have been much more consistent by alphabetizing his texts by the subject nouns of the proverbs. But leaving these quibbles aside, the fundamental criticism is the fact that Hirsch does not state how he came up with his list. In the introduction to the entire book it is merely stated that entries were tested "to determine how widely known an item is in our culture. Only those items that are likely to be known by a broad majority of literate Americans ought to appear in this dictionary. Therefore, in selecting entries, we drew upon a wide range of national periodicals. We reasoned that if a major daily newspaper refers to an event, person, or thing without defining it, we assume that the majority of the readers of that periodical will know what that item is. If this is true, that event, person, or thing is probably part of our common knowledge, and therefore part of our cultural literacy" (p. IX). Perhaps proverbs fall under "things" in this statement, but I doubt that Hirsch got all of these texts out of newspapers or magazines. Besides, this statement says nothing about the general frequency of appearance that was necessary for any item to have been included in this dictionary. It is my feeling that a dictionary of cultural literacy ought to be based on frequency analyses. In any case, Hirsch most likely gleaned his list from one or more of the standard Anglo-American proverb dictionaries and perhaps discussed a somewhat longer list with friends and colleagues before deciding on these particular texts. Realizing that no studies on the Anglo-American paremiological minimum exist, Hirsch really had not much of a choice but to compile this "unscientific" list.

Lest my statements seem too harsh, permit me to admit that I was faced with very much the same problem at the same time that Hirsch worked on his proverb list. I had been asked by the Philipp Reclam publishing house in West Germany to put together a collection of English Proverbs (1988) and was given enough space to include 1200 texts with English-German vocabulary and some annotations at the bottom of each page. How else was I to come up with these 1200 texts but to go to some of the historical English and Anglo-American proverb collections and letting my scholarly knowledge of proverbs together with my subjective feeling be the guide to decide whether any given text had enough currency (frequency, traditionality, familiarity, etc.) to be included. And my task was to a certain degree easier than Hirsch's for my chance to include most of the texts of a paremiological minimum of let's say 300 proverbs (to match that established by Permiakov for the Russian language) was far better than that of Hirsch and his much shorter list. I stuck out my proverbial neck at times and marked some proverbs in the notes as being particularly "popular", but I remember a certain scholarly unease since I was not really basing this judgment on demographic research (see my introduction pp. 3-19).

So much for scholarly honesty - were I today in a position of having to reduce my list of 1200 proverbs to Permiakov's 300 or even Hirsch's 265 texts, and were I to be restricted to listing texts that have proven familiarity among Anglo-American speakers of the 20th century, I would now be able to enlist Bartlett Jere Whiting's large new collection of Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (1989). This book contains 5567 main entries based on the proverbial materials which the avid reader Whiting discovered in over 6000 books and countless magazines and newspapers published in this century. Of special importance is that these publications range from serious literary works to mysteries and even light reading that represent a true cross section of written communication in the 20th century of the Anglo-American world. Under each entry the proverbs and their many variants are listed in chronological order, some entries of the more popular proverbs amounting to short monographs of references. Those entries with the most texts obviously also represent the proverbs with high frequency and they belong by implication to the paremiological minimum of the Anglo-American language. What follows is a list of such high frequency proverbs having key-words that start with the letters A, B or C and listing 13 or more references:[8]

Whiting's number / proverb text / number of references

C257 Every Cloud has a silver lining 28
B229 A Bird in the hand is worth two in the bush 26
B291 Blood is thicker than water 24
B236 The early Bird catches the worm 23
C164 Chickens come home to roost 22
B136 One had made his Bed and must lie on it 21
C11 One cannot have his Cake and eat it 21
C141 Charity begins at home 21
C318 Too many Cooks spoil the broth 21
C236 Cleanliness is next to godliness 20
A99 Appearances are deceitful 19
B235 Birds of a feather flock together 19
C42 Unlucky at Cards, lucky in love 19
B432 New Brooms sweep clean 18
C302 Easy Come, easy go 18
C404 Crime does not pay 17
B135 Early to Bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise 16
C115 When the Cat's away the mice will play 16
B234 The Bird that fouls its own nest 15
B488 Business before pleasure 15
C180 Children should be seen and not heard 15
C275 Let the Cobbler stick to his last 15
C318 Confession is good for the soul 15
C360 The Course of true love never did run smoothly 15
C449 Curiosity killed the cat 15
C82 A Cat has nine lives 14
A12 Absence makes the heart grow fonder 13
A110 One rotten Apple can spoil the whole barrel 13
B162 Beggars cannot be choosers 13
B206 The Bigger they are, the harder they fall 13
B525 Let Bygones be bygones 13
C175 The Child is father to the man 13
C218 Circumstances alter cases 13

Both Hirsch and I missed "Crime does not pay"; I also somehow failed to register "Let bygones be bygones"; and Hirsch also does not include "Charity begins at home", "Appearances are deceitful", "Unlucky at cards, lucky in love", "The bird that fouls its own nest", and "Children should be seen and not heard". Alas, Whiting is not fool-proof either. It is amazing that he did not come across the American proverb "One picture is worth a thousand words" which originated in 1921 (see Mieder 1989b) and which both Hirsch and I have included in our lists. And how about the quite modern, but nevertheless very common, American proverb "Different strokes for different folks" that was coined in the South around 1950? Neither Whiting nor Hirsch have registered it - I was lucky since at the time of putting my 1200 texts together I had just completed a chapter on this particular proverb in my book American Proverbs: A Study of Texts and Contexts (1989a:317-332).

What this short comparison of Hirsch, Whiting and Mieder has shown is, of course, that the study of the larger idea of cultural literacy and the narrower concept of a paremiological minimum of any group of people must be based on scientific demographic research. Especially for the Anglo-American language it is of utmost importance that today's paremiological minimum of native speakers be ascertained through a widely distributed questionnnaire. While such a study has its obvious benefits for national and international paremiographers and paremiologists, it will also assure that the most frequently used proverbs of the modern age will be included in foreign language dictionaries and textbooks. This in turn will enable new immigrants and foreign visitors to communicate effectively with Anglo-American native speakers. Proverbs continue to be effective verbal devices and culturally literate persons, both native and foreign, must have a certain paremiological minimum at their disposal in order to participate in meaningful oral and written communication.


*Previously published in Mieder (ed.) Wise Words. Essays on the Proverb, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1994, pp. 297-316

1 For additional bibliographical references see my international proverb bibliographies (Mieder 1982 and 1984ff.).

2 The Russian title of this short paper is "O paremiologicheskom urovne iazyka i russkom paremiologicheskom minimume". It has recently been reprinted (Permiakov 1988:143-144).

3 A shortened version of the Russian text with the same title has been reprinted twice (Permiakov 1984:265-268, and Permiakov 1988:145-149).

4 A colleague of Permiakov, A. Barulin, also delivered a lecture in 1973 in Varna (Bulgaria) with the title "Russkii paremiologicheskii minimum i ego rol' prepodavanii russkogo iazyka" of which a summary has subsequently been published (see Permiakov 1984:264-265). Following Permiakov, Barulin stresses the importance of teaching proverbs, proverbial expressions and other phraseological units to students studying Russian as a foreign language. He refers to Permiakov's paremiological minimum of about 1000 texts and argues that the learning and active oral and written use of proverbial materials should be part of all foreign language instruction.

5 It should be noted that A.M. Bushui from Samarkand quite independently from G.L. Permiakov published an article in 1979 on the minimum of German proverbs that should be part of the curriculum of secondary schools in the Soviet Union. The major part of the article (pp. 9-28) presents a bilingual list of German proverbs in alphabetical order according to the first word with Russian translations. Comments on the frequency and linguistic level of these proverbs as well as important considerations for the teaching of folk speech in foreign language classes are included.

6 For a review of the use of proverbs tests in psychological testing see Mieder 1978.

7 For a discussion of this German proverb see Mieder 1983:105-112.

8 I thank Janet Sobieski for her help in putting together these statistics by counting the references in Whiting's collection.

References cited:

Albig, William
1931 Proverbs and Social Control. Sociology and Social Research 15:527-535.

Arora, Shirley L.
1984 The Perception of Proverbiality. Proverbium 1:1-38.

Bain, Read
1939 Verbal Stereotypes and Social Control. Sociology and Social Research 23:431-446.

Bushui, A.M.
1979 Paremiologicheskii minimum po nemetskomu iazyku dlia srednei shkoly. In Kh.M. Ikramova, ed., Problemy metodiki prepodavaniia razlichnykh distsiplin v shkole i vuze. Samarkand: Samarkandskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, pp. 4-28.

Daniels, Karlheinz
1985 "Idiomatische Kompetenz" in der Zielsprache Deutsch. Voraussetzungen, Mglichkeiten, Folgerungen. Wirkendes Wort 35:145-157.

Dundes, Alan
1975 On the Structure of the Proverb. Proverbium 25:961-973.

Grzybek, Peter, and Wolfgang Eismann, eds.
1984 Semiotische Studien zum Sprichwort. Simple Forms Reconsidered I. Tºbingen: Gunter Narr.

Hattemer, K., and E.K. Scheuch
1983 Sprichwrter: Einstellung und Verwendung. Dºsseldorf: Intermarket. Gesellschaft fºr internationale Markt- und Meinungsforschung.

Higbee, Kenneth L., and Richard J. Millard
1983 Visual Imagery and Familiarity Ratings for 203 Sayings. American Journal of Psychology 96:211-222.

Hirsch, E.D.
1987 Cultural Literacy. What Every American Needs to Know. With an Appendix "What Literate Americans Know" by E.D. Hirsch, Joseph Kett, and James Trefil. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Hirsch, E.D., Joseph Kett, and James Trefil
1988 The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Kanyo, Zoltan
1981 Sprichwrter - Analyse einer Einfachen Form. Ein Beitrag zur generativen Poetik. The Hague: Mouton.

Kuusi, Matti
1972 Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia. Reprinted in Proverbium 19 (1972):699-736.

Kuusi, Matti
1975 Nachtrag [to Permiakov: 75 naibolee ...]. Proverbium 25:975-978.

Kuusi, Matti
1981 Zur Frequenzanalyse. Proverbium Paratum 2:119-120.

Kuusi, Matti
1985 Proverbia septentrionalia. 900 Balto-Finnic Proverb Types with Russian, Baltic, German and Scandinavian Parallels. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.

Levin, Isidor
1968/69 úberlegungen zur demoskopischen Parmiologie. Proverbium 11:289-293 and 13:361-366.

Marzolf, Stanley S.
1974 Common Sayings and 16PF [Personality Factor] Traits. Journal of Clinical Psychology 30:202-204.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1978 The Use of Proverbs in Psychological Testing. Journal of the Folklore Institute 15:45-55.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1982 International Proverb Scholarship: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1983 Deutsche Sprichwrter in Literatur, Politik, Presse und Werbung. Hamburg: Helmut Buske.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1984ff International Proverb Scholarship: An Updated Bibliography. Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship 1ff.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1985 Neues zur demoskopischen Sprichwrterkunde. Proverbium 2:307-328.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1988 English Proverbs. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1989a American Proverbs: A Study of Texts and Contexts. Bern: Peter Lang.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1989b "Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Worte": Ursprung und úberlieferung eines amerikanischen Lehnsprichworts. Proverbium 6:25-37.

Mieder, Wolfgang
1989c Moderne Sprichwrterforschung zwischen Mºndlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit. In Lutz Rhrich and Erika Lindig, eds., Volksdichtung zwischen Mºndlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit. Tºbingen: Gunter Narr, pp. 187-208.

Norrick, Neal R.
1985 How Proverbs Mean: Semantic Studies in English Proverbs. Amsterdam: Mouton.

Penn, Nolan E., Teresa C. Jacob, and Malrie Brown
1988 Familiarity with Proverbs and Performance of a Black Population on Gorham's Proverbs Test. Perceptual and Motor Skills 66:847-854.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1970 Ot pogovorki do skazki (Zametki po obschei teorii klishe). Moskva: Nauka. English translation by Y.N. Filippov, From Proverb to Folk-Tale. Notes on the General Theory of Clich(c). Moscow: Nauka, 1979.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1971 Paremiologicheskii eksperiment. Materialy dlia paremiologicheskogo minimuma. Moskva: Nauka.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1973 On the Paremiological Level and Paremiological Minimum of Language. Proverbium 22:862-863.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1975 75 naibolee upotrebitel'nykh russkikh sravnimel'nykh oboromov. Proverbium 25:974-975.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1979 From Proverb to Folk-Tale. Notes on the General Theory of Clich(c). Translated by Y.N. Filippov. Moscow: Nauka.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1982 K voprosu o russkom paremiologicheskom minimume. In E.M. Vereshchagina, ed., Slovari i lingvostranovedenie. Moskva: Russkii iazyk, pp. 131-137. English translation by Kevin J. McKenna, On the Question of a Russian Paremiological Minimum, in Proverbium 6 (1989), 91-102.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich, ed.
1984 Paremiologicheskie issledovaniia. Sbornik statei. Moskva: Nauka.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1985a 300 obshcheupotrebitel'nykh russkikh poslovits i pogovorok (dlia govoriashchikh na nemetskom iazyke). Moskva: Nauka.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1985b 300 allgemeingebr§uchliche russische Sprichwrter und sprichwrtliche Redensarten. Ein illustriertes Nachschlagewerk fºr Deutschsprechende. Leipzig: VEB Verlag Enzyklop§die.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1986 300 obshcheupotrebitel'nykh russkikh poslovits i pogovorok (dlia govoriashchikh na bolgarskom iazyke). Sofiia: Narodna prosveta.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1988 Osnovy strukturnoi paremiologii. Ed. by I.L. Elevich. Moskva: Nauka.

Permiakov, Grigorii L'vovich
1989 On the Question of a Russian Paremiological Minimum. Translated by Kevin J. McKenna. Proverbium 6:91-102.

Ruef, Hans
1989 Zusatzsprichwrter und das Problem des Parmischen Minimums. In Gertrud Gr(c)ciano, ed., Europhras 88. Phras(c)ologie contrastive. Actes du Colloque International Klingenthal - Strasbourg, 12-16 mai 1988. Strasbourg: Universit(c) des Sciences Humaines, D(c)partement d'Etudes Allemandes, pp. 379-385.

Schellbach-Kopra, Ingrid
1987 Parmisches Minimum und Phraseodidaktik im finnisch-deutschen Bereich. In Jarmo Korhonen, ed., Beitr§ge zur allgemeinen und germanistischen Phraseologieforschung. Oulu: Oulun Yliopisto, pp. 245-255.

Tillhagen, Carl-Herman
1970 Die Sprichwrterfrequenz in einigen nordschwedischen Drfern. Proverbium 15:538-540.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere
1968 Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere
1977 Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere
1989 Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Zinnecker, Jºrgen
1981 Wandsprºche. In Arthur Fischer, ed., Jugend '81. Lebensentwºrfe, Alltagskulturen, Zukunftsbilder. Hamburg: Jugendwerk der Deutschen Shell, vol. 1, pp. 430-476.

Wolfgang Mieder
Department of German and Russian
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont 05405

Articles | Books | Bibliographies | Bible Proverbs
Copyright © 1995-2017 De Proverbio. All rights reserved.
The banner illustration is a fragment of Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Netherlandish Proverbs", 1559