In an article entitled "On Whether
Weather 'Proverbs' Are Proverbs," originally published in Proverbium (1 , 39-46), Alan Dundes
takes the position that sayings concerning weather are not
proverbs but superstitions--rhymed or otherwise--and have no
legitimate place in proverb collections.
Dundes' article has been recently
reprinted in his volume entitled Folklore Matters (Knoxville: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), pp.
92-97. For all citations, page references are supplied for
both the original article and the reprint, e.g., "p. 39/92."
He maintains that:
What has tended to confuse
folklorists is that whereas superstitions are more often
than not free phrase, weather superstitions frequently
occur in rhymed fixed-phrase form. In other words, they
are superstitions with the textural features of proverbs
(and riddles). (p. 40/93)
Dundes goes on to suggest (p. 42/94)
that certain texts "can serve as either superstitions or
proverbs," giving as examples the English "Lightning never
strikes twice in the same place" and "One swallow does not
make a summer" (p. 43-4/94-5); but he insists that "weather
sayings to the extent that they are literal fall under the
generic rubric of superstition." He then
With similar reasoning, I
would argue that most of what proverb scholars have
referred to as 'medical proverbs'. . . are simply rhymed
folk medical superstitions. . . .Finally, I do not really
believe that the folk consider weather and medical rules
as proverbs. It is rather the folklorists who have
wrongly constructed such erroneous classificatory
categories. To the original question raised: Are weather
proverbs proverbs? I would say emphatically "No!" (p.
Throughout most of the article--in
fact, up until the final paragraph just quoted--Dundes is
clearly concerned with proverbs as an analytical category
rather than ethnographic or ethnic genre. It is in his assertion that he does "not really believe that
the folk consider weather and medical rules as proverbs,"
that the focus of his study shifts--if only momentarily and
almost as an afterthought--to the proverb as a cultural or
ethnic concept. There is no indication of the basis for the
statement, unless one assumes that he attributes to the folk
the same reasoning that underlies his own conclusions
regarding the genre to which weather sayings belong. Neither
is it clear whether the remark refers specifically to
English-speaking "folk," or is intended to apply
cross-culturally. It caught my attention, however, because
it contrasted markedly with my own longstanding impression
with regard to Spanish-speaking informants, who seemed
clearly to make no generic distinction between
proverbs--refranes --that deal with weather or with
matters of health and those that deal with other topics. By
coincidence, I had had occasion, shortly before reading
Dundes' article, to confirm this overall impression in
rather dramatic fashion.
Warning: Division by zero in /home/world68/public_html/DPjournal/DP,1,2,95/WEATHER_PROVERBS.html on line 734 Proverbs, Sayings and Popular Wisdom - Audio Proverbs in English and Romance Languages, Proverb Studies, Proverb Collections, International Proverb Bibliographies
De Proverbio – Latin for ‘About the Proverb’ – is a website devoted to proverbs in several languages. It was founded in January 1995 at the University of Tasmania, Australia. De Proverbio was the world’s first refereed electronic journal of international proverb studies. It’s inspiration was Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship edited by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder at the University of Vermont. The Yearbook continued the tradition of Proverbium: Bulletin d’Information sur les Recherches Parémiologiques, published occasionally from 1965 to 1975 by the Society for Finnish Literature, Helsinki.
Recently, the website has added audio proverbs in six languages, read by native speakers. Also available for the lovers of languages and their proverbial richess is a page of multilingual proverb crosswords.
Proverbs and Their Definition
From time immemorial proverbs have fascinated people of all ages and from all walks of life. As it happened throughout centuries, common people today still avail themselves of the proverb’s rich oral tradition to convey their culture and values, while scholars collect and study them from a wide range of angles: linguistic, social, psychological, political, historical and so on.
The problem of proverb definition is still open. However, it is broadly accepted that proverbs were born from man’s experience. And that they generally express, in a very succinct way, common-sense truths. They give sound advice and reflect the human condition. But, as we know, human nature is both good and bad and the latter is often mirrored by discriminatory proverbs, be they against women, different nationalities or particular social groups. For a thorough discussion of proverb definition, see Popular Views of the Proverb by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder. Another article which sheds some light on the proverb definition is The Wisdom of Many and the Wit of One by Archer Taylor.
Proverbs and Their Origin
As to the origin of proverbs we tend to assume that they were born in times when human society began to self-impose rules and embrace principles necessary for communal living. Research can trace them back only to the time when language was recorded by means of some type of writing. The Sumerian civilisation of more than five thousand years ago is the oldest known civilisation to have made use of proverbs, some of which have been passed on through its cuneiform inscriptions.
One such proverb, in its Latin version, is Canis festinans caecos parit catulos. It spread to other languages. The English translation is The hasty bitch brings forth blind whelps. In French, it became La chienne dans sa hâte a mis bas des chiots aveugles. In the Italian La gatta frettolosa fece i gattini ciechi, the bitch has been replaced by the cat. The Portuguese version is Cadelas apressadas parem cães tortos, and the Romanian, Căţeaua de pripă îşi naşte căţeii fără ochi.
Proverbs and Their Use
Apart from use on a wide scale in day-to-day speech, there is ample evidence that proverbs were essential tools in teaching and learning. The pedagogical use of proverbs was encountered first in Sumerian society and subsequently this use became widespread throughout Medieval Europe.
Proverbs and proverbial expressions are found in religious manuscripts of the first half of the eighth century. The aim of introducing proverbs into religious texts was to help novices to learn Latin, and this practice became widespread by the tenth century.
The use of proverbs in teaching and learning was not circumscribed to England. Relatively new research attests to the use of proverbs in teaching in the eleventh century in Liège, France. In Italy the famous medical School of Salerno of the eleventh century formulated medical precepts which later became proverbs adopted by different cultures. Post prandium stabis, post coenam ambulabis was translated After dinner sit awhile, after supper walk a mile in English. In French became Après dîner repose un peu, après souper promène une mille, while in Italian Dopo pranzo riposar un poco, dopo cena passeggiar un miglio. The Spanish version is Después de yantar reposad un poco, después de cenar pasead una milla and the Portuguese Depois de jantar, dormir; depois de cear, passos mil.
Proverbs and Their Abuse
But from use comes abuse, as a Spanish proverb says. There is no doubt that the capacity of the proverb to convey universal truths concisely led to their abuse and manipulation.
Hitler and his Nazi regime employed proverbs as emotional slogans for propaganda purposes and encouraged the publication of anti-semitic proverb collections. For a thorough analysis of this phenomenon, please read the fascinating article “ … as if I were the master of situation.” Proverbial Manipulation in Adolf Hitler by Prof. Wolfgang Mieder.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, communist regimes of the past have not only manipulated proverbs, but also purged popular collections of features which did not reflect their political ends. The former Soviet regime is at the forefront of such actions. One type of manipulation described by Jean Breuillard in Proverbes et pouvoir politique: Le cas de l’U.R.S.S. (published in “Richesse du proverbe”, Eds. François Suard and Claude Buridant. Lille: Université de Lille, 1984. II, 155-166). It consisted in modifying ancient proverbs like La vérité parcourt le monde (Truth spreads all over the world) into La vérité de Lénine parcourt le monde (Lenin’s truth spreads all over the world). As a result the new creation is unequivocably charged with a specific ideological message.
Manipulation did not stop at individual proverbs, it extended to entire collections. Vladimir Dal’s mid-nineteen century collection of Russian proverbs is such an example. Its first Soviet edition (1957) reduces the proverbs containing the word God from 283 to 7 only. Instead, those which express compassion for human weaknesses, such as alcoholism, disappear altogether. In more recent years, in Ceauşescu’s Romania, Proverbele românilor (published in 1877 by I. C. Hinţescu) suffered the same treatment. More than 150 proverbs were eliminated or changed in order to respond rigidly to the communist ideology.
Proverbs Across Time and Space
The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs states that foreign proverbs’ contribution to the English proverbial stock has enriched our language. Many proverbs of foreign origin were quickly absorbed into English life and have a rightful place in an English dictionary. Indeed, a close scrutiny of that dictionary reveals that more than two hundred and fifty proverbs are listed as first existing in Italian.
This is also true for other modern languages, particularly French and Spanish. The translation is not always literal. At times it is adapted to the new language and the resulting proverb is often enriched in its expression. For instance the Latin Homo sine pecunia est imago mortis (A man without money is the image of death) is rather closely translated in Italian as Uomo senza quattrini è un morto che cammina (A man without money is a dead man walking).
However, in other languages the metaphor changes, but not the meaning. In English the proverb becomes A man without money is a bow without an arrow, while in French Un homme sans argent / Est un loup sans dents (A man without money is a wolf without teeth) and an element of rhyme is introduced. The Romanian adaptation is a real poetic gem Omul fără bani e ca pasărea fără aripi; Când dă să zboare / Cade jos şi moare (A man without money is like a bird without wings; When he tries to fly / He falls down and dies). The concept is essentially the same: the man without money lacks something important…
While proverbs are still used today in a traditional way, that is in speech, literature and teaching, they have found a new ever expanding use in the advertising industry and in the mass media. One example is Here today, gone tomorrow, which became Hair today, gone tomorrow in the hair-removal industry. In the mass media it has a variety of paraphrases such as Hear today, gone tomorrow or Heir today, gone tomorrow. Before the Barcelona Olympic Games the old proverb All roads lead to Rome became All roads lead to… Barcelona in many English language newspapers and magazines. A new phenomenon encountered in many languages nowadays and is undoubtedly a sign of the proverb’s resilience and vitality.
Important writers of the past, among them Goethe and Voltaire, have questioned the traditional wisdom of proverbs. That led to some proverb transformations. Prof. Wolfgang Mieder coined the term anti-proverb for all forms of creative proverb changes. They can be deliberate innovations, alterations, variations, parodies. Anti-proverbs are widely spread today, some living a short time, some even making their way into recent proverb collections. A new broom sweeps clean, but the old one knows the corners and Absence makes the heart grow fonder – for somebody else are considered anti-proverbs.
Proverbs and Their Collection
Apart from studies on individual and multilingual proverbs and proverbial expressions, you will find a few e-books on our website. I will mention a Brazilian collection and a dictionary of equivalent English and Romanian proverbs. Prof. Wolfgang Mieder’s yearly bibliographies are an invaluable tool for students and researchers. Given their widespread use over the millennia, it is no wonder that scholars of the past started assembling proverbs in collections. Aristotle is believed to be among the first paremiographers (collectors of proverbs), but, unfortunately, his collection was lost. In more recent times a great impetus to the collection of proverbs was given by Erasmus. His fame spread from Venice throughout Europe after the publication in 1508 of his Adagiorum Chiliades. This collection contained 3,260 proverbs drawn from classical authors.
The success of the book led to several augmented editions culminating with that of 1536, which contains 4,151 proverbs. Erasmus’ work was translated into several European languages. While it became the model for future proverb collections in those languages, they were widely copied and translated.
One good example of such a practice is the 1591 Italian collection Giardino di Ricreatione, nel quale crescono fronde, fiori e frutti, vaghe, leggiadri e soavi, sotto nome di sei miglia proverbii, e piacevoli riboboli Italiani, colti e scelti da Giovanni Florio. And two decades later appeared in French as Le Jardin de Récréation, au quel croissent rameaux, fleurs et fruits très-beaux, gentils et souefs, soubz le nom de Six mille proverbes et plaisantes rencontres françoises, recueillis et triéez par GOMÈS DE TRIER, non seulement utiles mais délectables pour tous espritz désireux de la très-noble et copieuse langue françoise, nouvellement mis en lumière, à Amsterdam, par PAUL DE RAVESTEYN.
Proverbs and Fun
On the less academic side, you can test your knowledge of languages by solving our bilingual or multilingual crosswords. Or, you can listen to our featured proverbs in 6 languages – English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian and Spanish. Also, enjoy sharing them with your friends. Some were posted on Twitter as comments to political events of the day.
Painters in Renaissance time, from Hieronymus Bosch to Pieter Bruegel, with his famous Netherlandish Proverbs, were attracted by the subject.
Modern artists like James Chapman illustrated recently proverbs from other world languages with hilarious cartoons. See some of his images on this page.
It is also well to keep in mind that
the respondents in this survey were a "folk group" only in
the broadest sense, that of a shared native language. It
would be interesting to find out whether the results of a
survey such as this one would be markedly different among,
for example, members of a small farming community,
comparable to the one in which my Spanish informants
resided, where one would expect to find a significant body
of shared traditions and where weather sayings, in
particular, might play a greater role. In the meantime,
however, I believe that the question posed in the title of
Dundes' study clearly merits further consideration. At least
with regard to the "folk," the case for a negative answer
has yet to be made.
*Previously published as
"Weather Proverbs: Some 'Folk' Views" in Proverbium, 8 (1991), pp. 1-17
A partial version of
this study was presented at the annual meeting of the
California Folklore Society, held at the University of
California, Los Angeles, in April, 1987.
See Dan Ben-Amos,
"Analytical Categories and Ethnic Genres," in Folklore
Genres, ed. Dan Ben-Amos (Austin: University of Texas
Press, 1976), pp. 215-242. For a useful survey of various
approaches to a supercultural definition of the proverb,
see Neal Norrick, How Proverbs Mean: Semantic Studies
in English Proverbs (Berlin and New York: Mouton,
1985), pp. 31-79.
Reported in "The
Perception of Proverbiality," Proverbium: Yearbook of
International Proverb Scholarship, 1 (1984), pp.
14-15 and note 20.
The Proverb and an
Index to The Proverb (Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore
Associates, 1962), p. 111.
Mean, p. 110.
"Popular Views of the Proverb," Proverbium: Yearbook
of International Proverb Scholarship, 2 (1985),
109-143. The definitions are listed on pp.
Harry M. Hyatt, Folk-Lore from Adams County Illinois (New York:
Alma Egan Hyatt Foundation, 1935). This first edition has
the convenience of an index, which is lacking in the
revised, enlarged edition of 1965. The numbering of
items, and often the wording, is completely changed in
the second edition.
Dundes, p. 40/93; Roger
D. Abrahams, "A Rhetoric of Everyday Life: Traditional
Conversational Genres," Southern Folklore
Quarterly 32 (1968), p. 51.
The German proverb is
given in Karl Simrock, Die deutschen
Sprichwörter (Frankfurt a. M., n.d.), p. 289;
and John Barten, A Select Collection of English and
German Proverbs, Proverbial Phrases, and Familiar
Quotations (Hamburg, 1896), No. 6262. Barten lists
the English equivalent as a proverb in its own right
(rather than simply a translation), No. 1058; but the
only other occurrences I have found in English identify
it as a German saying (Mieder 2136, Stevenson 331:7; see
Appendix B for complete bibliographic
Allue Morer, Antonio. Los
pronósticos del tiempo en el refranero
castellano. Valladolid: Biblioteca Ceres,
Correas, Gonzalo. Vocabulario de
refranes y refranes proverbiales .
Bordeaux: Institut d'Etudes Ibériques et
Ibéro-américaines, Université de
DRAE: Campos, Juana G. and Ana
Barella, Diccionario de refranes. Boletín de
la Real Academia Española, Anejo XXX. Madrid, 1975.
References are by number.
Hyatt, Harry M. Folk-Lore from
Adams County Illinois. New York: Alma Egan Hyatt
Foundation, 1935. References are by number.
Iter: Iter Sopena de
refranes y frases populares. Barcelona: Ramón
Sopena, 1983. References are by number.
Jaramillo Londoño, A. Testamento del paisa. Medellín: Bédout,
Kin, David. Dictionary of American
Proverbs. New York: Philosophical Library,
Mieder, Wolfgang. The Prentice-Hall
Encyclopedia of World Proverbs. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, 1986. References are by number.
MK: Martínez Kleiser, Luis. Refranero general ideológico español. Madrid: Real Academic Española, 1953. References are
---------- El tiempo y los espacios
del tiempo en los refranes. Madrid: Victoriano
Suárez, 1945. Cited as MK-Tiempo.
Moya, Ismael. Refranero: Refranes,
proverbios, adagios, frases proverbiales, modismos
refranescos, giros y otras formas paremiológicas
tradicionales en la República Argentina. Buenos
Aires: Universidad de Buenos Aires, 1944.
O'Kane, Eleanor. Refranes y frases
proverbiales españolas de la Edad Media. Boletín de la Real Academia Española, Anejo
II. Madrid, 1959.
Oxford: The Oxford
Dictionary of English Proverbs. 3rd ed., rev. by F.
P.Wilson with an introduction by Joanna Wilson. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1970.
Sbarbi, José María. Gran diccionario de refranes de la lengua
española. Buenos Aires: Joaquín Gil,
Stevenson, Burton. The Macmillan
Book of Proverbs, Maxims, and Famous Phrases New York:
Macmillan, 1948. References are by number.
Taylor, Archer. The Proverb and an
Index to the Proverb. Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore Associates,
Whiting, Bartlett Jere. Modern
Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings. Cambridge, Mass.:
Harvard University Press, 1989. References are by
The informants are identified by
pseudonyms. "Tía Dolores" at the time of interview
was approximately 60 years of age, "Mercedes" was in her
early fifties, and "Marta" was in her late forties. All were
lifelong residents of the town in which the interviews took
place. In the annotations for each entry, I have noted only
the portions that differ from the versions provided by the
informants. Except in the case of variants, I have not
included for any item more than two annotations from Spain.
For information on the sources of annotation, see the
bibliography at the end of the article.
1) AÑO de nieve es
año de bienes. (A year of snow is a year of
prosperity [lit., "goods"].) (Mercedes)
Spain: DRAE 208 (Año de nieves, año
de bienes); Correas 81 (like DRAE; also año de mieses). Argentina: Moya 326 (like DRAE). Cf., for Mexico, Conde 46 Año de
hielos, año de duelos, "Year of ice, year of
2) Cuando vayas a acostarte, lleva
el BRASERO a otra parte. (When you go to bed, move the
charcoal heater to another place.) (Tía
"Porque se come el oxígeno" ("because it eats up
3) CASA huespedeá, comida y
deshonrá. (A house with many guests [will
be] eaten up and dishonored) (Tía Dolores)
Spain: DRAE 717 (hospedada...y denostada); O'Kane
72 (Casa convidada, comida y deshonorada); Correas 373
(like DRAE; also Casa convidada, pobre y
Those who come as guests eat a lot and then gossip about
the hosts (inf.).
22) Tras de la SIESTA ir al
baño hace muchísimo daño. (After the
siesta, taking a bath causes great harm) (Tía
23) No estés al SOL sin
sombrero ni en agosto ni en enero. (Don't be in the sun
without a hat either in August or in January) (Tía
Spain: MK 58.758.
24) El que SUDANDO va a la calle,
es preciso que algún mal halle. (He who goes out
into the street when he is perspiring, will necessarily
fall ill) (Tía Dolores)
25) Cuando TRUENA y relampaguea, no
subas a la azotea. (When there is thunder and lightning,
don't go up onto the rooftop) (Tía
The sayings used in the survey are
arranged here according to the frequency with which each
item was designated a "proverb," as shown in the first
column of figures. The second column shows the number of
respondents who indicated that the saying was familiar to
them. The annotations following each saying did not appear
on the questionnaire. For complete information, see the
bibliography at the end of the article.
Proverb / Familiar
38 (95%) / 39 (98%) l. Haste makes
waste. (Oxford 356, Stevenson 1082:8, Whiting
38 (95%) / 38 (95%) 2. The early
bird catches the worm. (Oxford 211, Stevenson
180:11, Whiting B236)
35 (88%) / 37 (93%) 3. Early to bed
and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and
wise. (Oxford 211, Stevenson 1995:7, Whiting
33 (83%) / 40 (100%) 4. An apple a
day keeps the doctor away. (Oxford 17
[var.], Stevenson 86:1, Whiting A103)
28* (72%) / 4 (10%) 5. Eat at
pleasure, drink by measure. (Oxford 214, Mieder
4338, Stevenson 665:5)