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.
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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)