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In an article entitled "On Whether Weather 'Proverbs' Are Proverbs," originally published in Proverbium (1 [1984], 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.[1]

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 concludes:

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. 45/96)

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.[2] 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.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 2:1995, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

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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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Reported in "The Perception of Proverbiality," Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 1 (1984), pp. 14-15 and note 20.

  4. The Proverb and an Index to The Proverb (Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore Associates, 1962), p. 111.

  5. How Proverbs Mean, p. 110.

  6. Wolfgang Mieder, "Popular Views of the Proverb," Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 2 (1985), 109-143. The definitions are listed on pp. 111-116.

  7. 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.

  8. Dundes, p. 40/93; Roger D. Abrahams, "A Rhetoric of Everyday Life: Traditional Conversational Genres," Southern Folklore Quarterly 32 (1968), p. 51.

  9. 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 information).

Allue Morer, Antonio. Los pronósticos del tiempo en el refranero castellano. Valladolid: Biblioteca Ceres, [1969].

Conde, Manuel. Dichos ciertos...y ciertos dichos. Mexico, D.F.: Costa-Amic, 1971.

Correas, Gonzalo. Vocabulario de refranes y refranes proverbiales [1627]. Bordeaux: Institut d'Etudes Ibériques et Ibéro-américaines, Université de Bordeaux, 1967.

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, 1961.

Kin, David. Dictionary of American Proverbs. New York: Philosophical Library, 1955.

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 by number.

---------- 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, 1943.

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, 1962.

Whiting, Bartlett Jere. Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. References are by number.


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 sorrow."

    2) Cuando vayas a acostarte, lleva el BRASERO a otra parte. (When you go to bed, move the charcoal heater to another place.) (Tía Dolores)
    "Porque se come el oxígeno" ("because it eats up the oxygen").

    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 denostada).
    Those who come as guests eat a lot and then gossip about the hosts (inf.).

    The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 2:1995, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

    22) Tras de la SIESTA ir al baño hace muchísimo daño. (After the siesta, taking a bath causes great harm) (Tía Dolores)

    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 Dolores)
    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 Dolores)


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 H85)

    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 B135)

    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)

    27 (68%) / 40 (100%) 6. Money can't buy happiness. (Whiting M197)

    27 (68%) / 36 (90%) 7. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. (Oxford 683, Stevenson 2005:1, Whiting R126)

    22 (55%) / 3 (8%) 8. Fresh pork and new wine kill a man before his time. (Kin 77)

    22 (55%) / 6 (15%) 9. After dinner rest a while; after supper walk a mile. (Oxford 6 [sit a while], Stevenson 1102:8, Whiting D169)

    20 (50%) / 3 (8%) 10. If you watch a person out of sight, they will be back before night. (Hyatt 8265)

    20 (50%) / 15 (38%) 11. Ring around the moon, brings a storm soon. (Hyatt 411)

    18 (45%) / 7 (18%) 12. Rain before seven, stop before eleven. (Oxford 662 [fine before eleven], Stevenson 1933:1, Whiting R29; Hyatt 471)

    17 (43%) / 17 (43%) 13. Rainbow at night, sailor's delight. (Oxford 662, Stevenson 1933:7, Whiting R32; Hyatt 511)

    The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 2:1995, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

    6 (15%) / 3 (8%) 20. Lightning in the north means an immediate rain. (Hyatt 332)

Shirley L. Arora
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
University of California at Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California 90095-1532

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