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Behold the Proverbs of a People

Behold the Proverbs of a People: Proverbial Wisdom in Culture, Literature, and Politics

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Behold the Proverbs of a People
    Book Description:

    The thirteen chapters of this book comprise an intriguing and informative entry into the world of proverb scholarship, illustrating that proverbs have always been and continue to be wisdom's international currency. The first section of the book focuses on the field of paremiology (proverb studies) in general, the spread of Anglo-American proverbs in Europe, and the phenomenon of modern proverbs. The second section analyzes the use of proverbs in the world of politics, including a chapter on President Obama, while the third concentrates on the uses of proverbs in literature. The final section ends with detailed cultural studies of the origin, history, dissemination, use, function, and meaning of specific proverbs.

    Noted scholar Wolfgang Mieder shows that proverbs matter in culture, literature, and politics. Proverbs remain part and parcel of oral and written communication, and, he demonstrates, they deserve to be studied from a range of viewpoints. While various chapters deal with a variety of issues and approaches, they cohere through a rhetorical perspective that looks at the text, texture, and context of proverbs as speech acts that make a noteworthy impact on culture and society. Whether proverbs appear in everyday speech, on the radio, on television, in films, on the pages of newspapers or magazines, in advertisements, in literary works, or in political speeches, they serve as formulaic verbal devices to add authoritative weight through tradition, convention, and wisdom.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-076-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    It has been my good fortune to have had the welcome opportunity to present some of my articles that have appeared over the years in various journals and books in Europe and the United States in a number of essay volumes, to witThe Politics of Proverbs: From Traditional Wisdom to Proverbial Stereotypes(1997),Strategies of Wisdom: Anglo-American and German Proverb Studies(2000),Proverbs Are the Best Policy: Folk Wisdom and American Politics(2005), and “Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words”: Folk Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature, and Mass Media(2008). About five years have passed since the appearance...

  4. Proverbial Wisdom

    • 1. “THE WIT OF ONE, AND THE WISDOM OF MANY” Proverbs as Cultural Signs of Folklore
      (pp. 19-54)

      Of the various verbal folklore genres like fairy tales, legends, tall tales, jokes, and riddles, proverbs are the most concise but not necessarily the simplest form. The vast scholarship on proverbs is ample proof that they are anything but mundane matters in human communication (Mieder 1982–2001; Mieder 1999). Proverbs fulfill the human need to summarize experiences and observations into nuggets of wisdom that provide ready-made comments on personal relationships and social affairs. There are proverbs for every imaginable context, and they are thus as contradictory as life itself. Proverb pairs like “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and “Out...

    • 2. “MANY ROADS LEAD TO GLOBALIZATION” The Translation and Distribution of Anglo-American Proverbs in Europe
      (pp. 55-79)

      More than forty years ago, the renowned Finnish paremiologist Matti Kuusi delivered and published a significant lecture in his native Finnish language that was finally published in English translation in 1994 with the intriguing title “Research Problems in Loan-Proverbs” in a major collection of his essays entitledMind and Form in Folklore. As is characteristically true for this doyen of twentieth-century proverb studies, there is a profound, terse statement in this article that might well serve as a starting point and motto for the present deliberations. Having discussed how proverbs from other European languages entered or failed to enter the...

    • 3. “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX” Origin, Nature, and Meaning of Modern Anglo-American Proverbs
      (pp. 80-130)

      Among modern proverb scholars it has become almost proverbial to call for the collection and study of proverbs that have been coined in more recent times. For too long have paremiologists and paremiographers looked backwards at traditional proverbs without paying much attention to what modernity has contributed to the treasure trove of proverbial wisdom. Archer Taylor, the doyen of twentieth-century paremiology, lamented this unfortunate situation in an invaluable article on “The Study of Proverbs” (1939), calling for new collections that would be “made as complete as humanly possible, showing not only old proverbs and variations of old ones that are...

  5. Proverbs in Politics

    • 4. “LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” Martin Luther King’s Proverbial Struggle for Equality
      (pp. 133-171)

      A vast array of biographies and studies have celebrated Martin Luther King (1929–1968) as a civil rights leader, a defender of nonviolence in the struggle for desegregation, a champion for the poor, an anti-war proponent, and a broad-minded visionary of an interrelated world of free people. The proverbial truths expressed in the beginning of the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal” and that they have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” form the basis of King’s engaged and heartfelt fight for freedom, universal suffrage, anti-racism, and socioeconomic improvements for minorities. As a...

    • 5. “THE GOLDEN RULE AS POLITICAL IMPERATIVE” President Barack Obama’s Proverbial Worldview
      (pp. 172-197)

      On January 20, 2009, the brand-new President of the United States Barack Obama delivered his eagerly awaited inaugural address to the American people and the rest of the world. Of course, the pressures and expectations for Obama to give a most memorable speech were exceedingly high, and there was much talk and speculation about what he would include and how he would verbalize this address. This also led to a series of reviews of previous inaugural addresses, with Jill Lepore’s essay of January 12, 2009, on “The Speech: Have Inaugural Addresses Been Getting Worse?” inThe New Yorkerstanding out...

    • 6. “IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO CHANGE THE WORLD” Proverbial Politics and the Ethics of Place
      (pp. 198-229)

      Let me begin with an ancient proverbial expression that contains what the geographer D. W. Meinig has called “a personal sense of place” (1979: 3). I am referring to the traditional metaphor of “standing on the shoulders of giants” (Deutscher 2006) that places me as a scholar in the intellectual space of great proverb scholars who have come before me and who are no longer with us. From abroad I might mention Matti Kuusi, Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov, Lutz Rohrich, and Démétrios Loukatos, and from this country I would mention Alan Dundes, Pack Carnes, Herbert Halpert, Wayland Hand, Archer Taylor, and...

    • 7. “BEATING SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES” Proverbial Wisdom about War and Peace
      (pp. 230-258)

      Proverbs are not only ubiquitous but also all-inclusive in their comments on the multifaceted aspects of the human condition, so it should not be surprising that the massive treasure trove of the world’s proverbs contains much proverbial wisdom on the interrelationship of war and peace. In fact, the short binary formula “war and peace” exists in most languages, to wit the French “guerre et paix,” the German “Krieg und Frieden,” the Russian “voina i mir,” the Spanish “guerra y paz,” etc. Of course, there are ample proverbs that comment on the symbiotic relationship of these two fundamental aspects of regional,...

  6. Proverbs in Literature

    • 8. “THE POETRY OF THE PEOPLE” Proverbs in the Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson
      (pp. 261-283)

      Of the many American authors who delight in employing proverbs in their writings, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) lends himself particularly well to illustrating how proverbs are effectively used in various forms of literature (Abrahams and Babcock 1977; Grzybek 1991; Mieder 1974a, 1974b; Taylor 1931: 171–83). This prolific nineteenth-century preacher, rhetorician, lecturer, essayist, transcendentalist, philosopher, pragmatist, humanist, and early paremiologist was intrigued by the wisdom expressed in proverbs throughout his long and active life. As one combs through the dozens of volumes of notes, letters, sermons, lectures, essays, and poems, it becomes clear that he was an early American...

    • 9. “PROVERBS AND POETRY ARE LIKE TWO PEAS IN A POD” The Proverbial Language of Modern Mini-Poems
      (pp. 284-310)

      The study of the use, function, and meaning of proverbs in literature is a well-established sub-field of paremiology with a plethora of publications that range from massive dictionaries of the proverbial language in the collected works of major literary figures, to interpretive monographs, and on to small notes investigating but a few or a single proverbial text in a literary work (see Mieder 2009). A special bibliography forProverbs in World Literature(Mieder and Bryan 1996) lists 2,654 studies, with the majority dealing with the appearance of proverbs, proverbial expressions, proverbial comparisons, twin formulas, wellerisms, and other types of phraseologisms...

    • 10. “MY TONGUE—IS OF THE PEOPLE” Friedrich Nietzsche’s Proverbial Philosophy in Thus Spoke Zarathustra
      (pp. 311-360)

      In the lyrical prelude to Friedrich Nietzsche’sDie frohliche Wissenschaft(1882,The Gay [or: Merry] Science) appears a short verse whose title serves as an indication that proverbial matters play an important role in this early work and also in his entire writings. Typically for Nietzsche’s proverbial and Biblical language and style, its five lines allude to the two Bible proverbs “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” / “Seid klug wie die Schlangen und ohne Falsch wie die Tauben” (Matthew 10:16) and “Unto the pure (clean) all things are pure” / “Den Reinen ist alles rein” (Titus 1:15):...

  7. Proverbs in Culture

    • 11. “THE DOG IN THE MANGER” The Rise and Decline in Popularity of a Proverb and a Fable
      (pp. 363-414)

      Much has been written on the interrelationship of various types of folk narratives with proverbs, proverbial expressions, and wellerisms, with many such diachronic and often comparative studies reaching the conclusion that it is not always absolutely clear which came first—the longer narrative or the shorter proverbial text (Mieder 2009). This folkloric conundrum is especially vexing when dealing with fables and proverbs, where it is indeed difficult or near impossible to ascertain whether a particular fable was reduced to a proverbial remnant or whether the wisdom of a proverb was explicated by way of a prose or rhymed fable. Even...

    • 12. “TO BUILD CASTLES IN SPAIN” The Story of an English Proverbial Expression
      (pp. 415-435)

      The proverbial expression “to build castles in Spain” is known in a number of variants in numerous European languages, and as such it clearly belongs to the group of so-called “widespread idioms” (Piirainen 2012). The idea or concept of building an imagined structure in the form of a house or castle in Spain, or more generally in the air, clouds or sky, might well go back to the church-father Augustine (354–430) whose sermons contain two early Latin references: “Ne subtracto fundamento rei gestae, quasi in aere quaeratis aedificare” and “Ne subtracto fundamento, in aere velle aedificare videamur” (Rohrich 1991...

    • 13. “LET GEORGE DO IT” The Disturbing Origin and Cultural History of an American Proverb
      (pp. 436-480)

      Whenever the question of the origin of a particular proverb arises, paremiologists or proverb scholars are confronted with the vexing task of finding a multitude of references in the hope of tracing the proverb back to what is hoped to be its first occurrence. The impressive proverb collections with historical data are of much help in this regard, with additional contextualized references being found by much study of primary documents ranging from literary works to the mass media. Of course, nowadays such searches are greatly enhanced by way of new and ever expanding electronic databases. The search possibilities have increased...

  8. Proverb Index
    (pp. 481-490)