wittiness of proverbs

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Nov 28 19:51:59 UTC 2007

At 2:04 PM -0500 11/28/07, Baker, John wrote:
>         Some are.  Consider:
>                 Marry in haste, repent at leisure.  (Unusual use of
>                 Many a mickle maks a muckle.  (Unusual words.  I
>understand that "mickle" is misused in the proverb and actually is a
>synonym of "muckle.")
>                 Handsome is as handsome does.  (I started to say,
>"Adjective used as noun," but I'm not really sure what's going on here.
>Anyway, unusual use of "handsome.")
>                 Promises, like pie-crust, are made to be broken.
>(Different senses of "broken.")
>         And, of course, many proverbs rely on rhyme or alliteration for
>their effect (see Ron's examples).

There's a subset that involve truisms, some of which appear to be
funny (mutatis mutandis), e.g.

"Dead men tell no tales"
"At night all cats are gray"
"You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs"

and some of which, especially those of a tautologous nature, don't, e.g.
"Boys will be boys"
"War is war"



>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
>Of RonButters at AOL.COM
>Sent: Wednesday, November 28, 2007 1:11 PM
>Subject: wittiness of proverbs
>Are proverbs generally witty in this way? A stitch in time saves nine?
>Rolling stones gather no moss? It takes two to tango?
>In a message dated 11/28/07 11:06:33 AM, cdoyle at UGA.EDU writes:
>>  Paremiologishly speaking, I'd say part of the wit of the proverb "You
>>  can't unring a bell" consists in the rarity (if not, indeed, the
>>  presumed
>>  nonexistence) of "unring" as a word.
>>  --Charlie
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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