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"Practice makes perfect" at the Friedrich List School in Mannheim
"Shoemaker stick to your last" (facade decoration)
"As the fox preaches to the geese"

Proverbs (rehearsals, paromies) are traditional folk statements regarding behavior, a sequence of behavior or a state, which mostly represent a life experience. Proverbs, like idioms, are an important part of the thesaurus in almost every language. In linguistics , the customer is from Proverbs from the Greek word παροιμἰα (paroimia) as a scientific discipline paremiology called.


"A proverb is a short sentence that is based on long experience."

“Proverb, also Proverb: concise and aptly formulated wisdom, which generalizes certain social experiences to a high degree. Its author is unknown; often of popular imagery. "

- Lexicon of linguistic terms

"A proverb is a well-known, firmly coined sentence that expresses a rule of life or wisdom in a concise, short form."

- Wolfgang Mieder , linguist and literary scholar

“In contrast to the direct imperative -» You shouldn't kill «or» Be noble, helpful and good «- here the norms dress in the guise of empirical statements:» Honesty lasts the longest «. This statement would probably not withstand a large-scale experiment; Least of all the daring assertion “No one regretted the young man” […] If the community had their need for honest citizens, the Emperor and Pope would have packed their desire for a rich offspring of soldiers and Catholics into transparent requests - “Be honest” or “Get married early, so that you will have many children ": The effect would in all probability have been less than that combination with supposed life experience that the individual could never counter because he lacked knowledge of the world."

The distinction between the proverb with its unknown author and the quotation and the "winged word" , the origin of which can be proven, is not always clear. In linguistics, the aspect of repetition and immutability is sometimes understood with a term from Eugenio Coseriu as "repeated speech" ( discurso repetido ). Quotes are first and foremost individual inventions, but they can become proverbial. With more and more winged words, the quotation consciousness is lost. This is particularly true of many of the expressions found in the Bible. It is noticeable that in Protestant societies there is more allusion to the Bible than in Catholic ones.

SWR Wissen distinguishes the proverb from the idiom in that the proverb is a whole sentence, while the idiom is only part of a sentence.

Some book and film titles have already taken on a proverbial character. Even shortened refrains from folk songs or hits are mistaken for proverbs.

to form

A quote similar to the saying is called a winged word . According to André Jolles , the proverb and the catchphrase belong to the so-called simple forms .


It is true that a characteristic of the real proverb is that its author is unknown, but some supposed proverbs are not based on generalized social experiences, but have their origin in Latin authors or in the Bible . The majority of the latter found their way into the German language through Martin Luther's translation.

Some pithy sentences from literature also became so popular that they are now often used as proverbs, although their origin can be proven:

In the Bible

The Book of Proverbs of Solomon ( Hebrew מִשְלֵי שְׁלֹמֹה, Mischle Schlomo ) belongs to the Ketuvim (writings) of the Jewish Bible . It goes back to the time of Hezekiah , king of Judah, to the fourth century BC. Thematically it treats the -consequence-related actions , wisdom , social or family ties and social justice : "Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all weak! Open your mouth, judge righteously, give justice to the needy and poor! ”( Prov 31: 8-9  EU ). The book motto is Prov 1,7  EU : "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, only fools despise wisdom and education."

The saying in the Middle Ages

In the culture of the Middle Ages, the proverb was valued as a means of expression in all areas of life. Since the 12th century numerous textbooks on rhetoric have recommended the proverb as a stylistic device to support the evidential value of didactic writings. Medieval sermons often put proverbs next to written words. Epistemologically, the proverb corresponds to the tendencies of scholastic realism and its architectural idealism. Since it regards the general, the universal as the only real and conclusive evidence ( universale ante rem ), it allowed medieval people to think in everyday life as in their theology. For this reason Johan Huizinga even describes the proverb as the most inherently linguistic means of expression in medieval intellectual culture. Only in the late Middle Ages, for example in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer , did skepticism towards abstract linguistic forms such as the proverb become clear.

Immutable formulation

A proverb takes the form of a fixed and unchanging formulation. This is where it differs from the idiom .

  • Hunger is the best cook.
  • He who coughs long lives long.
  • Where there is a will, there's a way.

Rhyme form

The form of the proverb is often strengthened by alluding rhymes , end rhymes or inner rhymes .

  • Happiness and glass - how easily it breaks.
  • What I do not know will not hurt me.
  • Dry bread makes cheeks red.
  • The bigger, the bigger!
  • Shared pain is half of the pain.
  • Shared happiness is double happiness.
  • What you can get today, don't postpone it until tomorrow.
  • Tomorrow, tomorrow, just not today, all lazy people say.

Generalizing form

With the imperative claim “ Everyone should come to their own door! “,“ One should… ”,“ One must… ”or“ One may… ”the saying has taken a generalized form. As a rule, it expresses a generally applicable sentence, which is either a

  • Experience of daily life (" New brooms sweep well. "; " Ingratitude is the world's reward. "; " Tomorrow, tomorrow, just not today all lazy people say ");
  • a judgment or an opinion (" Good goods praise themselves. "; " Better to have a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on the roof. ");
  • a warning (“ Fall in love often, rarely get engaged, never marry! ”; “ All that glitters is not gold ”; “ If you don't want to hear, you have to feel ”);
  • contains a regulation or rule of prudence (" Done for thought and thought has already brought some great suffering. ")


Many proverbs speak


Sometimes proverbs contradict each other.

“The most common consolation lies in the fact that the words allow us to chatter along with the course of the world, and the so-called saying wisdom also makes an excellent contribution to this: if I can babble today,“ Be the same and like to join you ”, tomorrow will leave me alone , in the opposite situation, language does not fail: »Opposites attract« "

- Wolf Schneider

Modifications and further developments

Many proverbs have changed, mixed up and often further developed in terms of content over time. These advances have not yet been adequately processed in research. Many variations are meant to be derisive and want to emphasize or caricature the triviality of the message of the original.

  • That knocks out the bottom of the barrel. → That puts the crown on the matter! → That hits the barrel in the face.
  • The early bird catches the worm. → Idleness is the beginning of all vice. → Morning is the beginning of all vice.
  • The wiser gives in until he's the stupid.
  • “The cleverer gives in.” - “That's right. That's why idiots are in power everywhere. "
  • "In the greatest need, the sausage tastes even without bread." (Corruption of "In an emergency the devil eats flies." And "Dry bread makes cheeks red.")
  • “He who laughs last, laughs best,” says the proverb and evidently means the type of dumb idiot who doesn't understand a joke until ten minutes later.

Further pictorial examples can be found in the article on catachresis (broken image).


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Proverbs and sayings - parodied and corrupted. Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Institute for General Linguistics Proseminar: Parömiologie 1. Introduction.
  2. ^ Lexicon of linguistic terms. VEB Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig, Leipzig 1985, p. 227.
  3. Rolf-Bernhard Essig: What is the difference between a proverb, a phrase and a winged word? In: SWR knowledge. April 11, 2019, accessed on January 6, 2020 (speaking contribution).
  4. Babylonian Talmud , Bava Batra 15a
  5. ^ Johan Huizinga: Autumn of the Middle Ages . Stuttgart 1975, pp. 300-328.
  6. ^ Richard J. Utz: Sic et non: observations on the function and epistemology of the proverb in Geoffrey Chaucer. In: The Middle Ages. 2, 1997, pp. 31-43.
  7. ^ Ephraim Kishon , writer, Hungary / Israel, 1924–2005.


  • Professions in Proverbs - Strich / Richey 1984 Bibliographisches Institut Leipzig 2nd, unchanged edition Publishing license no. 433130/228/84 Typography: Ursula Küster, Leipzig LSV 0819
  • Carl Sylvio Köhler: The animal life in the proverb of the Greeks and Romans. According to sources and places in parallel with the German proverb. Leipzig 1881

Electronic edition as CD-ROM in the digital library series as volume 62 in 2006 under ISBN 3-89853-462-6 .


16th Century
17th century
  • Friedrich Peters alphabetically brings together 20,000 entries from orally transmitted material, older collections and poetry.
19th century
  • Johann Michael Sailer : The wisdom on the street. German proverbs collected by Johann Michael Sailer. 1810. (Augsburg 1840 Greno Nördlingen 1987)
  • Karl Simrock (Hrsg.): The German proverbs . Reclam, Stuttgart 2011. (Complete edition of the well-known collection of German proverbs)
  • Wanders German Proverbs Lexicon . Brockhaus, Leipzig 1867–1880, 5 volumes (each with strong prefaces, extensive collection and sorting), electronic edition (CD-ROM) as volume 62 of the digital library , 2006 under ISBN 3-89853-462-6 .
20th century
  • Lutz Röhrich : Lexicon of proverbial sayings. Volumes 1-3. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2003, ISBN 3-451-05400-0 . "Standard work", intensive individual explanations
  • Horst Beyer: Dictionary of Proverbs . Leipzig 1989, ISBN 3-323-00120-6 .
  • Karl Rauch (ed.): Proverbs of the peoples. Düsseldorf / Cologne 1963.
  • The longer a blind man lives, the more he sees - Yiddish proverbs. Translated by HC Artmann , Insel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1965, ISBN 3-458-08828-8 .
  • Karl-Heinz Göttert: Hurry with a while. Origin and meaning of the proverbs . Reclam, 2005, ISBN 3-15-010579-X .
  • Walter Schmidkunz : True wisdom - Bavarian-rural proverbs and sayings. Gebr. Richter Verlagsanstalt, Erfurt 1936. (online version)
  • Like the country, so the saying goes. Proverbs from all over the world. Bibliogr. Inst., Leipzig 1989, ISBN 3-323-00269-5 .
  • Walter Schmidt : The morning hour is unhealthy. Our proverbs put to the test. Reinbek 2012, ISBN 978-3-499-62966-2 .
  • Friedemann Spicker (ed.): Aphorisms of world literature. Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-15-010685-3 .
  • Peter Ďurčo: Proverbs in the contemporary language . Univerzita sv. Cyrila a Metoda v Trnave, Trnava 2005, ISBN 80-89220-13-4 .
  • Yao-Weyrauch: "Women don't count as people". Chinese proverbs about the female gender . Heuchelheim 2006.
  • Christoph Tiemann : Roasted storks with phat beats - on the trail of idioms and new words . Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag 2014, ISBN 978-3-499-62871-9 .

Research literature

  • Elke Donalies: Basic knowledge of German phraseology. (= UTB. 3193). Francke, Tübingen / Basel 2009.
  • Ida von Düringsfeld: The proverb as a cosmopolitan . 1866. (Ed. By Wolfgang Mieder, Olms, Hildesheim 2007, ISBN 978-3-487-12862-7 )
  • Csaba Földes (Ed.): Res humanae proverbiorum et sententiarum. Ad honorem Wolfgangi bodice . Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen 2004. (Contains many German and English-language articles on the investigation of proverbs)
  • Archer Taylor : The Proverb . Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA 1931.

See also

Web links

Wiktionary: proverb  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Collections and Trivia
Wiktionary: List of proverbs  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations