100 most used English proverbs
100 most used English proverbs

Proverbs where largely collected and used by my old friend John Florio, but of course they were created and employed much earlier from a lot of other different writers all around the world. John Florio was a teacher, an interpreter, a grammarian, a translator, a lexicographer, a writer, a journalist, and a poet. I wrote something about him in my book on William Shakespeare’s genial aphorisms, so if you want to find out more you can download it for free. He was the son of an Italian Protestant exile, Florio (1553-1625) and became one of the most cultured and educated man in Elizabethan England during Shakespeare’s time.

Florio made the development of modern English language his primary mission. Firstly, he became tutor of Italian language to John Lyly and Stephen Gosson and many other writers, then with the accession of James I John Florio obtained a promotion and began a new life at court first becoming reader in Italian to Queen Anne and a year later Gentleman Extraordinary and Groom of the Privy Chamber to the King. In addition to his attendance on the Queen, John Florio was also tutor in Italian and French to Prince Henry at court. He probably supplemented his income also by serving as a minor cog in Sir Francis Walsingham’s vast machinery of state espionage. His dictionary, which by its 1611 edition contained over 70,000 entries, therefore more than the Italian dictionary of The Crusca Accademy published in 1612, catered for both the potential visitor to Italy and the reader who wished to read Italian books, now being imported to England in large numbers.

When we quote John Lyly we have to remember “Euphuism” that is a peculiar mannered style of English prose and it takes its name from a prose romance by this author. It consists of a preciously ornate and sophisticated style, employing a deliberate excess of literary devices such as antitheses, alliterations, repetitions and rhetorical questions. Classical learning and remote knowledge of all kinds are displayed. Euphuism was fashionable in the 1580s, especially in the Elizabethan court. Contents “Euphues” is the Greek for “graceful, witty”. John Lyly published the works Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) and Euphues and his England (1580). Both works illustrated the intellectual fashions and favourite themes of Renaissance society – in a highly artificial and mannered style. The plots are unimportant, existing merely as structural elements on which to display conversations, discourses and letters mostly concerning the subject of love. Its essential features had already appeared in such works as George Pettie’s A Petite Pallace of Pettie his pleasure (1576), in sermon literature, and Latin tracts. Lyly perfected the distinctive rhetorical devices on which the style was based.

Florio probably knew Shakespeare; literary London was a small circle, they shared patrons in the Earls of Pembroke and Southampton and Love’s labour’s lost and The tempest both contain passages indicating a familiarity with some of Florio’s other published works. That Shakespeare shared the contemporary interest in all Italian things is suggested by the large number of his plays which are set wholly or partly in Italy, but that Shakespeare was in fact Florio, a theory first advanced in 1927 by the Italian journalist Santi Paladino in a fascist literary magazine, L’impero, is, to say the least, unlikely for many reasons; but the dispute and the research on this field is gathering always more interesting facts and information all around the world, even though as William would say, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” Anyway this is a real mistery, as the life of the great national bard of England.

Giovanni Florio, known as John Florio, is anyway recognized as the most important humanist in Renaissance’s England, the author who translated Michel de Montaigne’s Essais into English. When he arrived in London at 18 years old, John Florio found a job as dyer for the Venetian merchant Gaspare Gatti. His passion for literature and writing lead him, seven years later his arrival in London, to publish his first work, First Fruits, a bilingual language lesson manual structured in dramatic dialogues, where he showed that he was able to combine his love for literature, proverbs and poetry, with language teaching, explaining in this way mankind’s debt to literature and to great writers.

This work is particularly interesting as an expression of Florio’s observations and opinions on various aspects of London life at the time, making this book one of the most interesting of the Elizabethan language lesson textbooks. So, with First Fruits, John Florio left the job as dyer and officially began a new career as a language teacher, writer and translator, while having contacts at the same time with actors, writers, theatre businessmen and court men. In his own words we can read: “Firste Fruites which yeelde familiar speech, merie prouerbes, wittie sentences, and golden sayings. Also a perfect induction to the Italian, and English tongues, as in the table appeareth. The like heretofore, neuer by any man published (1578).

Second Fruits publication appeared 13 years later the first one and even contains dialogues about sonnets and poems themes that other language lesson books never dared to include, and of course proverbs, in fact he wrote: “To use them (proverbs) is a grace, to understand them a good, but to gather them a paine to me, though game to thee. I, but for all that I must not scope without some new flout: now would I were by thee to give thee another, and surely I would give thee bread for cake. Farewell if thou meane well; els fare as ill, as thou wishest me to fare.” It is true that proverbs were a usual feature of most Elizabethan language teaching books, and they were also employed in drama writing and theatre playings, but in no manual did they play such an important part as in the Second Fruits.

The proverbs of the book are, in fact, intertwined with those published in a corollary work by Florio, the Giardino di Ricreatione: six thousands Italian proverbs, without their English translations, one of the most important of the earlier collections of this kind. “Proverbs are the pith, the properties, the proofes, the purities, the elegancies, as the commonest so the commendablest phrases of a language.” Florio endeavored particularly “to finde matter to declare those Italian wordes & phrases, that never yett saw Albions cliffes.” Yet, the proverbs used in the Second Fruits seem to have been especially selected as those which could be transported from the Italian to the English without strain or loss of meaning. But in this book Florio also devoted an entire chapter to a discussion of “newes”, “devices”, “tales”, written reports, printed “letters”, rumors, and scandal; so we can say that The Second Fruits might also be considered as one of the earliest pieces of journalism written in England.

100 famous proverbs and sayings
100 famous proverbs and sayings

Talking about the use of proverbs in language teaching nowadays, we can say that they play a great part in gaining cultural knowledge, metaphorical understanding and communicative competence. Proverbs are a part of every language as well as every culture. They have been used to spread knowledge, wisdom and truths about life from ancient times up until now. They have been considered an important part of the fostering of children, as they signal moral values and exhort common behaviour. Proverbs belong to the traditional verbal folklore genres and the wisdom of proverbs has been guidance for people worldwide in their social interaction throughout the ages. Proverbs are concise, easy to remember and useful in every situation in life due to their content of everyday experiences.

Since a proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation, many scholars think that they should be used in teaching as didactic tools because of their content of educational wisdom. When it comes to foreign language learning, proverbs play a role in the teaching as a part of cultural and metaphorical learning. Linguists also claim that the use of proverbs in the teaching of English as a second or foreign language is important for the learners’ ability to communicate effectively.

What’s more proverbs “stick in the mind”, “build up vocabulary”, “illustrate admirably the phraseology and idiomatic expressions of the foreign tongue”, “contribute gradually to a surer feeling for the foreign tongue” and proverbs “consume very little time”. It was also said that proverbs are not only melodic and witty, possessed with rhythm and imagery; proverbs also reflect “patterns of thought”. As proverbs are universal, there are analogous proverbs in different nations that have related cultural patterns. Proverbs are therefore useful in the students’ discussions of cultural ideas when they compare the proverbs equivalents in different languages.

But as the experience shows the incorporation of proverbs in the foreign language classroom is rare. When proverbs are included, they are often used as time fillers and not integrated into a context. The proverbs that are used are often randomly picked from dictionaries, which often include archaic proverbs and new proverbs might therefore be missed. The suitability of proverbs in teaching is due to their form; they are pithy and easy to learn, they often rhyme and contain repetition figures like alliteration and assonance. Some scholars propose the use of proverbs in a range of areas within language teaching: grammar and syntax, phonetics, vocabulary development, culture, reading, speaking and writing. They state that proverbs, besides being an important part of culture, also are an important tool for effective communication and for the comprehension of different spoken and written discourses.

Obviously proverbs change with time and culture. Some old proverbs are not in use any longer because they reflect a culture that no longer exists, e.g. Let the cobbler stick to his last, which has vanished more or less, because the profession of the cobbler nowadays is rare. However, new proverbs that reflect the contemporary society are created instead, e.g. Garbage in, garbage out, a proverb created due to our computerized time. Old proverbs are also used as so called anti-proverbs today, i.e. “parodied, twisted, or fractured proverbs that reveal humorous or satirical speech play with traditional proverbial wisdom”. One example is Nobody is perfect, which as an anti-proverb is changed to No body is perfect.

Anyway working with proverbs and sayings during the lessons not only helps to diversify educational process and to make it brighter and interesting. Moreover it helps to solve a number of very important educational problems: proverbs in the classroom can improve students’ learning experiences, their language skills, and their understanding of themselves and the world in general.

This happens because proverbs provide opportunities for students to learn a lot of different things about each other and their shared values, human experiences and cultures, the world of linguistic rhetoric figures, since they are full of metaphors, rhymes, puns, irony, humor, definitions, and so on, all seasoned with a strong moral wisdom and an old and proved useful common sense. That’s why now I report in this quite dense article a list of the most used and famous English proverbs, selected by my large collection, that can naturally be used for language teaching and thinking learning as well.

A very famous proverb on youth
A very famous proverb on youth

1. A friend in need is a friend indeed.

2. A little learning is a dangerous thing.

3. A rolling stone gather no moss.

4. A stitch in time saves nine.

5. All is well that ends well.

6. All good roads lead to Rome.

7. Beauty is only skin deep.

8. Birds of a feather flock together.

9. A cat has nine lives.

10. The early bird catches the worm.

11. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

12. Every dog has its day.

13. First come first served.

14. Honesty is the best policy.

15. Actions speak louder than words.

16. Haste makes waste.

17. It is no use crying over spilt milk.

18. Necessity is the mother of invention.

19. No news is good news.

20. Out of sight, out of mind.

21. Rome was not build in a day.

22. Practice makes perfect.

23. Spare the rod, spoil the child.

24. The pen is mightier than the sword.

25. An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

26. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

27. Among the blind a one-eyed man is the king.

28. Cash is the king.

29. Strike while the iron is hot.

30. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

31. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

32. Still waters run deep.

33. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

34. Many hands make light work.

35. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

36. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

37. Make hay while the sun shines.

38. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

39. Better late than never.

40. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

41. Ignorance is bliss.

42. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

43. The forbidden fruit is always the sweetest.

44. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

45. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

46. It takes two to tango.

47. It’s the tip of the iceberg.

48. Don’t cross the bridge until you come to it.

49. Curiosity killed the cat.

50. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Proverbs and living wisdom
Proverbs and living wisdom

51. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

52. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

53. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

54. The cat is out of the bag.

55. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it.

56. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

57. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

58. Always put your best foot forward.

59. Look before you leap.

60. Be good and if you can’t be good, be careful.

61. Easy come, easy go.

62. Between the devil and the deep blue sea.

63. Don’t make a mountain out of an anthill.

64. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

65. After the feast comes the reckoning.

66. All that glitters is not gold.

67. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

68. Bad news travels fast.

69. Barking dogs seldom bite.

70. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

71. Beggars can’t be choosers.

72. The best things in life are free.

73. Better a live coward than a dead hero.

74. The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

75. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

76. Blood is thicker than water.

77. Charity begins at home.

78. Clothes do not make the man.

79. Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today.

80. Don’t put the cart before the horse.

81. Familiarity breeds contempt.

82. The first step is always the hardest.

83. A friend who shares is a friend who cares.

84. He who hesitates is lost.

85. He who laughs last, laughs best.

86. If you can’t beat them, join them.

87. In unity there is strength.

88. A leopard cannot change its spots.

89. Love is blind.

90. Love makes the world go round.

91. Abundance, like want, ruins many.

92. Laws catch flies, but let hornets go free

93. A man without money is no man at all.

94. Art has no enemy but ignorance.

95. If you cannot bite, never show your teeth.

96. Look not a gift horse in the mouth.

97. A good name is sooner lost than won.

98. A heavy purse makes a light heart.

99. A hungry man is an angry man.

100. A Joke never gains an enemy but often loses a friend.

Proverbs Quiz Test 1

Proverbs Quiz Test 2

Proverbs Quiz Test 3

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