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Why Prep?

Proverbs, Sayings, Maxims,
Adages, & Cliché

of the English Language

Table of Contents
Just click and go.  :)

Sayings about Education

Sayings about Work

Sayings about Play, Rest, and Relaxation

Sayings about Love and Marriage

Sayings about Fighting

Sayings about Life and Death

Sayings about Cats

Sayings about Dogs

Sayings about Chickens

  Sayings about Home

Contrary Proverbs


Definitions of Terms


[Etymology: from Latin] Pro (forward) + verb (word)

Evidently, a proverb is collection of words (i.e. a phrase or sentence) that has been put forth, and has become a common saying that elucidates some truth.


[Etymology: from Old English] Say (tell) + ing (gerund suffix)

Any common, colloquial expression


[Etymology: from Latin] maximum (largest)

Evidently, a maxim is a word or expression (generally the latter) that has become very "large" and well-known


[Etymology: from Latin] adage (saying)

An adage is quite similar to that of proverb, yet according to Merriam-Webster, it is often metaphorical, and illustrates some truth.


[Etymology: from French] cliché (printer's stereotype)

A saying which has become OVER-used, and is considered trite, boring, a matter of course, not worth saying.

Sayings About Education

  • Knowledge is power.

Classification: proverb/maxim/adage

Meaning:  the more one knows, the more one can manipulate one's environment to get what one wants.


  • Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.

Classification: proverb/maxim

Meaning:  Getting plenty of sleep (by going to bed early) certainly helps the body remain healthy.  Getting up early and getting a "head-start" on one's studies or work, certainly makes wise or wealthy (respectively).  But, this proverb presupposes that one does not squander one's time or money.


  • A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Classification: saying/adage

Meaning:  this can be called an adage, because of the inherent metaphor.  The metaphor is:

Mind = something that can be wasted (i.e., can be used in a frivilous and/or unworthy manner)

In fact, the mind is an abstract thing.  It cannot be touched, nor heard, nor seen.  It is only perceivable by the owner.  Descartes's observation: "I think, therefore I am," is about the mind.  Only the mind can think.  Giving up one's education, is often considered to be "wasting" one's mind, or in other words: not using one's mind in a worthy manner.


  •  Little drops make the mighty ocean.

  •  Rome wasn't built in a day.

  •  The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Classification: proverb/adage

Meaning:  these are a metaphorical adages

  - little drops, a day, bite = small increments

  - making a mighty ocean, building Rome, eating an elephant = a large task

When faced with a large task, such as learning a language, one must remember that it is best to set small goals for one's self, and focus on each individual small goal and not the whole task.  Thinking about the whole task, can make one overwhelmed and depressed.  But focusing on small, more rapidly achievable goals makes one feel confident, and encouraged.


  • Two heads are better than one.

Classification: adage; maxim

Meaning:  Two minds (working together) are better than one mind (working alone).

Sayings about Work

  • Make hay while the sun shines.

Classification:  proverb/adage

Meaning:  it is a metonymy.  "Making hay" is a task, which represents any/all tasks.  "While the sun shines" means while the opportunity is there. 


  • Opportunity only knocks once.

Classification: proverb/adage

Meaning:  A good chance (opportunity) from ONE, particular person or company will come to you only once.  If you pass it up, you will never get a chance with that person or company ever again.

[This a kind of personification]


  • Back to the ol' grind stone.  [ol' = old]

Classification:  saying


1.  "Back" means return to ((sth)).

2.  "old" means something that one has known for a long time.  It doesn't necessarily mean that the thing is old.

3.  "a grind stone" is used for sharpening knives (and other tools).

4.  Working on a grind stone, sharpening knives is said to be very boring and monotonous work;

So, the saying means return to one's boring, tedious, monotonous work.


  • Time is money.

Classification: maxim/adage/possibly cliche

Meaning:  This is clearly a metaphor.  Time is equated with money.  The idea being conveyed here is that through the consumption of time (and work), one can make money.  The implication is: "don't waste time."


  • Another Day, another dollar.

Classification: saying/maxim

Meaning:  Another day of work means another (some) dollar(s) in my pocket.


  • A penny saved is a penny earned.

Classification:  proverb

Meaning:  by putting a penny in a savings account, you can earn a penny after many years.


  • There is no substitute for hard work.

Classification: proverb

Meaning:  There are no short cuts in life.  Hard work is what is needed to succeed.

Thomas Edison is credited with saying, "Success is 99% hard work... and only 1% genius."


  • Kill two birds with one stone.

Classification:  proverb; adage

Meaning:  Accomplish two tasks with one action.


Sayings about Play, Rest & Relaxation

  • All work and no play, makes Johnny a dull boy.

Classification:  Proverb

Meaning:  The meaning is fairly straight-forward.  One must find a balance between work and play.


  • One must unstring the bow, or else it will eventually snap.

Classification:  Adage

Meaning:  This is a metaphor.  "Unstringing the bow" means relax.  "Snap" means go insane.


Sayings about Love and Marriage

  • Love is blind.

Classification: Proverb/adage

Meaning:  Love is a metonymy for the person in love.  It means that a person in love, is blind to the faults of the object of his/her love.


  • Love is a rose.

Classification: adage

Meaning:  Love is beautiful (like a rose), but love can hurt (like a rose can via thorns)

From a Neil Young Song


  • It is said, "One should have both eyes open before marriage, and one eye shut after marriage."

Classification: Maxim

Meaning:  Because love tends to be blind, one should open BOTH eyes to the faults of one's fiance; and, after marriage, one should close one eye (and forgive) half of the faults of one's spouse.


  • Sometimes, love isn't enough.

Classification:  less well-known saying

Meaning:  Sometimes although two people love each other, they cannot be together for one reason or another, usually, because of irreconcilable differences.


  • It takes two to tango.

Classification:  Adage

Meaning:  This is a metaphor.  A "tango" is a kind of dance.  It is a dance that requires two people, and each person must do his/her part.  Otherwise, there can be no "tango".  So, the meaning of the metaphor is that it takes two people, each doing his/her part, to make a relationship work out.


Sayings about Fighting

  • Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.

Classification: maxim

Meaning:  "names" means derogatory words, such as: "stupid", "idiot", "moron", "four-eyes", etc.

This is taught to children so that they do not worry or fight when called "names" by others.


  • It takes two to fight.

Classification:  proverb

Meaning:  the meaning is self-evident, is it not?


  • There are two sides to every story.

Classification:  proverb, maxim

Meaning:  in any dispute, there are always two sides (points of view).  The truth often lies somewhere in between.


  • Words can cut like a knife.

Classification:  Adage

Meaning:  It is said that words can "cut" into one's "heart".  The Heart is a metonymy for the feelings/emotions that one feels.  "Cut is also a metonymy meaning to injur or cause pain, in this case, mental anguish.


  • A soft answer turneth away wrath.

Classification:  Proverb

Meaning:  The meaning is self-evident, I believe.

From the Bible (Proverbs 15:1)


  • Fighting never solves anything.

Classification:  Maxim, Cliché

This is commonly used by teachers and parents to teach children not to fight.


  • Violence begets violence.

Classification:  Proverb/adage

Meaning:  "Beget", means "Give birth to...".  So, the adage means that violence initiates or provokes retaliation.

  • Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

Classification:  Proverb



Sayings about Life & Death

  • You only live once.

Classification:  Maxim

Meaning:  The meaning is that since we only live once, we ought to live life to the fullest.


  • You can't take it with you when you go.

Classification:  Maxim

Meaning:  "When you go", means: 'when you die'.  "It" means: material possessions.  The implication is that one should not place too much importance upon material possessions.


  • Dying is easy; It's living that's hard.

Classification:  Maxim

Meaning:  meaning is self-evident (whether you agree or not is a different story)


  • "Life is pain, Princess.  Anyone who says otherwise, is selling something."

Classification:  not really a proverb... it's a quotation from my favorite book/movie: The Princess Bride.


  • Life sucks.  Then, you die.

Classification:  maxim

Meaning:  life is terrible.  And, then, to make matters worse, you have to die.


  • Two things are constant in this life:  death and taxes.

Classification:  proverb

Meaning:  there are two things that everyone must endure:  death and taxes.


*To see more idiomatic expressions and slang regarding death, click here


Sayings / Idioms about Cats

  • Cats have nine lives.

Classification:  maxim/saying

Meaning:  Cats can have nine near-death experiences before they actually "kick the bucket" (for meaning of "kick the bucket" see slang page / death section).


  • Cat got your tongue?

Classification:  idiom

Meaning:  Can't you speak?


  • Curiosity killed the cat.

Classification:  proverb

Meaning:  One can get into trouble and possibly die by giving in to curiosity.


  • Let the cat out of the bag.

Classification:  idiom

Meaning:  Allow a secret to escape from one's mouth/lips.


  • There's more than one way to skin a cat.

Classification:  proverb/adage

Meaning:  There is more than one way to accomplish any given task.



Sayings / Idioms about Dogs

  • Dog is man's best friend.

Classification: cliché

Meaning:  Dogs are human's best friends.


  • dogging one's trail

Classification:  idiom

Meaning:  following (one's trail) 

NOTE:  even though dogs are human's friends, the wild dog's life is not seen as a good one.  Even some tame dogs' lives are not very good.  Hence there are many negative idioms regarding dogs...

  • Living a dog's life

Classification:  idiom

Meaning:  living a bad life


top dog, underdog, and other dog metaphors:  click here

Simile:  sick as a dog



Sayings about Chickens

  • Don't count your chicks before they hatch.

Classification:  proverb

Meaning:  Don't "count on" something to happen before it actually happens.


  • Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Classification:  saying (a question used by scientist and philosophers)

Meaning:  The meaning is both literal and figurative.  In the literal sense, we wonder whether nature created the chicken first, or the egg first.

In science, we are often face with a conundrum regarding a certain issue in science.

An example:  I recently read an article that suggests that fatter babies are smarter.

I would ask (and any logically-minded scientist would ask): is it that the babies are smarter because they are fat, OR is it that they are fat because they are smarter?

This one is easily answered, since the brain is composed mostly of fat, it would follow that the fat one has the healthier the brain and the healthier the brain, the smarter the child.


Sayings about Home

  • Man builds the house but woman makes the home.

Classification: proverb

Meaning: Although the man does the labor to create the structure, the true home advisor is the woman who makes the house into a home.


  • Clean-out the drain pipes while the weather is good.

Classification: proverb

Meaning: A smart home advisor always does his work before it is needed to be done. It's always better to be prepared as a home advisor then have to do the work after the fact.


Contrary Proverbs in English
What are "contrary proverbs"?
They are a set of two proverbs that seem to contradict each other.

Here they are.  I will attempt to reconcile some of them.

All good things come to those who wait. Time and tide wait for no man.
Reconciliation:  Both can be true, depending upon the thing wanted.  If one wants a job, he/she had better get out there and find one.  If one wants a diver's license, well you'd better wait in line!
The pen is mightier than the sword. Actions speak louder than words.
Reconciliation:  The two apparently opposing proverbs are referring to completely different situations.

The first proverb is referring to motivation.  While the sword (a metonymy for battle/fighting) can oft times be motivational, the pen (a metonymy for writing) is more motivational (for those who can read).

The second proverb is referring to family education.  A child will follow a parent's example more than the parent's words.

Wise men think alike. Fools seldom differ.
Reconciliation: none necessary.  While there might be an implication that only wise men think alike, it is not explicitly stated so.
The best things in life are free. There's no such thing as a free lunch.
Reconciliation:  While lunch is great, there are greater things, like love.  Love doesn't cost anything, or shouldn't anyways.  Things like shelter, groceries, clothing don't come free of charge.  One must work for them.
Slow and steady wins the race. Time waits for no one.

The first proverb is referring to long distance (a metaphor for long-time event).  It's not a 100meter dash.  It's more like a marathon.  It's about having endurance/stamina, and NOT giving up.  For example: Slow and steady wins the race in love.  Quick love is called "infatuation" and it dies quickly.  Take it slow and steady and you might win somebody's love.

The second proverb is referring to opportunities.  The door (of opportunity) will be open only a short time, and time doesn't stop for anyone.  For example:  The opportunity to talk to a person of interest may only last a short moment.  If you don't take it, you lose.

Look before you leap. Strike while the iron is hot.
Reconciliation:  none necessary, really.

The first proverb explains that you need to check out the situation before you go into it.  It doesn't necessarily take that long to do so.  You can still "strike while the iron is hot."

If were to merge the two proverbs, it would look like this:  "Look before you strike while the iron is hot."

Do it well, or not at all. Half a loaf is better than none at all.

You can do it well, and still not finish.  So, both can be true.  If you do half a loaf well, it will taste good.
Birds of a feather flock together. Opposites attract.

The first proverb is referring to friends.  The second proverb is referring to lovers.

Don't cross your bridges before you come to them. Forewarned is forearmed.
Reconciliation:  none necessary.

The first proverb is about worry.  Don't worry about your future.

The second proverb is about foreknowledge (about what to expect in the future).

If we were to combine the two proverbs, it would look like this:  "Learn about the bridges that you MIGHT have to cross, learn what you need to do, but don't worry about it.  You don't need to make plans or make preparations too far in advance, although it doesn't hurt to do so."

Post note:  I say that you don't need to make plans too far in advance, because one's path may change, and you may never have to cross that bridge.  Then, what?  Your preparations were for naught.  You wasted your time and energy.  Especially worry; you wasted your worry upon something that never happened.

Doubt is the beginning of wisdom. Faith will move mountains.
Reconciliation:  none needed.

The first proverb is about caution.  There are many charlatans out there, ready to deceive and take advantage of those who follow with blind faith.

The second proverb is about belief (faith) in a person's ability to achieve.  [Totally different situation].

Great starts make great finishes. It isn't over 'till it's over.

Sometimes one is true and the other false.

Practice makes perfect. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Reconciliation:  none needed.

You can spend some time practicing, and some time playing.

Silence is golden. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Sometimes it is advantageous to remain silent, and sometimes it is advantages to speak up and create a fuss in order to get desired results.

You're never too old to learn. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Reconciliation cannot be made.

All I can say is that for some, proverb 1 is true, and for others proverb 2 is true.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander. One man's meat is another man's poison.
Reconciliation cannot be made, except to say that sometimes the first proverb is true, and sometimes the second proverb is true.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Out of sight, out of mind.
Reconciliation cannot be made, except to say that sometimes the first proverb is true, and sometimes the second proverb is true.
Too many cooks spoil the broth. Many hands make light work.

The first proverb is about bosses.  Too many bosses cause problems.

The second proverb is about underlings (servants).

Hold fast to the words of your ancestors. Wise men make proverbs; and fools repeat them.

I think we need to keep in mind another proverb when dealing with most proverbs:  moderation in all things.  Perhaps there is NEVER a proverb that holds true in ALL situations.

Sometimes our ancestors had it right and sometimes they were wrong.  It is up to us, today, to put those proverbs/sayings to the test and see if they are true or not.


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