When people mention a proverb, they usually mean one of three things:
- a succinct saying that conveys a basic truth about life and is in common use,
- a commonly referenced terse and clever bit of practical advice, or
- a statement of truth or advice from the Bible, including both the sayings of Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament and sayings from the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible.
The first two types are usually linked to particular cultural or ethnic groups, though there are common themes and common thoughts that are shared internationally. For example, each saying in this group is more-or-less equivalent to the others:
- A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. (English)
- Der Spatz in der Hand ist besser als die Taube auf dem Dach. (German)
- Mas vale pàjaro en mano que ciento volando. (Spanish)
- Un tien vaut mieux que deux tu l'auras. (French)
Because of its context, particular attention is paid by many people to any proverb found in the Bible. Here are some examples from the Book of Proverbs:
- Wisdom is better than rubies. (Proverbs 8:11)
- He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15)
- A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. (Proverbs 22:1)
Here are some examples from the sayings of Jesus and his disciples that appear in the New Testament and fit the category of proverb:
- The love of money is the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)
- Man does not live by bread alone. (Matthew 4:4)
- If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:25)
There is another group of sayings that are outliers in the world of the proverb: those linked to a single individual. There is just one example of this in the United States, and that is those recorded by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanack, using the alias Richard Saunders. Wherever these words of wisdom may have arisen, they are now indelibly linked with Franklin:
- Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
- Penny wise, pound foolish.
- Make haste slowly.