Proverbs about books, literature

From around the world

As They Say in Zanzibar: Proverbial Wisdom From Around the World is a compilation of more than 2,000 proverbs gathered by David Crystal. He says in the foreword, “Proverbs do more than express a general truth or a universal belief. Each in its own way adds a tiny bit more to our understanding of the world’s linguistic and cultural diversity, and thus helps us grasp more fully what it means to be human.” From the humorous—It is not economical to go to bed early to save the candles if the result is twins (China)—to the puzzling—Brotherly love for brotherly love, but cheese for money (Albania)—the proverbs will delight and sometimes mystify, and of course, they can provide good advice: Rather once cry your heart out than always sigh (China). Open it to any page and you will find gems, like What butter or whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for (Ireland), or A kind word warms for three winters (China). As They Say in Zanzibar could be used as a discussion lead-off at the dinner table or even on a first date. What someone makes of When you are chased by a wolf you call the boar your uncle (Slovenia) could be telling; at the very least, it could be fun.

Here are some proverbs dealing with books and reading:

Books
• A book holds a house of gold (China)
• It is better to be entirely without a book than to believe it entirely (China)
• Many books do not use up words; many words do not use up thoughts (China)
• Scholars talk books; butchers talk pigs (China)
• If you want to be acquainted with the past and the present, you must read five cartloads of books (China)
• One is happy when one has books, but happier still when one has no need of them (China)
• To read a book for the first time is to make the acquaintance of a new friend; to read it a second time is to meet an old one (China)
• The head is older than the book (Belgium)
• Other people’s books are difficult to read (Netherlands)
• There is no worse robber than a bad book (Italy)
• Teachers die, but books live on (Netherlands)
• You can’t judge a book by its cover (U.S.)
• It is not healthy to swallow books without chewing (Germany)

Reading and Writing
• After three days without reading, talk becomes flavourless (China)
• Other people’s books are difficult to read (Netherlands)
• Those who read many epitaphs, lose their memory (Latin)
• The wise read a letter backwards (Germany)
• To read a book for the first time is to make the acquaintance of a new friend; to read it a second time is to meet an old one (China)
• By writing we learn to write (France)
• What one writes remains (Netherlands)
• Wise silence has never been written down (Italy)
• Good scribes are not those who write well, but who erase well (Russia)
• Think much, say little, write less (France)
• Learn to handle a writing-brush, and you’ll never handle a begging-bowl (China)
• Those who can read and write have four eyes (Albania)
• A love-letter sometimes costs more than a three-cent stamp (U.S.)
• The heart’s letter is read in the eyes (England)
• Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel (China)
• The best memory is not so firm as faded ink (China)
• In our alphabet, B comes after A (U.S.)
• One can study calligraphy at eighty (Japan)
• Where hands are needed words and letters are useless (Germany)
• Ideas start with ‘I’ (U.S.)
• When in anger, say the alphabet (U.S.)

Literature
• Life without literature is death (Latin)
• It is not good to be the poet of a village (Germany)
• There dies a poet in everyone (England)
• Poets are fathers of lies (Latin)
• Poets and pigs are appreciated only after their death (Italy)
• Slowly but surely the excrement of foreign poets will come to your village (Mali)
• The dog may be wonderful prose, but only the cat is poetry (France)
• One actor cannot make a play (U.S.)
• Those that begin the play must continue it (Turkey)
• Those who have free seats at a play hiss first (China)

—Marilyn Dahl

via Shelf Awareness, Sept. 19, 2008.


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10 responses to “Proverbs about books, literature

  1. I liked the Italian ones best. Fun post!

  2. Really? That’s cool. The Chinese ones draw me in.

  3. This powerbs are very good! Thank you very much!!!

  4. U.S Proverbs are moderate and gives good information.

  5. here is one proverb of book
    teachers die,but books live on………(akshith2665@yahoo.com)

  6. anyone can give me one proverb on books

  7. I like a wise talk

  8. nice proverbs! i like it too much

  9. i liked italian proverbs

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