8 junio, 2024

Saying: what it is, characteristics, function, themes, examples

We explain what a proverb is, its characteristics, its functions, the topics it deals with, and we give several examples.

What is a saying?

A saying It is an expression or phrase whose use over time has become popular, becoming part of the culture or tradition of a country and a language.

Proverbs are part of the so-called popular wisdom, they are opinions, sayings or sentences that have crystallized in a phrase or expression that we have repeated without modifying for centuries, such as «God helps those who get up early», or «a dog that barks does not bite». ”.

Most of the proverbs are from anonymous authors, although some come from sacred books such as the Biblefrom philosophers like Confucius, or have emerged from the literature of each country, and remain because they serve to transmit values ​​and opinions on different aspects of daily life.

The word proverb comes from French. refrainas the chorus is called, the phrase that is repeated at the end of a verse in a song.

Saying Features

oral and written tradition

Most of the proverbs are of popular origin, and were transmitted orally generation after generation, until they have been collected in the literature of each country.

In the case of the Spanish proverb, the set of proverbs of the Spanish language, most of it was compiled by writers in the 16th century, and since then it has been reproduced and adapted in different Spanish-speaking countries.

Proverbs of literary origin

There are also proverbs that have emerged from the imagination of a writer and have been incorporated into popular culture, such as some proverbs created by Miguel de Cervantes, author of The Quijote. For example: «I was born naked, I find myself naked, I neither lose nor win.»

simple and rhythmic language

In general, the proverb is made up of simple words, easy to understand and with a musical rhythm similar to that of the verses of a poem or a song. This musicality allows you to memorize your words easily.

Relationship with language

Sayings are closely linked to the language in which they were conceived, and can be untranslatable, that is, lose much of their meaning and charm when transferred to another language, or when translated into Spanish.

A large part of the proverbs that we use and know have been part of the Spanish language since the Middle Ages, and some even from Greece and Rome.

Simple, two-membered structure

Proverbs are usually made up of two parts: an action or situation, followed by a consequence or sentence, as in «dog that barks / does not bite», or «he who gets up early / God helps him».

connotative character

Proverbs work as metaphors, with two meanings or messages: the one that is stated directly and the connotation or allusion. For example, «shrimp that falls asleep (the one that is not attentive), is carried away by the current (loses opportunities)».

judgmental character

They are generally part of a piece of advice, a warning, or function as a definitive opinion on a matter.

Not a uniform “philosophy”

Since it is the product of various sources and times, it is possible to find contradictions in the sayings. For example, to the proverb «God helps those who get up early», it can be opposed «no matter how early you get up, the sun rises earlier».

Function and purpose of proverbs

The proverbs work as small nuclei of popular wisdom that are passed from generation to generation, in a kind of summary of the experience of the peoples that cover different situations of daily life.

The purpose of the councils, on the one hand, is to transmit the most traditional values ​​of a society, which is why they tend to be of a conservative type («a bad thing is better known than a good thing to know»), or skeptical («the path of Hell is paved with good intentions»).

The proverbs also work as humor or comfort escapes in hostile or adverse situations that occur in the day to day of all people, as when it is said «God squeezes, but does not drown».

Topics that proverbs deal with

The topics covered are as varied as those of literature or situations of life itself. Some of the most common are:

The money.
The religion.
The family.
The job.

Examples of sayings

Barking dog does not bite

Explanation: when a person threatens or yells a lot it is almost certain that he will not do what he says. A threat is not always followed by the execution of the act.

No matter how early you get up, it dawns earlier

Explanation: there is no point in pressing to speed up some situations, you have to be patient and wait for the due time.

Do not leave for tomorrow what you can do today

Explanation: Do not postpone work and tasks, do not forget that «for later it is too late».

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

Explanation: even with good will serious mistakes can be made. Good intentions are not enough.

By the mouth dies the fish

Explanation: This saying can be used in two ways: to say that everything can be fixed with a good meal, or to say that someone is damned with their own words.

Nobody dies on the eve

Explanation: There is no need to rush actions or a decision, or despair, things happen in due time.

God punishes without stick or iron

Explanation: Sooner or later, every bad act is punished, even if it is providential.

Tree that grows crooked never straightens its branch

Explanation: Errors must be corrected when a person is young and malleable, and not wait until they become an adult.

Out of sight, out of mind

Explanation: what you don’t know or don’t know can’t or shouldn’t hurt you.

A god begging and with the hammer giving

Explanation: Wishes and prayers are not enough, you have to work and make an effort to achieve your goals.

At home blacksmith, wooden knife

Explanation: when something is missing that should be present because of someone’s work or profession, for example, that there is no aspirin in a pharmacist’s house.

Like father Like Son

Explanation: when a daughter or a son resembles his mother or father, in some virtue or defect.

Do not make firewood from the fallen tree

Explanation: not attack a person who has fallen from grace, nor speak ill of someone who is defeated.

A king dead, king set

Explanation: It means that we are all replaceable, and that no one is absolutely indispensable.

The dead to the hole and the living to the bun

Explanation: we mourn the death or disappearance of our family and friends, but life goes on.

You don’t look at the fang of a gift horse

Explanation: When you receive something for free there is no point in looking for defects.

Misfortune of many consolation of fools

Explanation: If something bad happens to us, it is not consoling that it is also happening to others.

Jack of all trades, master of none

Explanation: If a person is on too many projects at the same time, it is likely that they will not get any of them done well.

A bird in the hand is worth a hundred in the bush

Explanation: It is better to have a specific project than many unspecified ideas.

Loose lips sink ships

Explanation: It is often better to keep quiet and not talk too much.


Sayings and phrases made in Spanish that will serve you on a day-to-day basis (2020). Taken from espanole.es.
Molina, X. (2021). 100 very popular short sayings (and their meanings). Taken from psicologiaymente.com.
Highway, FL (2021). Literature and folklore: proverbs. Taken from biblioteca.org.ar.
Aphorism, proverb and saying (2021). Taken from fundeu.es.
The most popular sayings and their meaning (2021). Taken from 20minutos.es.

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