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«Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words»

Wisdom in Art, Culture, Folklore, History, Literature and Mass Media

Wolfgang Mieder

The ten chapters of «Proverbs Speak Louder Than Words» present a composite picture of the richness of proverbs as significant expressions of folk wisdom as is manifest from their appearance in art, culture, folklore, history, literature, and the mass media. The first chapter surveys the multifaceted aspects of paremiology (the study of proverbs), with the second chapter illustrating the paremiological work by the American folklorist Alan Dundes. The next two chapters look at the effective role that proverbs play in the mass media, where they are cited in their traditional wording or as innovative anti-proverbs. The fifth chapter discusses proverbs as expressions of the worldview of New England. This is followed by two chapters on the proverbial prowess of American presidents, to wit the proverbial style in the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams and a discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s apocryphal proverb «Don’t swap horses in the middle of the stream.» The eighth chapter traces the tradition of proverb iconography from medieval woodcuts to Pieter Bruegel the Elder and on to modern caricatures, cartoons, and comic strips. The last two chapters deal with the origin and history of the proverbial expression «to tilt at windmills» as an allusion to Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the many proverbial utterances in Mozart’s letters. The book draws attention to the fact that proverbs as metaphorical signs continue to play an important role in oral and written communication. Proverbs as socalled monumenta humana are omnipresent in all facets of life, and while they are neither sacrosanct nor saccharine, they usually offer much common sense or wisdom based on recurrent experiences and observations.


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2. “The Proof of the Proverb Is in the Probing” Alan Dundes as Pioneering Paremiologist 45


There is no doubt that Alan Dundes (1934–2005) was one of the giants of international folkloristics whose voluminous publications and lectures delivered around the world touched thousands of scholars and students of folklore. In addi- tion, he introduced over twenty thousand eager students to folklore studies in his more than four decades of teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. Many of them were so intrigued by this popular “Pied Piper of Folklore” that they earned their M.A. or Ph.D. degrees in folklore either at Berkeley or other universities, the result being that there are “Dundes students” practicing the art of folklore studies at universities or in the public sector throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Under his directorship the Folklore Program at Berkeley became internationally known as the ideal place to pursue serious folklore stud- ies, with the Berkeley Folklore Archives serving as a model for gathering various folklore materials from modern oral and written sources. Little wonder that many folklorists travelled to Berkeley to spend time with the master teacher and scholar, who always gave freely of his time and expertise to help others with their impor- tant work. While Alan Dundes was obviously busy with his own projects, he always had the time to welcome visitors from near and far, thereby practicing what he preached throughout his productive and fruitful life, namely that folkloristics is the key to a better understanding of the human condition and that its practitioners should conduct...

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