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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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10. “Now I Sit Like a Rabbit in the Pepper” Proverbial Letters of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 317


One of the unfortunate misconceptions in proverb scholarship has been the false notion that during the eighteenth century “the rationalistic temper found little to admire in proverbs” (Taylor 1931:173) and that there was a “general collapse of pro- verbiality” (Obelkevich 1994:230). Numerous proverb collections that appeared in various languages and as polyglot wisdom treasures are clear indications that there was no unnatural break in paremiological and paremiographical work (Bonser 1930; Mieder 1982–01; Moll 1958). It is simply not true that the so-called period of Enlightenment had no interest in oral traditions in general and in folk speech in particular. Despite its emphasis on intellectual and rational matters, this cultural period was not void of proverbial wisdom. The Age of Reason also had a popular side to it that was marked by a sincere interest in the teaching of morality, and the generational and experiential wisdom expressed in folk proverbs was indeed well suited for spreading common-sense ethics and virtues, both in oral and written communication. Little wonder that numerous proverb collections for didactic instruction appeared throughout Europe and in the United States. This was true for such authors as Cotton Mather, Abigail and John Adams, or Benjamin Franklin in colonial America and the f ledgling United States of the eighteenth century, and the continued use of proverbial language was equally wide-spread in the old world of Europe. Well-known authors like William Blake, Denis Diderot, Henry Fielding, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Now I Sit Like A Rabbit IN...

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