October 17, 2007

#01-026: Opposite Proverbs

a sword and a pen
Which looks "mightier" to you?
(Wikipedia: Sword, Pen)

Note: It's funny how "conventional wisdom" can contradict itself. I guess "wisdom" is more slippery than we thought!

Get Ready: What is the purpose of a proverb? Is there a proverb (in English or in your language) that captures the meaning of your life? Can you think of a proverb that you strongly disagree with?

Recently, we looked at a couple of idioms with a special construction: "The bigger, the better," and "The more, the merrier." While researching these, I ran across an interesting idea. Here's a dialogue based on the results.

Pat and Michael (two Americans) are talking:

Michael: Wow! I went on a date last night, and my mom made me take my little brother along.

Pat: Well, "the more, the merrier," right?

Michael: Not in this case! Here it was: "Two's company, three's a crowd!"

Pat: Aside from that, how was the date?

Michael: Pretty good. I gave her a present. It was a huge stuffed animal.

Pat: Ah, "the bigger, the better."

Michael: That's what I thought, But she said, "Big things come in little packages."

Pat: Hey, that's twice that we found two proverbs with opposite meanings. Do you think there are more?

Michael: Let's see. How about, "The pen is mightier than the sword"? And... 

Pat: "Actions speak louder than words!"

Michael: Great! Give me one.

Pat: Ummm... "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Michael: "Out of sight, out of mind!"

Pat: Yeah! OK... "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

Michael: That's easy. "Better safe than sorry."

Pat: OK, give me one more. 

Michael: All right. "Look before you leap."

Pat: Got it! "He who hesitates is lost."

Michael: That's it!


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proverb#Counter_proverbs

Practice: Here are a few more proverbs. Can you think of their opposites?

  1. Many hands make light work.
  2. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.
  3. Clothes make the man.
  4. The best things in life are free.
  5. Birds of a feather flock together.
  6. You're never too old to learn.
  7. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
  8. Above all, to thine own self be true.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 17, 2007

This lesson received 1162 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: These are just suggested answers. If you think others, let me know! (You'll find more pairs at the link in the lesson!) 1. Too many cooks spoil the broth; 2. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth; 3. Don't judge a book by its cover; 4. There's no such thing as a free lunch; 5. Opposites attract; 6. You can't teach an old dog new tricks; 7. Silence is golden; 8. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.