Wisdom can be misunderstood

60 popular proverbs for every occasion - and their meaning + origin

Proverbs accompany us in everyday life and are an integral part of our language usage. They are often used to reinforce arguments or to give little advice. We have put together the most famous proverbs for you and inform you about their meaning and origin.

Interesting facts about proverbs

Proverbs are part of our everyday language. We use them automatically and assume that our interlocutor understands its meaning. The older generations often use more proverbs than the younger ones. Expressions such as “That doesn't make the roast fat any more” are slowly disappearing. Still, most know what they mean as they are still floating around. In the following we will tell you something about the history of proverbs and how they differ from idioms, we define their meaning and explain confusing mixed forms.


Story of proverbs

Proverbs are often short popular statements that have been passed down through generations. They usually describe a certain behavior or a life experience that is firmly established in the thesaurus, i.e. the vocabulary of a language. The scientific term for the proverb is paremia. Proverbs are of different ages and come from different epochs of our time. In the Middle Ages, more precisely from the 12th century, they were mainly used to be able to make universally valid statements and to reinforce points of argument through their general validity. A certain skepticism towards the proverbs only crystallized in the late Middle Ages around the 14th century.


We have selected three different definitions of the proverb for you. They clearly describe the characteristics of a proverb and demarcate it from the popular phrases, which are usually not very meaningful. We will explain the difference to idioms in the following chapter.

  1. "A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience."
    (Miguel de Cervantes, Spanish writer)
  2. "A proverb is a well-known, firmly coined sentence that expresses a rule of life or wisdom in a concise, short form."
    (Wolfgang Mieder, linguist and literary scholar)
  3. “Proverb, also Proverb: concise and aptly formulated wisdom that generalizes certain social experiences to a high degree. Its author is unknown; often of popular imagery. "
    (Lexicon of linguistic terms. Leipzig: VEB Bibliographisches Institut 1985. p. 227.)

Difference Proverbs and Sayings

Often the terms “proverb” and “idiom” are incorrectly used synonymously. The difference lies in the flexibility of their use: a proverb is not flexible and can only be used as a saying in a certain order as a fixed sentence. A idiom, on the other hand, can also be just a phrase or a certain term that can be flexibly incorporated into a wide variety of sentences. Both proverbs and idioms are part of our cultural heritage and are used often and with pleasure.

Examples of proverbs:

  1. Exceptions prove the rule.
    Intentional meaning: The mention of an exception suggests that there is a rule.
    Origin: from Latin.
  2. Haughtiness comes before the event.
    Intentional meaning: Arrogance, overconfidence and arrogance cause failure.
    Origin: Biblical.
  3. After that no cock crows.
    Meaning: Something is of no interest, not worth mentioning, without meaning.
    Origin: New Testament.

Examples of idioms:

  1. The A and O
    Meaning: the most important, the essential; comes from Alpha and Omega - the beginning and the end.
  2. 08/15
    Meaning: mediocre, ordinary, simple, plain
  3. keep an eye on someone / something
    Meaning: to like someone / something.

Proverbs in other languages

Proverbs in other languages

Since proverbs differ from language to language, they cannot always be translated one to one. Even if their meanings are sometimes similar, there are different formulations in the different languages. An example would be the German proverb "Hals und Beinbruch.", Which means "Break a leg." The proverb means nothing else than "Good luck / Good luck." That is why it is particularly important when learning languages ​​to include common proverbs. This fact makes it even more difficult to use proverbs across languages ​​and creates even more confusion in the use of foreign languages.

However, there are also some proverbs that can be translated literally. For example, the English “The early bird catches the worm.” Means exactly the same as the German saying “The early bird catches the worm.”, Comparable to the saying “First come, first served”. The meaning could also be said even more clearly: Those who act quickly have an advantage.

Failed proverbs

It is interesting that there are now more and more mixed forms of proverbs or that individual words are suddenly replaced and they alienate the original form. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the younger generation no longer has any real relation to proverbs and, on the other hand, because of the exponentially growing globalization and increasing migration, more language contact and language mixing is possible. Thus, for example, English proverbs can be translated literally into German or proverbs and idioms can be mixed up when learning the German language.

Examples of failed proverbs:

  1. You should still have a triumph up your sleeve.
    It would be correct: "You should still have a trump / ace up your sleeve."
  2. Hope and lard are lost.
    It would be correct: "There hops and malt are lost."
  3. Peace lies in strength.
    It would be correct: "There is strength in calm."
  4. After all, we all have to pull the same boat.
    This is a hybrid of "We all have to pull together" and "We are all in the same boat."

60 proverbs, their meanings and origins

In this chapter you will find numerous proverbs that you can use on a wide variety of occasions. We'll help you understand them by explaining what they mean and where they come from. You have surely used some of them without knowing more about them. Proverbs are an integral part of our vocabulary, but they can also be used in different regions within Germany. If you come across a saying you don't know, you can check it out here.

  1. First come first serve.
    Importance: Whoever comes first has an advantage.
    Origin: In the Middle Ages, farmers had to queue up in front of the mill with their grain and wait until they could grind their grain. Whoever came first could quickly go home with his flour. The farmers who came late had to stand in line for a long time.
  2. Shards bring luck.
    Importance: If something breaks, you will be lucky.
    Origin: The loud clink of glass or dishes is said to drive away evil spirits. In the past, the word “shard” meant “clay vessel” and many filled “shards” meant sufficient supplies and thus luck.
  3. The early bird catches the worm.
    Importance: Getting up early is worth it. It is easier to work in the morning, so early risers achieve more.
    Origin: It is the literal translation of the Latin textbook sentence “aurora habet aurum in ore”. It refers to the personified dawn (aurora), which has gold in its mouth and gold in its hair. “The morning hour has gold in its mouth” was previously proven by a letter from Erasmus from Rotterdam to his pupil. He gave him the advice "aurora musis amica" (the morning hour as the friend of the muses), which means something like "the best morning to study".
  4. All that glitters is not gold.
    Importance: Appearances are deceptive. Deficits, mistakes and defects can often only be discovered on closer inspection. Something is not being kept as promised.
    Origin: Not used.
  5. Anyone who digs a pit for others will fall into it themselves.
    Importance: If you set a trap for others, you fall into it yourself. It is warned against reprehensible behavior: Those who want to harm others also run the risk of harming themselves.
    Origin: This saying comes from the Old Testament: "Anyone who digs a pit can fall into it" (Koh 10.8)
  6. The rats are leaving the sinking ship.
    Importance: Turning away from failing, unsuccessful plans or undertakings or fleeing an unpleasant situation.
    Origin: Rats used to be common on sailing ships. According to seafaring belief, they were the first to leave the ship in the event of impending sinking and became an indicator of impending shipping accidents.
  7. Cobbler, stick to your last.
    Importance: Don't criticize anything that you have no idea about. Stick to what you know about.
    Origin: This proverb is traced back to the painter Apelles. A shoemaker noticed that one of his paintings was missing an eyelet on a shoe. Apelles added the eyelet. When the proud shoemaker then also criticized one leg, Apelles replied that the shoemaker should stick to his last. (The last is usually made of wood and simulates a human foot. It helps the shoemaker to model the shoe.)
  8. Whoever sits in a glass house shouldn't throw stones.
    Importance: Do not blame anyone for their faults or qualities that you have yourself.
    Origin: From Germany. More precise information is not available.
  9. Even a blind chicken can find a grain.
    Importance: Sometimes happiness or success is possible despite a lack of skills. A thing can also happen by accident.
    Origin: The origin is not clearly proven. Mostly this proverb is used disparagingly and refers to a lack of ability.
  10. What you can get today, don't postpone it until tomorrow.
    Importance: You should do unavoidable or important tasks directly instead of postponing them over and over. They add up, cause more stress, and have to be done at some point anyway. Another possibility is for an opportunity to arise that should be seized before it goes away.
    Origin: Probably from Luther's translation of the Bible.
  11. Better to have a sparrow in hand than a pigeon on the roof.
    Importance: Rather, settle for something safe, mundane that you can safely achieve than wanting something greater and more valuable that there is a risk that you cannot achieve.
    Origin: This proverb appeals to the frugality of the people. They should be satisfied with what they have and not dream of the unattainable.
  12. Still waters run deep.
    Importance: Introverts have a side to them that they keep hidden. The proverb is used, for example, when someone who is shy suddenly surprises with a loud and conspicuous appearance or someone who does not otherwise show his skills suddenly impresses with special skills.
    Origin: From nature. Waters with a calm surface can contain strong currents below. The exterior does not suggest the core.
  13. All good things come in threes.
    Importance: Kind of a justification that the third attempt at doing something will work.
    Origin: The number three was of great importance in Germanic and medieval law. Germanic people's and court assemblies were held three times a year and a defendant was also summoned three times before he was convicted in his absence.
  14. Haughtiness comes before the event.
    Importance: Arrogance, overconfidence and arrogance lead to fall or failure.
    Origin: This saying comes from the Bible. The first translation read: "Proud courage comes before the fall".
  15. Have you got a louse down your liver? / A louse ran over his liver.
    Importance: Are you in a bad mood? Did something annoy you? Often the term is used for little things that cause trouble.
    Origin: The proverb is based on the medieval assumption that the human liver is the source of passion, temperament and also anger. The louse stands for something small, insignificant and only later added to the proverb. Before, here it was: Did something run down your liver? / Something went down his liver.

More proverbs and their meanings

Proverbs and their meanings

After we have explained some very common proverbs regarding their meaning and their origin, here is a list of other proverbs. We have only briefly summarized their meanings here so that we can present you with a wide range of proverbs and you can quickly find what you are looking for. You may even discover a new saying that you can incorporate into your everyday language. If you deal a lot with languages ​​and their facets, you will not only improve your rhetorical skills, but also your writing skills.

  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Importance: Everyone has their own taste. Something different is nice for everyone.
  2. Long story short.
    Importance: Is said when you talk about something around it, although you could have put it shorter. “Long story short,” is often followed by a concise summary of what has been said.
  3. That doesn't go on a cow's skin.
    Importance: That is unacceptable, an insolence not to be endured, exceeds the measure.
  4. Lies have short legs.
    Importance: Lies are revealed after a short time and are not worthwhile. Similar to: "Honesty lasts the longest".
  5. All roads lead to Rome.
    Importance: There are several ways to get a job done. Comparable to: "All rivers flow into the sea."
  6. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
    Importance: A child inherits traits or behaviors from their parents, or a child has obvious inherited traits from their parents' appearance.
  7. Old love doesn't rust.
    Importance: Those who have loved each other for a long time will continue to love each other in the future.
  8. The stupidest farmer has the thickest potatoes.
    Importance: A person who achieves a high profit without a great deal of intellectual effort.
  9. Age before beauty.
    Importance: The younger ones let the older ones go first. Today this saying is often used in an ironic and derogatory way and can be misunderstood.
  10. The Devil is a squirrel.
    Importance: You should never be too sure, even from what is supposedly harmless, unexpected evil can emerge.
  11. Age does not protect against stupidity.
    Importance: Old and experienced people also make mistakes.
  12. The cats does not stop to mice.
    Importance: You cannot change a person's fixed habits.
  13. Attack is the best defense.
    Importance: Offensive behavior is more likely to lead to successful defense than defensive behavior.
  14. Once bitten, twice shy.
    Importance: Anyone who has had a bad experience with something will probably not do it again.
  15. April, April, he doesn't know what he wants.
    Importance: In April the weather is changeable and can change quickly.
  16. Misfortunes never come singly.
    Importance: Misfortunes often tend to occur more frequently, or one misfortune causes further misfortune.
  17. A lid belongs on every pot.
    Importance: For every person there is another person who suits them well, or everyone should find a partner at some point.
  18. One hand washes the other.
    Importance: A favor is followed by a consideration. You have to help each other.
  19. Rain is followed by sunshine.
    Importance: After bad times, only better can follow.
  20. Postponed is not cancelled.
    Importance: Even those who keep postponing their obligations will not let them go away.
  21. A swallow doesn't make a summer.
    Importance: A single positive event does not mean that the turnaround has been made.
  22. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.
    Importance: Any damage caused must be paid for in the same amount.
  23. All's well that ends well.
    Importance: The positive outcome of something makes the negative things that happened before unimportant.
  24. Out of sight, out of mind
    Importance: Immediate forgetting of a matter, thing or person as soon as it is "out of sight".
  25. You have to forge the iron while it's hot.
    Importance: You have to act quickly before the opportunity dies.
  26. Practice early.
    Importance: The sooner you learn something, the faster you become a master at it.
  27. You learn from mistakes.
    Importance: Avoid making mistakes and bad experiences over again.
  28. Opposites attract.
    Importance: People without similarities are attractive to each other.
  29. Nothing becomes nothing.
    Importance: If you don't do anything, you won't get anything. Comparable to “We harvest what we sow”.
  30. Clothes make the man.
    Importance: Beliefs about intrinsic values, morals, and character that a person forms when looking at the external appearance of another person.
  31. Better dumb than stupid.
    Importance: Sometimes it's better not to say anything than to say something stupid.
  32. Time will tell.
    Importance: In time you will find a solution. Similar to: "Time heals all wounds".
  33. Every animal has its own little toy.
    Importance: Everyone what they like. Everyone should have their pleasure.
  34. Blood is thicker than water.
    Importance: The family comes first.
  35. The mouth of a child reveals the truth.
    Importance: Children often tell the truth bluntly because they are still alien to the falsehood of adults and they are unable to lie.
  36. The eye eats too.
    Importance: When the food is nicely presented, the appetite increases. Conversely, if something looks unsavory, you don't want to eat it, even if it's actually tasty.
  37. People of the same kind stick together.
    Importance: People with similarities get along well.
  38. Tomorrow, tomorrow just not today all lazy people say.
    Importance: This saying goes to someone who always puts everything off and is listless.
  39. Dogs that bark do not bite.
    Importance: Anyone who aggressively announces what they are going to do to you will probably not implement it or, conversely, if you seriously want to harm you, you will not announce it beforehand.
  40. Beggars can not be choosers.
    Importance: In an emergency, you do things that you wouldn't otherwise. Related proverb: "Necessity makes inventive".
  41. Advice is also a blow.
    Importance: Advice can also be viewed as criticism or patronizing.
  42. Money makes the world go round.
    Importance: Money is power.
  43. You make your own luck.
    Importance: Everyone is responsible for their own happiness. Everyone determines their own future. Life is what you make of it.
  44. Shut up, monkey dead.
    Importance: You say when a thing is abruptly done or a discussion is over.
  45. One should not chickens before they hatch the day.
    Importance: Don't expect a good event to happen before it actually happens. You shouldn't be too sure of something, even if the prospect is good. Similar to: "Don't be too early to rejoice".
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