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About sayings

A saying is a short, clever expression that usually contains advice or expresses some obvious truth. Many traditional sayings are still in general use today. Most of the sayings in this section are well known in English, though some of them come from other languages. The meaning or interpretation shown for each saying is believed to be the generally accepted interpretation of the saying, though for some sayings the interpretation may be more subjective than for others.


There are literally thousands of sayings in English (and all languages). The term saying conveys the idea of any expression of wisdom or truth, usually handed down by earlier generations. The origin of a saying is, in most cases, unknown. Many English sayings have come from other languages, and vice versa.

Most sayings are effective thanks to their shortness and directness. They use simple, vivid language, often based on everyday domestic situations, making them easy to understand and remember.

Sayings may be classified under a number of different terms, of which proverb is probably the best known. Other types of saying are adage, maxim, motto, epigram and aphorism, though frankly the distinction between them is often vague:

  • proverb: a piece of common-sense wisdom expressed in practical, homely terms ("A stitch in time saves nine.")

  • adage: is a time-honored and widely known saying ("Where there's smoke, there's fire.")

  • maxim: a general rule of behaviour drawn from practical experience ("Neither a borrower nor a lender be.")

  • motto: a maxim adopted as a principal of conduct ("Honesty is the best policy.")

  • epigram: is a brief, witty, or satirical statement that often gains effect through paradox ("The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.")

  • aphorism: similar to an epigram but more profound rather than witty ("He is a fool that cannot conceal his wisdom.")

Contributor: Josef Essberger