Diploma thesis

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Masaryk University Brno

Faculty of Education

Department of English Language and Literature

The Comparison of English and Czech Proverbs

Brno 2007 Written by: Markéta Vršková

Supervisor: prof. PhDr. Josef Hladký, Csc.


I would like to thank my supervisor prof. PhDr. Josef Hladký, Csc. for revising my thesis. He has enriched my knowledge in English culture.


I hereby declare that this diploma thesis is completely my own work and that I used only the sources listed in the bibliography.


8 April 2007

1 Introduction 6

1.1 Roles of proverbs 9

1.2 Features of proverbs 11

1.3 Proverbs and sayings 14

1.4 Weather proverbs 15

1.5 Contrary proverbs 17

1.6 Czech proverbs with identical English equivalent 19

2 Types of proverbs 20

2.1 Animal proverbs 20

2.2 Proverbs about positive things - about love, friendship and home 21

2.3 Proverbs about work and diligence 24

2.4 Proverbs concerning learning and wisdom 26

2.5 Proverbs about time and fate 27

2.6 Proverbs concerning bad things and negative features 30

2.7 Proverbs about success and failure 33

3 Weather lore 35

3.1 Definition of weather lore 37

3.2 Main groups of weather lore 38

3.3 Weather lore related to clouds and moisture 39

3.4 Weather lore about air pressure 41

3.5 General weather lore 42

3.6 Months 46

3.6.1 January 46

3.6.2 February 47

3.6.3 March 48

3.6.4 April 49

3.6.5 May 51

3.6.6 June 51

3.6.7 July 52

3.6.8 August 53

3.6.9 September 54

3.6.10 October 54

3.6.11 November 55

3.6.12 December (winter and Christmas) 57

4 Conclusion 59

Bibliography: 61


A proverb may be defined as a simple and concrete saying which is well-known and repeated, and it expresses a truth based especially on the practical experience of mankind. Proverbs are often metaphorical. A great number of proverbs can be found in different languages all around the world. The punch line character of proverbs - the shorter- the better makes proverbs easy to understand and remember when there is a need to express some humorous or serious situation realistically. Proverbs have been accumulating over many centuries. The famous American scholar, Wolfgang Mieder, defines the term proverb as follows: “A proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorazible form and which is handed down from generation to generation.” (Mieder 1985:119; also in Mieder 1993:24) Another definition of a proverb is taken from The New Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Proverb is a succient and pithy saying in general use, expressing commonly held ideas and beliefs" (1985:750).

Proverbs usually contain some typical features. Those are alliteration (Forgive and Forget), rhyme (When the cat is away, the mice will play.), parallelism (Nothing ventured, nothing gained.) and ellipsis (Once bitten, twice shy.). The author of proverbs is generally unknown. Another typical feature of proverb is that it consists of seven words on average. Further features which can be found in proverbs are hyperbole (All is fair in love and war.), personification (Hunger is the best cook.) and paradox (The longest way around is the shortest way home.). Proverbs often tell us how to behave in a particular situations; they attempt to advise in some problematic situations or they recommend the way things should be. Proverbs can be found in any area of our lives. There are three groups of proverbs relating to:

a) weather

Beware of an oak, it draws the stroke; avoid an ash, it counts the flash; creep under the thorn, it can save you from harm” (Lacinová, 1996:161).

Chraň se před dubem, přitahuje hrom, vyhni se jasanu, počítá blesky. Zalez pod hloh, uchrání tě před nebezpečím.
Evening red and morning grey help the traveler on his way; evening grey and morning red bring down rain upon his head”(Lacinová, 1996:162).
Večerní červánky a kalné ráno pomáhají poutníku na cestě. Kalný večer a ranní červánky snášejí déšť na jeho hlavu.
b) health

For every evil under the sun, there is a remedy or there is none; if there is one, try and find it; if there is none, never mind it”(Lacinová, 1996:29)

Na každé zlo pod sluncem bud' lék je nebo není. Je-li, zkus ho najít, není-li, nepřipouštěj si ho.
Health is not valued till sickness comes” (Lacinová, 1996:27)
Zdraví se necení, dokud nepřijde nemoc.
c) seasons:

After rainy winter a plentiful summer” (Lacinová, 1996:162)

Po deštivé zimě úrodné léto.
Proverbs are not clichés. It is necessary to recognise the difference between these two concepts. Clichés are widely used phrases that are often metaphorical in nature. While proverbs have their origins in folk traditions, clichés have them in literature or movies. Proverbs and other common sayings become clichés through overuse (NTC's Dictionary of Proverbs and Clichés).

Here is an example of some common clichés:

Love is blind” (if you are in love someone deeply, it is difficult for you to notice any faults in that person).

Láska je slepá.

Brevity is the soul of wit” (it is not necessary to produce very long jokes, jokes and humorous stories are funnier if they are short).
Half a loaf is better than none” (it is better to gain only part of what we are longing for, it is better than not gaining anything).

Je lepší vrabec v hrsti než holub na střeše.

It is (all) Greek to me” (something that we are not familiar with, something we can not or are not able to understand).

Je to pro mě španělská vesnice.

No pain, no gain” (you must work very hard if you want to improve yourself).

Bez práce nejsou koláče.

Studying proverbs has become a very popular and attractive field for many scholars within the past few decades. They are concerned in proverb studies in many different ways. Some of them are concerned with the function of proverbs, like Alan Dunds (1980); E. M. Albert (1972) and Roger Abrahams (1972). Some are concerned with definitions of proverbs, including Archer Taylor (1931) and Wolfgang Mieder (1999). Archer Taylor (1962) is among those who are concerned with the origins, content and style of proverbs.

Whatever the field of interest in proverbs, studying them is a matter of a great value in understanding the cultures of a wide variety of different societies, for proverbs like other oral traditions reflect people’s values, the way they think and their attitudes towards their surroundings.

Traditional proverbs have arisen from various sources. They are often connected with experiences of individuals, observations or general facts from different surroundings. People transmit them from generation to generation until they become part of their heritage. Many individual authors, politicians or wise people have contributed a great deal to the literatures of all nations by creating new proverbs. It is likely to say, a proverb is first uttered by an individual and later it becomes part of the traditions.

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