We all of us know what a proverb is and ought to contain, but few of us could, without much thought, define our conception of it. A definition is difficult at all times; but in this particular case it is specially so, as many sayings hover on the borderland between proverbs, aphorisms, or moral precepts, and fables, so doubtful is the boundary-line between them.
The subjoined collection of sentences - which I venture to call proverbs - are almost all supposed popular truisms, so epigrammatically expressed as to have become household words amongst the people. This is the shortest, but at the same time, widest and truest definition of the term 'proverb', which has occurred to me. Until the thought of a community on some social subject, which has become felicitously called 'the wisdom of many' has been condensed and dressed by the 'wit of one', or the few, into a bright brief sentence, the seedling has not been planted; and until that seedling has taken firm root, and grown up into a great tree, familiar to all within a wide radius of its birthplace, it cannot become a proverb. To attain such honorable distinction, then, a saying, no matter how much of 'shortness, sense, and salt' it may contain, requires the sanctity of popularity; and to secure such general acceptation, it ought to be conveyed in simple language, yet with a certain amount of sparkle and jingle about it so that like a popular tune, it may tickle the ear of the multitude, and obtain an abiding place in their hearts. With this end in view, rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, metaphor, and hyperbole have all been liberally indented on in proverbial manufacture.
The essentiality of the 'three s's' as 'shortness, sense, and salt' have been termed, and of popularity, is universally true of all good proverbs in all countries, and in all languages. Let us suppose a man ambitious of having it recorded on his tombstone, 'P.S. He made a proverb' all he has to do, and mighty easy it is, is to take as his ingredients the said 'three s's' and mix them judiciously and well. Having done so, he can do no more, but the rub has still to come, for unless the public take the dose readily and pleasurable, no amount of puffing or persuasion can force it into their mouths.
The earliest popular book of proverbs is, I suppose, that common ascribed to King Solomon. Since his time, millions of new proverbs have sprung up, had their day, and disappeared, and millions are now existent, some old, some new; and the more the proverbs of different nations are compared together, the closer does the similarity of ideas on a numerous class of subjects appear, but of this more presently.
Adapted from book (Bannu; Our Afghan Frontier)
Special Thanks : Khyber.Org