Guide to Literary Terms

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What is a proverb?

A proverb is a brief, wise saying passed down over time.

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Last Updated May 26, 2023.

A proverb is a concise and widely known saying expressing general truth or practical wisdom. Proverbs are often used in literature to convey a moral or universal insight. Typically, proverbs originated in the distant past, but their exact origin is usually unknown. 

Proverb comes from the Latin word proverbium, from pro ("for, before") and verbum ("word"). 

Here's an example of a proverb used in literature, along with a brief quote:

Proverb: "Actions speak louder than words."

Well, well, actions speak louder than words, so I'll be the one to break the ice."

- J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

In this quote from J.D. Salinger's novel, the character acknowledges the importance of actions over mere words. The proverb suggests that people's actions carry more weight and reveal their true intentions or character, emphasizing the need for tangible deeds rather than empty promises. By employing this proverb, Salinger captures the idea that one's actions hold more significance and credibility than mere verbal statements.

see: aphorismepigramfolkloreriddlefable

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