~ The Universal Wisdom of Proverbs ~
Compiled by Peter Shepherd
A proverb is a popular saying, expressing a commonly held truth... the treasures of everyday wisdom. Sometimes we don't know who originated them but they are nevertheless widely remembered and repeated. They often contain an insightful metaphor that makes a point quickly and effectively. Here are some of the best known proverbs plus brief commentary...
“Where there's a will, there's a way.”
Nothing can stop you if you really want it.
“No pain, no gain.”
There's a price to pay for achievement, in terms of effort, stress, setbacks... but it's worth it.
“Strike the iron while it is hot.”
After it starts to cool down, it's no longer malleable, it's too late. Don't miss your opportunity.
“Make hay while the sun shines.”
Too late when it's raining... again, take advantage of the opportunity.
“No man is an island.”
We are all connected, there's little we can achieve on our own, we need help and the talents of others.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
We learn from discussions and conflicts, with the potential of empowering outcomes.
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)
Happiness and fulfillment bring about less stress and therefore good health, depression quite the opposite.
“Those who conceal their sins do not prosper, but those who confess and renounce them find mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
If we take responsibility for our wrongdoings and make amends then we deserve forgiveness.
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)
Arrogance will quickly lose us the support of others.
“A quick tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated.” (Proverbs 14:17)
We do better too respond mindfully than react in fear, but respond from our true caring self, not the greedy and envious ego.
“Practice what you preach.”
It's called integrity. The alternative is hypocrisy.
“It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round.”
We are each unique with something special to offer, and complementary skills.
“A little truth helps the lie go down.”
Offering a clearcut truth attracts attention, gives credibility and effectively distracts from the rest of what's said, that then doesn't get scrutinized properly.
“Two wrongs don't make a right.”
When someone has done something bad to you, trying to get revenge will only make things worse.
“Treat others as you wish to be treated.”
You're you - deserving of respect and care. But doesn't that go the other way too?
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Trying to convince people with ideas and words is more effective than trying to force people to do what you want.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans.”
If you want to fit in then behave like the others around you. Or not.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
If you keep quiet and wait patiently, chance is no one's going to help you.
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Strong people don't give up when they come across challenges. Instead they're inspired - they dig in and work even harder.
“No man is an island.”
You can't live completely independently. Everyone needs help from other people.
“Fortune favors the bold.”
People who bravely go after what they want are more successful than people who try to live safely.
“People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
Don't criticize other people if you're not perfect yourself. And even then...
“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
Things might go wrong, so be prepared.
“Better late than never.”
It's best to do something on time. But if you can't do it on time, do it late.
“Birds of a feather flock together.”
People like to spend time with others who are similar to them.
“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
If you have an enemy, pretend to be friends with them instead of openly fighting with them. That way you can watch them carefully and figure out what they're planning.
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Pictures convey emotions and messages better than written or spoken explanations.
“There's no such thing as a free lunch.”
Things that are offered for free often have a hidden cost.
“There's no place like home.”
Your own home is the most comfortable place to be.
“Discretion is the greater part of valor.”
Sometimes it's important to know when to get out, instead of maybe getting hurt.
“The early bird catches the worm.”
The first in line gets the opportunities.
“Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
If someone offers you a gift, just accept it.
“God helps those who help themselves.”
Don't just wait for good things to happen to you; work hard to achieve your goals.
“You can't always get what you want.”
Sometimes things don't work out; accept it.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.”
Keeping yourself clean is a sign of respect and caring - high values.
“A watched pot never boils.”
Time passes slowly when you're watching the clock - better get on and do something else.
“Beggars can't be choosers.”
If you're asking for a favor from someone else, you'd better accept what they give you.
“Actions speak louder than words.”
Just saying that you agree doesn't mean that much. Actually getting on and doing it is much more meaningful.
“If it ain't broke, don't fix it.”
Don't try to improve something that already works fairly well - you'll likely cause new problems.
“Practice makes perfect.”
You have to practice a skill a lot to become good at it.
“Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
When too many people try to lead and give their opinions, it can lead to chaos.
“Easy come, easy go.”
When you receive money too easily, such as by inheriting it, you're likely not to value it and spend it too quickly.
“Don't bite the hand that feeds you.”
If someone's paying you or helping you out, best to be kind to them.
“All good things must come to an end.”
You can't keep having good luck or fun forever; eventually it will stop. For every up there's a down.
“If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.”
Rather than trying to persuade someone else, it might be easier just to be like them. Easier but not necessarily better in the long run.
“One man's trash is another man's treasure.”
Different people have different ideas about what's valuable.
“There's no time like the present.”
If you need to do something, don't wait until later. Do it now.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
People have very different taste.
“Necessity is the mother of invention.”
When you're really desperate, you'll come up with a creative solution to your problem.
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Saving money is effectively making money.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
When you're around someone for too long, you start taking their good points for granted and notice annoying things.
“Good things come to those who wait.”
Be patient, eventually things will turn around.
“Don't put all your eggs in one basket.”
Have a backup plan. Spread your risks.
“Two heads are better than one.”
People have complementary skills and ideas.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill.”
People tend to want whatever they don't have.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Otherwise you're a hypocrite. This is a golden rule.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
If one member of a team doesn't perform up to standard, they can let everyone else down.
“Honesty is the best policy.”
To lie may seem easier but it will come back to bite you.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
When you're separated, you remember and value things that you took for granted before.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.”
You can't force someone to accept your help.
“Don't count your chickens before they hatch.”
Don't celebrate prematurely, things may not work out quite as expected.
“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”
best to do things yourself if you need to control the quality of the results.
“A broken clock is right twice a day.”
A person who's not so clever can sometimes be correct by accident.
“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
If someone helps you when you're in trouble, that person is a true friend.
“A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
When a person knows a little bit they may feel like an expert and then go on to make a mess of things.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
There may be a long path ahead but the only way you'll can possibly achieve your goal is by getting down to it and making a start.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Being too single-minded can make you a boring person.
“Better safe than sorry.”
Best to take precautions than being reckless.l
“Better the devil you know than the one you don't.”
Best to stick with someone familiar than an unknown quantity; at least you know what you're getting. Though that may prove shortsighted.
“Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.”
We may not understand another person if we haven't had the same experiences.
“Don't put the cart before the horse.”
Do things in the appropriate order; don't act prematurely.
“Don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk.”
You shouldn't brag about your expertise if you can't do it well in practice.
“Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.”
Discriminate between what's useful and not; don't be too quick to throw everything out.
“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
Good sleep and an early start tend to go with success.
“Every cloud has a silver lining.”
There's usually something good associated with any bad experience, that you can then make the most of.
“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”
The best assistance is to help someone be self-sufficient.
“Haste makes waste.”
When you try to work too quickly, you're more likely to make mistakes.
“Hindsight is 20/20”
It's easy to be wise in retrospect, not so easy at the time.
“Who's talking the truth does not need a lot of words.”
Truth is usually simple, if well understood.
“If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.”
Keep on trying to succeed, even if you fail at first. Failures always occur on the path to success, that's how we learn and improve. But on the other hand, "There's no use in flogging a dead horse," when it's time to recognize there's no longer any hope.
“If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.”
Unhelpful criticism is no good for anyone.
“If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.”
This is saying, take a stand for what you think is right. Being neutral is not helpful at all.
“It's no use crying over spilled milk.”
It's done, getting upset about it helps no-one.
“Jack of all trades, master of none.”
Someone who has many different skills is not necessarily expert at any of them.
“Knowledge is power.”
It certainly helps!
“Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas.”
If you associate with dishonest people, it won't do you any good at all.
“Look before you leap.”
Don't make a decision without considering it carefully. There's a contradictory proverb: "He who hesitates is lost." Sometimes there's no choice, an immediate decision is essential.
“Measure twice, cut once.”
Be aware - with some decisions, once enacted it's too late to change your mind.
“Misery loves company.”
People who are depressed may prefer it if those around them share their feelings.
“Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
If you have a job that you need to do, best to get on and do it now. Later may never arrive.
“Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
When people get in power, their ego has a tendency to take over, resulting in mean, greedy and dishonest actions.
“Rome wasn't built in a day.”
Be patient; doing important work takes time.
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
Conserve your energy so you can keep going strong right through to the end.
“Still waters run deep.”
Might be a whole lot more to somebody than you'd think.
“Strike while the iron is hot.”
When you have a good opportunity, go for it.
“The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.”
Children tend to have similar qualities to their parents
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Simply wanting to do the right thing isn't enough; you have to actually do it. Otherwise nothing is accomplished.
“The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach.”
Of course, men appreciate good food. So do women, come to that.
“There's no such thing as bad publicity.”
All publicity promotes a name. That name is then remembered and the 'bad' part forgotten.
“Time is money.”
When wages have to be paid, and significant delays are caused.
“Two is company, three is a crowd.”
Harder to be intimate with a third person around.
“What goes around comes around.”
The results of your actions return to you eventually.
“What goes up must come down.”
Nothing can continue in one direction forever, natural forces take over. Life is cyclic.
“You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
To get what you want, be nice to people. Don't yell at them or be mean.
“You can't have your cake and eat it too.”
This is rather negative: that you can't have everything you want in life. Of course, if you've eaten your cake you no longer have it. But there's not much point having a cake if you can't eat it! Except perhaps to share.
“You can't teach an old dog new tricks.”
Older people don't change their habits easily; but if they really want to they can - an opposite proverb is "You're never too old to learn."
“You reap what you sow.”
Your actions have consequences. When you do good things, that's reflected back to you. When you do bad things, misfortune happens in return.
“Shake the hand before you plough the field.”
Agree terms and conditions before starting a job, afterwards is too late.
“Out of sight, out of mind.”
Hide it away and hopefully no-one will remember.
“Variety is the spice of life.”
Change and new activities make life unpredictable and interesting. The apparently conflicting proverb, "Don't change horses in midstream" refers to making a change at an inappropriate time, when it's unsafe to do so.
“Practice makes perfect.”
of course, any new skill has to be practiced or it will be left behind. What you don't use you lose.
“A stitch in time saves nine.”
Repair something before the damage gets worse.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
A hasty action can land you in deep waters, whereas further consideration might lead in a safer or better direction.
“I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Don't be distracted by a possible obstacle that may or may not come about.
“All's well that ends well.”
Never mind all the difficulties, we arrived!
“Never in a month of Sundays.”
Highly unlikely to happen.
“Never judge a book by its cover.”
Appearances can be deceptive. An opposite proverb is "Clothes make the man," though again, not necessarily.
“All's fair in love and war.”
Two situations where we may feel that the usual rules do not apply; fair or not, we'll do what we have to.
“Getting out of bed on the wrong side.”
Might be an unfortunate collision with a wall. A bad start to the day.
“By hook or by crook.”
One way or another, whatever it takes.
“Cut your coat according to your cloth.”
Whatever you create will depend upon the resources you are using. Only try to do things of which you are capable.
“Old is gold.”
The old ways are likely to be the best. Not necessarily though of course.
“Let the cat out of the bag.”
The secret is out.
“A problem shared is a problem halved.”
Discuss your problems with someone and then the two of you are more likely to come up with a solution.
“Empty vessels make the most noise.”
People who talk a lot are not always so wise as they think.
“Great minds think alike.”
Thoughtful people tend to come up with similar answers, since they are both looking intelligently at the same situation.
“The best things come in small packages.”
Thinking of such as an engagement ring, perhaps, or babies. "The bigger, the better," perhaps not as wise.
“The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”
You see opportunities everywhere except where you are at present.
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
Be careful not to throw away good things when doing a clear-out.
“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
If you help me, I’ll help you.
“Beauty is only skin deep.”
There's more to a person than their superficial appearance.
“You make your bed, so you must lie in it.”
Be prepared to face the consequences of your actions.
“Beggars can’t be choosers.”
A needy person should accept what is offered without being fussy.
“Once bitten, twice shy.”
From experience, we learn to avoid situations that cause trouble or distress.
“There’s a black sheep in every family.”
One person in every family lets the others down.
“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
Something harmful done in revenge or punishment is no better than the original bad action.
“Blood is thicker than water.”
Family relationships are stronger than most others.
“Half a loaf is better than none.”
Be grateful for what you receive. Better to be hungry than starving.
“A miss is as good as a mile”
Not hitting the target gets you nothing at all.
“You can’t make bricks without straws.”
You can’t accomplish something without the necessary resources.
“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
It's useless explaining to those who do not want to understand.
Words of Wisdom - Index Page
Success and Abundance
Wisdom from the Heart
Happiness and Wellbeing
Communication & Relationships
Motivation and Leadership
Parenting and Education
Transitions in Life