Hands up all those who remember that excellent grammar book ‘First Aid in English’ ? Mmmm, so no-one under 50 years old then. The book had a blue cover and was filled with all the Department of Education thought a primary student needed to know about nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. There were lots of very boring and repetitive exercises but there was also a chapter on proverbs, which I loved. You know the kind of thing: A stitch in time saves nine, Many hands make light work and if you came from ‘up north’ of England as I did, Where there’s muck there’s brass.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a proverb thus: a short, well-known pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. All very well but first you have to de-code the pithy saying to get to the ‘general truth or piece of advice.’ There was one that intrigued me as a child. ‘Don’t teach your grandma to suck eggs.’ That had me completely bamboozled. I imagined a grandmother trying to fit an egg into her mouth and sticking it to one side into her cheek to suck on for the day like a gob-stopper. I could see no connection between the proverb and how it could relate to not offering advice to some-one with more experience than yourself. The grammar book was no help. It just gave a list of proverbs with no explanations.
A second proverb popped into my head last week. I was watching Round 2 of the Australian Open Tennis. Raphael Nadal, ranked number 1, was playing Ryan Sweeting, ranked 116. Rafa was a shoe-in. The commentators for the game said that there had been an on-line bet made on the match, $2 million on Nadal to win. The winnings of $250,000 would be given to the Queensland Flood Appeal. Rafa won and the flood victims benefitted from the donation. Imagine if the bet had been placed on last night’s match. David Ferrer hadn’t beaten Nadal in their last seven meetings but the unexpected happened. Nadal pulled a hamstring muscle and struggled to play. He lost in 3 sets. And the proverb I thought of from my old grammar book? Ducks lay eggs, geese lay wagers.