Wolfgang Mieder International #Proverb Library
Wolfgang Mieder, an international proverb scholar, stands amidst his lifelong collection of proverb books at the U. of Vermont.
He learned that many of the proverbs people treasure are traceable to Greek and Roman antiquity (“Time flies.”) or to religious texts (“Pride comes before the fall.”) or to an era in which Latin was the lingua franca (“Not everything that glitters is gold.”). Then there are proverbs that are indigenous to specific cultures. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” and “Go big or go home” are quintessentially American, Mieder says.
Proverbs are not absolute truth, Mieder says, since the wisdoms they impart often don’t align. Yes, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” But also, if you’re “out of sight,” you’re “out of mind.”
“Proverbs are as contradictory as life,” he says.
To many, quippy sayings like “Time is money” are synonymous with the Founding Father. People think Franklin thought them up. But Wolfgang Mieder, one of the world’s leading proverb scholars, knows better.
Mieder and a colleague traced the saying to a short, anonymous text published in a London-based newspaper, Free Thinker, in 1719. In fact, many of the sayings commonly attributed to Franklin actually come from English proverb collections, said Mieder, a professor of German and folklore at the University of Vermont.
Tracking down the origins of proverbs is “detective work,” he says. “You kind of feel like you’re discovering things.” He has researched and written about cultural wisdoms for nearly five decades and, in the process, amassed a one-of-a-kind scholarly library. It includes about 9,000 books (including 252 that Mieder has written, co-authored, or edited) and 6,500 photocopied articles and dissertations, all about proverbs. He doubts anything like it exists, anywhere.