“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
My informant who is currently a first-year college student first heard this proverb in his elementary school in Downey, CA from his teacher in third grade. There had been a problem with certain kids being targets for bullies in class. The teacher decided to address this issue to the class. She told everyone to remember that even though physical pain cannot be helped, you can always choose how to take words from others. The only way words have power is when the person allows them to hurt him or her.
This proverb is not usually used on adults but mostly on children. I do not think this proverb can apply to adults as well because the circumstances are different. When children taunt, the taunting consists of silly rhymes, sticking out the tongue and such whereas when adults exchange harsh words with each other, those words are personal and have the ability to hit someone at a vulnerable spot. Parents and teachers teach young children about not allowing words to hurt them because many children tend to pick on others not for any legitimate reasons of dislike but from mere prejudice. I believe this proverb can apply very well to children but not to adults.