Tag Archives: English Proverb

English Proverb

M is 19 years old, and she is a college student. She grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She heard this proverb at elementary school age from her mother when she was complaining about a group project.

“My mom would always tell me “Two minds are greater than one” which I think is very true. Growing up when I needed some advice she’d always tell me that proverb.”

This proverb seems like a great one to tell kids who don’t want to work with others. It encourages kids to work together and learn teamwork, which are traits that parents and schools often try to instill in their kids. It’s a very old saying that seems to trace back to the Bible. It’s a great proverb because it encourages people not to be selfish. In American culture that promotes competition, people want to be the only one who comes up with a great idea and gets the credit for it. But this proverb says that people should try to attack problems together. If people work together instead of in opposition with each other, society would benefit far more from it. This seems to be a mentality in other cultures, but one that is less common in current American society.

Dog Fleas Proverb


My informant is my brother-in-law, who grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas. He says he frequently heard his father tell him this, who would invoke the proverb to warn him against hanging out with the wrong crowd. He is of Western European descent and identifies as American.


This is a proverb, so the text remains largely the same with each iteration of speech. This proverb is used as a warning against associating with the wrong people.


“If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get fleas.”


As a proverb is supposed to convey some sort of wisdom or inherent truth, this proverb serves as a warning. It is common in English to hear a person refer to another person who is perceived as having a low moral character as a “dog.” This is likely due to dogs historically subsisting off of food scraps and scavenging in the cities and villages of human settlements. Dogs have a reputation of being dirty scavengers, and so the application to those with low moral standing is apparent. And, since dogs often have fleas, something that is unpleasant to be afflicted with, the proverb has both literal and metaphorical meaning. From here, it is easy to see how the proverb serves its warning: associating with those with low moral standing is likely to influence one’s own behavior.

The “dogs” might also refer to those of low socioeconomic standing, however, especially given the association with fleas. Fleas can be seen as a disease or affliction, and the proverb might also be meant to warn against associating with those with poor hygiene due to economic factors. On a larger societal level, this proverb might serve to maintain social boundaries based on class.

A Bird In The Hand Is Better Than Two In The Bush

Main Piece:

Interviewer: So what proverb did you want to share with me today?

Subject: A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

Interviewer: What does that mean?

Subject: It means… what you have and what you can see and what you can hold is better than what you might be able to get somewhere else… that’s uncertain.

Interviewer: Huh!

Subject: In other words, go with certainty.

Interviewer: Who told you that one? Do you remember who told you it?

Subject: Old people told me it. Believe it or not even older than me.

Interviewer: Wow. That’s pretty old.

Context: The subject is a middle-aged white man, born and raised in Tiverton, Rhode Island, and currently residing in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents are Ashkenazi Jews and his ancestors come from Russia. He is my father, and we are currently quarantined together in Charleston due to the Coronavirus pandemic. One evening after dinner, I asked him to share any folklore he heard of when he was younger.

Interpretation: I had never heard this proverb before. I did more research on it and found that the subject’s account of the proverb differed slightly from the more popular version I found upon which goes, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The proverb is a well-known English proverb, and was likely adapted from other languages. Specifically, warnings against risk-taking are apparently very common for English Proverbs. The proverb was likely brought to America by English migrants between the 17th and 18th century. Based on what I personally know about the subject and his older family, this proverb is very applicable to them. They definitely value certainty and safety, and are not the risk-taking types. The subject has certainly tried to instill those values onto myself.

For more on this English Proverb, go to:


Nickname Mix-Up

Informant Info: The informant is a 22-year-old male who was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and comes from a Catholic family. He currently is a senior at USC and is very into half-marathon and marathon racing.


Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: Any major proverbs or inside jokes within your family?


Interviewee: My mom always calls me Pedros Diaz  um because… and that’s I mean when people are like “I don’t really get that”. But what happened was I was a kid…when I was like 10. We were in Costa Rica for like my dad’s vacation and we were learning Spanish and I was just not very good at it and the guy just kept quizzing me. He was like “Yeah, so you know like what is your name? How old are you?” And I just got confused at the time and he was like “How old are you? PEDRO! And he’s like “what’s your name?” DIAZ!! So, I my Spanish mixed up and then, so he was like “AH Pedro Diaz!!!” And then I guess my parents have just called me that ever since. And then other proverbs I would say umm my parents always said just like treat others like you want to be treated… Uhh so I know that’s a pretty common one. But one they definitely had me remember and whenever I strayed from that they would sit me down and say something like “Is that how you want someone to treat you in that sense” or something like that. I think those are great first steps words like developing like any sort of empathy. I just realized that while my parents are really good. Like if I did something like I said I’m their friend they would really speak out to be like how does that make you feel that you’re in their shoes. And so, I think very encouraging that through something like that phrase made me think about other people’s perspectives. So, I think it definitely I feel like I still do think about it on my way. But I feel like as a kid I probably thought about it more than many a lot of other kids. So, I would say them saying that definitely made me feel more empathetic as a kid.



This collection resembles an inside joke on a family level. The informant’s simple mistake in learning a new language turned into an inside joke when the Spanish tutor just went along with calling him “Pedro Diaz”. Instead of laughing at the moment and letting it fade into the past, his parents held on to the memory. It was a shared moment and serves as a joke within the family. Individuals outside of the family may not understand the meaning behind it, but to the informant and his family, the simple nickname holds a fond memory that brings laughter. When telling the story, he visibly and audibly got excited and cheerful when describing the context of the story. This will likely be a joke that will continue to be passed down within the family to his kids.



Mother Proverb

Informant: My informant, S. G., is 19 and was born and raised in Southern California. S. G. lives in Chino Hills and has two mothers who both work as P.E. teachers for high school and middle schools. She has one older sister and one younger brother with the family having ties to its Swedish heritage.

Folklore: “A son is a son until he gets married, but a daughter is a daughter forever.” S.G. heard this saying from her mom before she left for college. The saying is meant to show that a son will get married one day and his wife will fill the gap left by the mother, but a daughter will always need the help of her mother to guide her. Her mom told her this to show her that she’ll always be there for.

Analysis: I agree with the saying above in terms of how women have such a large impact on male lives and how we rely on them more than we know. It’s also symbolic of the special bond shared between mother and daughter.