Watch Proverb

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (PB).

CB: “So what was the proverb?”

PB: “Well my grandfather used to always say that a man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never sure”

CB: “What does that mean to you?”

PB: “To me, it means to me that if you have too much information it’s too confusing. Like just stick to what you know. If you have two watches and one says 2 and the other says 2:05 you won’t know which one is true. Well I guess now you do with cell phones, but back then you didn’t. So it was just about picking something and sticking with it rather than second-guessing yourself” 

CB: “What context would he say it in?”

PB: “He would say it in the context of when you were trying to decide something. And he would say, you know, you know too much about everything and why don’t you just pick the one that you want, and that you instinctually trust the most. You know? Even a man with two watches has a favorite one, one that he trusts more than the other watch.”

CB: “Why do you think it’s important? Why do you think he said it?”

PB: “It reminds you to just narrow your focus and to not listen to everything that’s around you, and all the noise around you can be confusing. You just need to make up your mind and go with it. You can’t get too focused on and distracted by the other things in life.”

My informant’s mother and grandparents grew up in Tennessee, and were known to have some sort of proverb for every situation. Many of them sounded ridiculous and haven’t really continued in the family since their passing, but there are several that even I will catch myself repeating. 

I interviewed my informant in person. We were in my bedroom on my bed, and the conversation was very comfortable and casual. I had heard the proverb many times beforehand.


The proverb talks about how conflicting pieces of information will never allow you to be totally certain in the truth. I thought that it was really interesting that my informant interpreted this to be an encouragement to narrow your focus and ignore the noise. I’ve heard the proverb used to describe how a foolish man is completely confident in the information that only one watch provides. I think the fact that proverbs can be interpreted to have opposing morals really shows the irony of them. The meaning is entirely contextual, which is what allows them to be passed throughout so many situations.