Classic aphorisms your parents loved to say

2 min read

You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That timeless expression is actually an example of an aphorism – basically a catchy and often wry observation that has some genuine truth to it. Whether you call them sayings, adages, or catchphrases, here are a few more classic expressions to re-add to your repertoire.

A penny saved is a penny earned

Any guesses where this saying is from? Some folks may guess it dates back to the day of penny candies, but in fact, it goes way, way back – all the way to one of the founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. He published it in his book, “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” as a way to highlight that saving your money is as valuable as earning more. Either way, you’ll end up with wealth in your pocket.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

Turning the clock back even further, this idiom was in print as early as the 1530s. It essentially means having a sure thing is worth more than taking a chance on something that may or may not pan out (even if it’s for the chance at something greater).

Jack of all trades, master of none

"Master of None" isn’t just the title of Aziz Ansari’s popular Netflix show; it’s one half of this famous saying with roots in the 1600s. While many people associate Jack of all trades with being multi-talented, the actual meaning is a little more sour. You’re essentially saying someone may be competent at lots of things but isn’t particularly skilled at any of them.

Water under the bridge

When you forgive someone, you may suggest it’s water under the bridge. This bucolic saying has ties to an ancient Greek phrase, “You cannot step twice in the same river.” In other words, as the river flows on, so does life. Using this aphorism means you’re ready to let bygones be bygones (another aphorism), and water to continue flowing.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Talk about a pick-me-up. This sweet idiom means that there’s always some scrap of good news to be found when something goes sideways in your life. John Milton is considered the author of this turn of phrase back in his 1634 masque (a type of dramatic act), “Comus.”

When pigs fly

The popularity of this catchphrase has something in common with its meaning: they’re both unbelievable! Although other animals throughout history have been swapped in for pigs when using this expression, pigs have remained the favorite since its origins in the late 1800s.

It’s raining cats and dogs

Another cute animal phrase, this aphorism somewhat inexplicably refers to a heavy, steady downpour. The origin is questionable but stems from a similar expression in the 1650s. Maybe the author was into the pitter-patter of little feet — and little raindrops?

Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

This very parental saying means to pay respect to those on whom you depend — whether for actual food, or some other means of care or support. While it was published in print in the 1800s, it’s thought to be a much older expression than that.

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