Classic Aphorisms From the Good Old Days

2 min read

You know what they say: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That timeless expression is an example of an aphorism — a catchy and often wry observation that has some genuine truth to it. Whether you call them sayings, adages, mottos, or catchphrases, here are a few more classic expressions to return 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 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 sly. It essentially means 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 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 is just as unbelievable as its literal meaning. 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 describes a heavy downpour, but the key to an aphorism versus any old idiom is a drop of knowing advice. When not referring specifically to rain, this sentiment can be applied to an overwhelming influx of something.

"Don’t bite the hand that feeds you"

This very parental saying means to pay respect to those who supply 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.

Photo credit: bluestocking/ iStock

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