Proverbial Wisdom

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As they say in Zanzibar (cover)
Every country, every culture has its proverbs — the old sayings, wise sayings, meant to capture a world of wisdom in a line. “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” and all the rest.

Many are ancient. Some are brand new. “Garbage in, garbage out,” is a computer-era favorite.

Familiarity can breed contempt for proverbs. If your grandma kept saying “a penny saved is a penny earned,” you may be sick of it. Or you may be rich.

Look around the world — from Estonia to Zanzibar — and proverbs get interesting. My guest today, David Crystal, has collected proverbs from China, Congo, Scotland, Madagascar. They are telling in surprising ways. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson seems to be following the French Foreign Legion proverb this week: “When in doubt, gallop!”

This hour, On Point: Just when we need the wisdom, proverbs from all over the planet.

You can join the conversation. What proverbs were passed down in your family? What old, wise saying would you recommend to Washington, investors, Wall Street — all of us — right now?Guest:

Joining us from North Wales in the United Kingdom is David Crystal, a writer, editor, lecturer, and one of the world's best-known commentators on language. He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales. His books include “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language,” “By Hook or By Crook: A Journey in Search of English,” and “Shakespeare's Words.” His new book, a whopping huge collection, is "As They Say in Zanzibar: Proverbial Wisdom From Around the world."

Here's an excerpt from "As They Say in Zanzibar," with a generous sampling of proverbs collected by David Crystal.

This program aired on September 25, 2008.


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