A great proverb is immediately understood by everyone
Minh Tan (see haiquote version)
In my plan to write a lot of quotes, mostly proverbial style, I had to define for myself what made a good, or great, proverb. After all, proverbs are expected to be more than mediocre if they’re going to resound and stick with people. In trying to define a great proverb meant to me, I came up with some criteria, and this was one of them.
It would be fair and easy enough to argue that a great proverb has to be profound rather than easily understood. I would agree to the extent of there needing to be something profound in the proverb that would get you nodding your head in agreement of some enlightenment it put on you. Sure! However, I would not agree that it has to be profound to the extent of not being easily understood. What good is a proverb if people can’t get it easily or most people can’t get it? It in fact fails the first criteria of a proverb, as far as I’m concerned, which is to enlighten the masses. Can you imagine if most of the proverbs they told you at church, or wherever else you hear them, were cryptic enough you had to get help to decipher them? Do you think you would be as attached to them?
There are in fact tons of examples of such cryptic proverbs. They’re the ones that use idioms or expressions. For example:
It may sound fancy and cryptic, like someone is smart, but really, why not just say what it means of “a timely effort will prevent more work later”? You’d get better impact with more people understanding it and embracing it. It’s also more timeless cause hand sewing is a rarity now with all the sewing machines around.
For the sake of effective communications, which I believe is hugely important for anything intended to influence the masses, it’s my opinion a great proverb should be immediately understood by everyone, not cryptic to most.