I. What is an Adage?
Have you ever been told that a penny saved is a penny earned? Perhaps you’ve heard that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, or that two heads are certainly better than one. These familiar lines are adages: brief pieces of wisdom in the form of short, philosophical, and memorable sayings.
The adage (pronounced ad-ij) expresses a well-known and simple truth in a few words.
Adages are also known as a proverbs or aphorisms.
II. Examples of Adage
For examples of adage, consider one-liners often expressed by characters of wisdom like grandparents, teachers, and early philosophers.
Eat, drink, and be merry.
This lighthearted adage comes from the Bible, in Ecclesiastes 8:15. It simply tells people to enjoy life as much as possible.
Stupid is as stupid does.
This more modern and funny example is a quote by Winston Groom’s beloved character Forrest Gump. Adages, though full of wisdom, are sometimes also funny, witty, and catchy.
III. The Importance of Adages
Adages are brief statements which reflect commonly-held philosophical beliefs in a society. Because an adage has been passed down over time, it serves as a symbol of collected and accepted wisdom. For example, Eat, drink, and be merry reflects a society which also values fun and enjoyment. Stupid is as stupid does reflects the belief that we are our actions: a supposedly intelligent person acting stupidly is not truly intelligent. Adages provide us with simple guidelines with which to live. In literature, adages are a sign of wisdom and of a work’s universal appeal and truth.
IV. Examples of Adage in Literature
Literature is a source of many adages.
For example, here are a few from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac:
- There are no pains without gains.
- Have you something to do tomorrow? Do it today.
- What you would seem to be, be really.
Over time, these adages have found their modern forms in phrases like the athlete’s mantra “No pain, no gain!” Nike’s Just Do It slogan, and the advice we all give one another: Just be yourself.
For a second example, here are a few adages from Aesop’s Fables.
- From Beekeeper and the Bees: Things are not always what they seem.
- From Dog and His Reflection: Be content with what you have.
- From Man and His Sons: United we stand, divided we fall.
Aesop’s Fables are a source of numerous adages which have made it a classic treasury read to children in order to pass down simple stories with simple lessons of how to live well.
V. Examples of Adage in Pop Culture
Because adages have been passed down over time, they are recognizable phrases which may be found in similar forms in mottos and slogans. Consider the following:
- Boy Scouts: Be prepared.
- US Army: Be all that you can be.
- Women’s Social and Political Union: Deeds not words.
All of the above have been derived from adages. Adages are also common elements in movies, television, and advertisements. They can provide characters with wisdom, a scene with universal truth, or a commercial with a relatable and catchy saying.
The movie Forrest Gump is the source of many adages in the form of everyday, simple wisdom. Here is an example:
My momma always said, life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Forrest’s likeable line has become an adage meaning life is full of surprises which reveal themselves in time.
VI. Related Terms
Like adages, clichés are well-known and often express a basic, commonly-held belief about life. The difference between an adage and cliché is taste: clichés are considered worn-out, overused, and unoriginal. They are to be avoided. Adages, on the other hand, are known by all and used frequently due to their accepted wisdom. Furthermore, clichés can refer to characters, ideas, or sayings, whereas adages are only sayings.
1. Here’s an examples of adages versus clichés:
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.
After a fight, a man buys his girlfriend a dozen red roses.
The adage expresses a commonly accepted piece of wisdom: remember to notice and enjoy the small things. The cliché, on the other hand, is an action that has been done so many times it is considered unoriginal and even unwanted: buying roses for an angry girlfriend in the hopes of mending a relationship after an argument.
Slow and steady wins the race.
Haste makes waste!
In this example, the adage and cliché have the same meaning: being slow and careful is a better idea than fast and messy. The difference is the adage is derived from Aesop’s The Hare and the Tortoise whereas the cliché is an overused saying.
VII. In Closing
Adages are brief notes of wisdom which may be shared in conversation, literature, and pop culture in order to inspire, educate, and challenge others. Adages can heighten speeches with wisdom, teach children basic ideas about morality and kindness, and remind all audiences of what is most important.