Review of ‘English Proverbs Explained’ (Ronald Ridout and Clifford Witting)

John Bull
Apologies, original image source unknown

This dip-in dip-out dictionary (which is what, in all essentials, it is) is a surprisingly interesting read. I know you aren’t meant to read the dictionary (as far as I’m aware), this one made for surprisingly manageable and enjoyable reading.

Being a dictionary, it was a little tougher than I’m used to reading (!), and I felt a little swamped with information at times (which is presumably why people don’t read dictionaries cover to cover), but there were some real nuggets in there. Quote for the day is:

148. Don’t tell tales out of school

Don’t give away any damaging secrets. Don’t make public anything that should be kept private.

The proverb originated among children. To tell tales out of school was to sneak-to try to keep on good terms with the teacher by betraying other children. One of Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes runs:

Tell-tale-tit,

Your tongue shall be slit,

And all the dogs in town

Shall have a little bit.

Personally, I find that terrifying-especially for a children’s nursery rhyme, and a proverb said to have come into usage with children. It brings into it the Lord of the Flies type theory-we are born evil-this seems to be a prime argument if one wished to use it.

Parts of the book were delightful to read, in that you can see how proverbs have developed since the book’s publishing in the 1970s (“In for a pence in for a pound”), but also in that it appears massively complete, exactly 800 proverbs is an intriguing insight into life 40 years ago, and the beautifully formal example usages of some almost made me laugh.

Overall, definitely not a page-turner (though as a type of dictionary, I doubt that is what it was designed for), but with a certain charm and definitely an interesting read.

Price-£0.60 (RRP, likely out of print)

Publishing house-Pan books

Publishing date-1977 (first edition 1969)

Value for money-not really applicable, no idea what it would cost new now

Character development-not applicable

Readability-though obviously not a thrilling page-turner, it’s a sensible book, with a good index and thorough insight into meanings-★★★★

Overall-not being a novel, indeed a dictionary, it’s not massively exciting, but it is informative, if not readable-★★★★

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