Although the old country sayings are fading from English and other languages as the world becomes more urbanized and people lose touch with their rural past, the wise insights of our ancestors still get our attention. I am so fond of these old sayings that years ago I started making a list and creating my own. Here are some of my favorites, including reworked versions of classic maxims.

1. Beware the trap that you would set, lest you be caught in your own net.

2. The doctor’s blunder lies six feet under.

3. Refusing praise is often a sly way of hoping for double praise.

4. Treat others’ problems with your heart, but your own with your head.

5. Never take on the problems of those who have more problems than you.

6. Never belittle yourself; it is an offense to your Creator.

7. It is hard to appreciate those who do not appreciate us, but just as hard to appreciate those who think we are better than we know we are.

8. Absence destroys small passions and strengthens the great.

9. If we resist our passions, often it is because they are weak, not because our resistance is strong.

10. Hunger makes any bread delicious.

11. In time our bodies will be buried from view but our secrets revealed for all to see.

12. Take care of your body in youth and it will take care of you in age.

13. Love is magical: it makes the ugly man handsome and the plain woman beautiful.

14. A fool at 30, a beggar at 40, a statistic at 50.

15. Cats have nine lives; weeds have more.

16. Some sins are more forgivable than what we do to hide them.

17. The more we love someone the closer we are to hurting them.

18. The company we avoid tells as much about us as the company we keep.

19. It is hard to forgive those who bore us, even harder to forgive those we bore.

20. To insist on always being right is to make sure of often being wrong.

21. The flattery we receive is old news: we already knew that about ourselves.

22. Adversity, like the wind, snuffs out small flames but spreads the big fires.

23. True intelligence is always faithfully married to morality.

24. True originality is being true to our origins.

25. People can always be more or less than they are, able to rise toward the angels or fall to the apes.

26. Wise sayings are not new truths, only new ways of saying old ones.

27. Evil might easily conquer the whole world if evil people could trust one another.

28. Do what I say clearly, not what I do poorly.

29. Nothing is more hateful than truth when it opposes us.

30. If you aim to be good, start by admitting that you are bad.

31. Clever people destroy nations; common people save them.

Harold Raley is a professor, linguist, writer and philosopher. Email

(2) comments

David Alquest

Dear Mr. Raley,
Thank you for your fun an lighthearted article on Maxims. Although I rarely hear the word maxim today, they were a part of my growing up. As children we knew most of the sayings, and we thought they must have come from the prophets. They just had to be true, when, actually most of them were.
I had a lesson plan with my high school students where I would ask them to write a composition on one of the maxims. I was really surprised that most of the students didn't understand them at all - only the very literal meaning. So, I sat down with the student and the meaning of the saying that "a stitch in time saves nine" and relate that to everyday issues.
Of course, I was a bit playful with some of the maxims and mixed them up - "A watched clock never boils", or "A closed mouth gathers no foot."
So, thanks for the happy article. Remember "An idle mind is worth two in the bush."

George Croix

"Clever people destroy nations; common people save them.'

Yep...we just bore witness to an example of that....[beam][beam][beam]

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