Book of the Month
A Book of Proverbs

Publisher: Newton Abbot
Author: R. L. Brown

ISBN 0-393-04903


The English are fond of proverbs, and this occasionally can be confusing for non-native speakers. This is especially true when the proverb is not given in full but only referred to in a conversation. So if someone says 'let's take the half loaf' when talking of a business deal, this can only be understood if one knows that the full proverb is 'Half a loaf is better than no bread.' In this case, the speaker means even a deal which is not completely satisfactory is better than no deal at all. There are hundreds of such proverbs in English, with new ones appearing and others dropping out of use all the time. This little book containes a large collection of proverbs, though some are more common than others. Also, as the author points out, some proverbs are very local while others began locally and are now shared with the world.

The author has chosen to group proverbs by type, so that we have for example 'Soldiers, Ships and Sailors' in chapter three, and 'Money, Evil and the Devil' in chapter eleven (there are in all thirteen chapters and an introduction explaining what a proverb is and how proverbs have evolved). While this approach is useful for the general reader, it is less helpful to the non-native user of English, as some proverbs are obscure even to a native speaker, and other proverbs do not even come from English culture. However, there are some fun Latin proverbs which you can use to impress your friends. While the book occasionally introduces a selection of the proverbs in each chapter with an explanation, generally the reader is left guessing where a proverb comes from and whether it is common. So for example in the 'Hawks, Hounds and Quadrupeds' section we have six proverbs on pigs of which only one is common: 'to buy a pig in a poke'.(This means to buy something without knowing exactly what you are getting. A 'poke' is a closed sack.) On the other hand, the most common proverb dealing with a pig is missing. This is 'You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.' (Meaning there are some things that cannot be improved.)

Who is this book for? If this book gave a list of the most common English proverbs and explained their meaning it would be very useful for EFL learners. However, the way that this book is arranged makes it hard to find content, and does not explain either how common a proverb is nor when it is used. Therefore the book may be interesting to browse through to show how elegantly people can express complicated ideas, but EFL students can better spend their time and money elsewhere.

Verdict: Not for EFL learners
Assessment 2/10
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