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Become a Wise Guy
by Tom Goodman
May 27, 2009

Are you a paroemiologist?  It would be wise to become one, because a paroemiologist is the formal name for someone who studies proverbs.

Wolfgang Mieder of the University of Vermont is considered the world's foremost paroemiologist.  Smithsonian magazine reported that Mieder owns "the world's most extensive private proverb library -- 5000 books, dissertations, monographs and articles, plus an 8000-slide archive of proverbs in art, advertising and elsewhere, including on dish towels."

Much of his work has involved sifting through archives to get to the earliest use of a proverb.

"Proverbs are crystallized bits of wisdom," Mieder says.  "A proverb is a concise statement of an apparent truth that has currency."

He estimates that there are close to 20,000 proverbs in popular use in the United States today, and one of Mieder's goals has been to establish a "proverbial minimum" -- the 300 or so most used American proverbs.  Among other uses, he believes that such a proverbial minimum will help immigrants learning English.

What modern proverbs do you think should belong among his privileged 300?  "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"?  Or "The early bird catches the worm"?  Or "Charity begins at home"?  How about "Garbage in, garbage out," coined by computer programmers?

Why did Mieder decide to make it his life's work to study proverbs?  "It just clicked with me," he told the magazine, "how they work, how they're constructed, their history, and how they're everywhere -- from poetry to art, psychology, politics, and advertisements."

We would all do well to become paroemiologists, too.  And I think we should become astute scholars of a specific set of proverbs: those found in the Old Testament book called Proverbs.

That's why we're taking a couple of months to work through that biblical book in my Sunday morning sermons.  The series is called "Bumper Sticker Wisdom," and this week we'll look at the God-breathed advice about our finances.  Investors on Wall Street are said to be either "bullish" or "bearish" in their approach to the market, but Proverbs 6:6-11 says we really need to be "buggish."

In April this year, USA Today asked adults ages 22-28 what they considered the most important issues facing young adults.  Far, far ahead of every other response, 52 percent said, "making better money management decisions."  I don't think that the need for sound financial advice is limited to just young adults.  Come this Sunday @ 10 and get some "Financial Advice from a Bug."

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