Before the Internet, we could not use memes of Willy Wonka or a triumphant baby to express ourselves. Instead, we used proverbs: catchy lines that encapsulate universal truths. Some were introduced to the world by witty writers, and some seemed to emerge fully formed into the collective conscious. Many of them are still with us (I’m not pulling your leg; More than you can swing a cat at), but many more have fallen out of use over the centuries. Here are 10 that should really be brought back.
1. “Bed is the poor man’s Opera.”
Source: Old Italian proverb
Meaning: The man who can’t afford expensive entertainments can still conduct the most passionate of orchestrations in his own bed.
Modern Usage: Something charming to say to your girlfriend when you’ve blown your paycheck on EVE Online Time Codes but are still hoping to get lucky.
2. “Children are certain cares, but uncertain comforts.”
Source: How the Good Wife, 1460
Meaning: You can bet you’re gonna have to change their diapers, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stick around to change yours.
Example of Modern Usage: The proper response to anyone who smiles smugly at a childless woman in her mid-thirties, points to their watch and says, “tick tick tick!”
3. “When cobwebs are plenty kisses are scarce.”
Source: Notes and Queries, 1864
Meaning: Dirty houses are not sexy.
Example of Modern Usage: Something a wife might say in bed as she shoves a body pillow between her sweat-pant clad body and her husband’s. Especially if that husband promised to use the weekend to remove all his old Maxim magazines and dusty weightlifting crap from the guest room, and then didn’t.
4. “He who would pun would pick a pocket."
Source: Alexander Pope, 1729
Meaning: If you’re of such low character the best jokes you can come up are throwbacks from the Brady Bunch Variety Hour, there is nothing you won’t stoop to.
Example of Modern Usage: You can try to silence Uncle Ron’s miserable jokes next Thanksgiving with this bon mot… but he’ll probably just answer back with, “He who would stun would pee on a socket.” And then swipe your wallet.
5. “A friend to all is a friend to none.”
Source: Wadroephe, 1623
Meaning: This is why we hate politicians. They have to morph to please so many different types of people; they appear dishonest and false.
Example of Modern Usage: Your explanation to your friends for why you voted for Nader. He’s not a friend to anyone who guiltlessly emits carbon, so you know you can trust him!
6. “Garlic makes a man wink, drink, and stink.”
Source: Nashe, 1594
Meaning: Garlic inflames your lust, lures you to drunkenness, and makes your entire body smell like over-seasoned meat.
Example of Modern Usage: A joyful Best Man’s toast at a New Jersey wedding reception. Because c’mon, who wouldn’t wish for an awesome life of wink and stink for their best friend?
7. “The gist of a lady’s letter is in her postscript.”
Source: Edgeworth, 1801
Meaning: From your grandma to your girlfriend, all the preceding paragraphs about the health of pets and the obnoxiousness of Cindy from work mean nothing compared to the stuff after the “P.S.”
Modern Usage Example: No matter how cheerful the email, if it’s followed by a P.S. that says, “Oh by the way I noticed you didn’t take the car for an oil change like you said you were going to…”, this was the purpose of the entire correspondence, and you are in peril.
8. “Bachelor’s wives and maid’s children are well taught.”
Source: Heywood, 1546
Meaning: When you don’t have a spouse or a kid, you know everything about maintaining a healthy relationship with spouses and kids.
Modern Usage Example: When your single-and-loving it! friend informs you that you really shouldn’t yell at your 6 year old for trying to force the dog and cat to kiss, and instead use the positive-reinforcement tactics she recently learned in her Intro to Psych class. Invite her to practice those tactics while you go spend an hour or two at Starbucks. Do not show her where you keep your Xanax. She has a lesson to learn.
9. “We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.”
Meaning: Oh, I think you know all too well what this means.
Modern Usage Example: Anytime anyone asks you for anything, ever.
10. “Gluttony kills more than the sword.”
Source: Barclay, 1509
Meaning: Even in 1509, when you had to overtake and slay your food before consuming it, overeating was still hardening arteries, enlarging hearts, and filling graveyards.
Modern Usage Example: Thing you say to anyone who presumes to take the last piece of The Colonel’s fried chicken when it is rightfully yours. Can be accompanied with a friendly jiggle of whichever bit of their body fat you can reach. (We're not responsible for any subsequent injuries.)