(From a collection of sayings called “momisms,” as created by Whatsbuzzin of Tampa Bay, Fla., and found at
In my working years, I was a journalist, complete with a master’s degree. By the time I called it quits, my newspaper career had covered three decades.
As such, I was trained from the get-go to treat clichés like poisonous snakes.
Outside of my professional life, though, I grew fond of certain sayings that, in some circles, may be deemed clichés. But, to me, they are time-tested and wise.
Like: “Everything in moderation.”
Or: “The proof’s in the pudding”
Or (primarily for following favorite sports teams): “You’re never as good as you look when you’re winning, and you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing.”
Those are my favorites. But before I explain their value, I have to consider: What exactly are they? Clichés? Sayings? Adagaes? Proverbs? Maxims?
Here’s how my desktop dictionary defines each of those common language tools:
Cliché:aphrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.
Saying: a short, pithy expression that generally contains advice or wisdom.
Sayings: a collection of such expressions identified with a particular person, esp. a political or religious leader. “Once burned, twice shy” is an old saying about learning from your mistakes. In fact, sayings —a term used to describe any current or habitual expression of wisdom or truth—are a dime a dozen.
Proverb: sayings that are well known and often repeated, usually expressing metaphorically a truth based on common sense or practical experience (her favorite proverb was “A stitch in time saves nine”). These are as plentiful as sayings.
Adage:a time-honored and widely known proverb, such as “Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
Maxim:offers a rule of conduct or action in the form of a proverb, such as “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
Epigram:a terse, witty, or satirical statement that often relies on a paradox for its effect (: Oscar Wilde’s well-known epigram that “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it”).
Epigraph: a brief quotation used to introduce a piece of writing (: he used a quote from T. S. Eliot as the epigraph to his new novel).
Aphorism:requires a little more thought than an epigram, since it aims to be profound rather than witty (: as one of Solomon’s aphorisms warn, “Better is a living dog than a dead lion”).
Apothegm: a pointed and often startling aphorism, such as Samuel Johnson’s remark that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
So, I guess any of the above — sayings, proverbs, maxims, etc. — can become clichés if they are considered overused or lacking in original thought. But all of them, if tried and true, must, by their very definition, now lack original thought.
Further, the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine,” identified as a proverb in the dictionary cited above, is termed an aphorism by Wikepedia.
So, make of them what you want, I guess.
In any event, then, it seems my favorites can all fit in multiple categories: sayings, proverbs and adages. And all would probably be considered clichés by some picky news editor somewhere.
Nonetheless, here’s why, for me, they rise to the level of astute life guides rather than worn-out, unoriginal blather.
“Everything in moderation”
First off, “everything in moderation” actually is an oxymoron – “everything” is not a term of “moderation.” It’s an extreme.
So, to be accurate, one should actually say, “Everything in moderation, except moderation.”
But we all get the point: Too much of anything can be dangerous. Friendship. Isolation. Love. Sex. Politics. New stuff. Old stuff. Sayings.
That approach has worked for me, but the literal use of the saying also works for many, that is: “Everything in moderation,” including moderation. (I see on the internet site Goodreads that Oscar Wilde actually is credited with coining that exact saying.)
In other words, there are some things we should go to extremes about — career goals, the love of a lifetime, a child’s welfare, — or they will not succeed.
A person who lives an entire life in moderation — never working excessive hours, never playing all-out (a game or sport), never partying hardy, never sacrificing comfort, money or moderation in hopes of a big-time reward —really hasn’t lived a full life.
If nothing else, failure at an extreme venture can help make moderation a satisfying state of being. Or, to use another favorite saying/proverb/maxim: “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
(Close relatives: “The only people who don’t fail are those who don’t try”; in sports, via hockey great Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”)
“The proof’s in the pudding”
This one is for all the hard workers, the real deals, the authentic producers in life. It’s a challenge to the fakes, the phonies, the big talkers.
It’s taking, “Put up or shut up” to the next level while working alongside the truism, “Talk is cheap.”
Life is full of wannabes. These are people who see what they wished they were — a prize-winning journalist, a great actor, a revered athlete, a popular author —but know they don’t have the talent or energy to achieve, so they build an artificial life.
But “the proof’s in the pudding”: Show me that article your wrote, provide that list of TV directors who hired you, run that pass play, finish that book.
I’ve come across many people whose actual performance doesn’t live up to their paper resumes. Of course, I then doubt their credentials.
This isn’t to say that all achievers should be expected to achieve at the same level that they did in the past. It’s just to say true talent will out; if you are what you say you are, the product will show it.
My biggest example is a certain newspaper publisher who bragged loud and often of his past positions, coverage and achievements with major news operations.
But the product he produced lacked even the most basic elements of quality journalism. The news articles were poorly written, reflecting an ignorance of basic news writing. Worse, they were slanted — rife with personal observations rather than objective and properly attributed information, the stock-in-trade of the journalism practiced at the institutions on his resume.
The inaccuracies, unprofessional approach and personal vendettas hurt dozens of people. It was yellow journalism, and even then, it was amateurish — a sick, pale version of the now-disparaged Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers of the late 19th century and early 20th century.
It was abundantly clear that his proclaimed background was, at best, exaggerated. The proof was in the pudding; no one who had the experience he claimed would have put out a publication of such low standards and poor quality.
“Your never as good as you look when you’re winning; you’re never as bad as you look when you’re losing.”
This sounds like something a crusty old baseball manager or sports writer uttered decades ago.
The message is that neither sports fans nor participants should get overly down about losing or overly excited about winning. The key to sports is keeping an even keel, day after day, game after game, event after event. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.
The saying itself is oft-repeated in different variations by sports people today, without attribution and, for long-time fans, it certainly can be called to mind often as we watch the ebb and flow of our favorite teams.
One year you win a dramatic playoff game, the next year you suffer a terrible upset loss. There are always good stretches and bad stretches, wonderful wins and awful losses. Perhaps only fans of the Chicago Cubs, without a World Series win for more than a century, would find the saying useless.
Outside of those three favorite sayings, other I find wise include:
“There’s a thin line between love and hate”
So true, in so many relationships, though not all. When passion gets involved, things can get screwy in a hurry. The simple things become complex. Nothing is in proportion.
Very few people can turn devotional love into something just a few degrees cooler, like friendship or platonic love.
“What goes up must come down”
This is another out of the “keep an even keel” realm of life guides.
But this one is usually gets applied by people observing others riding the crest of some great achievement. “It’s not going to last, so don’t get too excited,” we caution. “If you get all caught up in your big accomplishment, you’re bound to fall.”
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
This is a cousin to, “Once burned, twice shy.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to put this in practice, which requires a certain degree of foresight, wariness or perhaps paranoia.
You have to fear or at least anticipate that second attempt at fooling you. Then, once you see it coming, you can head it off and avoid the shame.
But it’s troubling that if you are indeed fooled a second time, the individual or institution doing the fooling gets off the hook and even may deserve some credit for being able to pull it off — and putting you to shame.
It should be: “Fool me twice, shame on me — but also screw you, jerk, for trying it again.”
Finally, my take on some other common sayings:
“That which does not kill me will only make me stronger.”
This is the ultimate mantra for persons coping with hardship. As a life-guiding mechanism, it has both plusses and minuses.
Some problems that fall short of being lethal can indeed be devastating and inflict deep and lasting aftereffects, like the death of loves ones, particularly from an accident or act of violence.
I understand that we can spin any situation to find a silver lining or two, and dwelling on a problem can only make it worse. But taking this saying at face value can make a person feel worse if her or she is not becoming stronger from their difficulties.
Coping with incredible loss sometimes means facing it every minute of every day and realizing this does not make you stronger, that there is little or nothing positive to be gained — personally —from this negative thing.
A stitch in time saves nine
I did not understand what this meant until I looked it up. Wikepedia says it means “preventive maintenance is preferable.”
That seems too obvious to really qualify as words of wisdom. Like: Plan ahead. Or: Look before you leap.
I used to have fun making up sayings that state the obvious but sound clever, like “To be active you have to stay active.” That was a play on the constant health advice for the senior set to stay active (to ward off arthritis pain and creaky bones and dementia and Alzheimers and just about everything bad about aging).
Now, commercials for some drug or other use the line “a body in tends to stay motion; a body at rest tends to stay at rest” to get across the same point.
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Again, a good (if only hopeful) coping mechanism: When things look really bleak, good times are ahead.
For religious individuals, another version is: “When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
For both, there’s always the problem of determining just when we’ve bottomed out — when it’s “darkest” (can things possible get worse?) or when a door has been firmly shut, requiring a search for a window.
But at least the religious option does open the possibility of endless rationalization (“So, I got turned down at the college of my choice, shattering my dreams. The college that really does want me has a better (fill in the blank) anyway!!”).
(Yes, I realize the “window” is not always supposed to be that apparent, and the saying is meant to convey the message that something very good is in store that would not otherwise have occurred if that wonderful door had opened.)
“Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
“Neither a borrower nor lender be.”
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”
All sayings that have strong elements of truth.
“All good things must come to an end.”