Adage Definition

An adage is a short, pointed and memorable saying based on facts, and is considered a veritable truth by the majority of people. Famous adages become popular due to their usage over a long period of time. In fact, an adage expresses a general fact or truth about life. As it becomes popular, it is then accepted as a universal truth. For instance, “God helps those who help themselves” is now considered a universal truth because of its usage throughout the human history. Often repeated sayings and quotes become adages that pass on to many generations. However, some adages are metaphoric, having hidden meanings, and embody common observations. Sometimes, proverbs are also referred as adages, but there is a slight difference.

Adage vs. Proverb

Both these terms are sayings, and convey a deeper meaning. However, there are some differences between them. A proverb has a practical aspect, but it is a common belief that an adage is true to have been tested in various ages. The adage is more general term than a proverb; therefore, proverbs could be adages as Merriam Webster also defines proverbs as adages. Adages are general truths with universal applications, reflecting wisdom, whereas proverbs are more traditional and are often used in everyday speeches.

Examples of Adage from Literature

Many authors have employed adages in their works such as C.S Lewis, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, J.K Rowling, Aesop, George Bernard Shaw, Friedrich Nietzsche and many others.

Example 1

Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

(In Memoriam by Alfred Lord Tennyson)

In these lines, Tennyson is giving advice about having love, which is a clear used in literary texts even today.

Example 2

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

(As You Like It by William Shakespeare)

This is the most frequently quoted adage by Shakespeare. Here he has made a comparison between the world and stage as well as between life and play. He also refers seven stages in life of humans to seven ages of humans.

Example 3

From Aesop Fables

Things are not always what they seem.

(Bee-Keeper and the Bees)

Appearances often are deceiving.

(The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing)

Slow and steady wins the race.

(The Hare and the Tortoise)

The following lines are very popular in literature as well as in everyday use. People use these adages in their common speeches as witty sayings.

Example 4

God helps those who help themselves.

Put the cart before the horse.

To call a spade a spade.

(From Adagia by Desiderius Erasmus)

Erasmus is famous for using adages in his works. The given lines commonly used sayings that we find in our daily conversation, which initially were started as sayings and now accepted as a universal truth.

Example 5

Don’t cast your pearls before swine. — Matthew 7:6
More blessed to give than to receive. — Acts 20:35
Pride goes before a fall. — 16:19
To everything there is a season — Ecclesiastes 3:1

(From Bible)

Bible has also employed adages with deeper and moral meanings. The purpose of these sayings is to educate and give awareness to the readers.

Example 6

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Eat to live, and not live to eat.
To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.
Well done is better than well said.
A penny saved is a penny earned.

(Poor Richard’s Almanack by Benjamin Franklin)

Franklin published this book on a yearly basis from 1732-1758, which became popular due to extensive use of witty adages and wordplay. These are some popular adages used to this day.

Function of Adage

Adages are not only found in literature, but also in advertising and scripts of films. The first major function of adage is to give awareness to the readers about some facts of life. Secondly, adages are applicable in any circumstance or situation, as they convey deeper meanings of wisdom. Most of these sayings are witty and suggest a moral lesson, having long lasting impacts of universal application of truths contained in them. They become imprinted on the minds of the users. Moreover, they sum up the moral lesson of a story such as in Aesop’s Fables. The authors use this device to make their works effective, compact and rich.

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