Love Proverbs Are Universal, Says An Expert—and Like Love Itself, They Can Bite

updated 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/20/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

I've always enjoyed Valentine's Day," says Prof. Wolfgang Mieder. He means that professionally as well as personally. An internationally known paremiologist, or scholar of proverbs, Mieder not only sends Valentines ("all my female colleagues get one... my wife too"), he also studies them as keys to the state of proverbial wisdom. "Proverbs spread faster than ever," he says. "What used to take generations can now reach currency almost overnight." (For example, "Different strokes for different folks.")

Starting with his doctoral thesis at Michigan State, Mieder, 44, has written more than 100 articles and 30 scholarly books on the origin and evolution of proverbs, which he defines as "a concise statement of an apparent truth which has currency among the people." This month the University of Vermont professor will publish his third popular book, Love: Proverbs of the Heart, a collection of 500 timeless maxims from around the world. "Proverbs are not high philosophy," he says, and quotes an old English proverb. "They are the children of experience."

What is striking is how universal that experience is. Variations on "Love is blind," for instance, can be found in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Japanese and the original Latin ("Amor caecus"). No one knows how many proverbs exist in the world, but the number, says Mieder, must be phenomenal. "The Finnish Literary Society has identified way over a million, and that's just for Finland," he says. Moreover, the number grows daily. Mieder found one of his favorites in a feminist T-shirt ad in 1977: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." The irony struck him as true to the form. "Proverbs are not saccharine," he says. "If you want romance, read lyric poetry."

Curse not your wife in the evening, or you will have to sleep alone.
(Chinese)

Love and fear cannot be hidden.
(Russian)

Love is like butter, it's good with bread.
(Yiddish)

A cunning person's kiss is like that of a mosquito.
(Rumanian)

Love is like dew that falls on both nettles and lilies.
(Swedish)

When the heart is full of lust, the mouth is full of lies.
(Scottish)

A man chases a woman until she catches him.
(American)

When husband and wife agree with each other, they can dry up the ocean with buckets.
(Vietnamese)

If the wife sins, the husband is not innocent.
(Italian)

Kisses are keys.
(English)

He who flatters the mother will hug the daughter
(Estonian)

The woman cries before the wedding and the man after.
(Polish)

No hate is ever as strong as that which stems from love.
(German)

The quarrels of married couples and the west wind stop at evening.
(Japanese)

A deaf husband and a blind wife are always a happy couple.
(French)

To those we love best, we say the least.
(Philippine)

That which is loved is always beautiful.
(Norwegian)

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