Our heritage is indeed rich: there is an adage to suit every situation, happy or sad, every person, cautious or reckless. But times gave changed. As with the times, so with the sayings.
These days, several of the old sayings have got modified (Or, should we say morphed, in keeping with the technology-enabled times?), some a wee bit, some a lot, to convey contemporarily relevant messages. There was a time when the proverb ‘Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’ was a cautionary advice to the vulnerable lot. Today, the last two words get excised to yield a modern day proverb ‘Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t.’ Period. A sad commentary on the times when even the unwary and the innocent are exposed to dangers. Witness the passengers who travel on a bandh, sorry, hartal day and get pelted with stones.
‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ Of course. The untrammelled growth of population made someone shorten it to a straightforward ‘Familiarity breeds.’
It is not as if deletion is the only way in which proverbs are retold. Extolling the virtues of being ‘Early to bed, early to rise…’ we were told ‘The early bird catches the worm’ but the insolent has a repartee, ‘Serves the wretched worm right; why did he get up early?’ Talking of birds, ‘Eagles soar’, our masters told us. They cited the example of the big bird to urge us to strive, perform and reach greater heights. Do they have an answer to ‘Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines’?
‘He who laughs, lasts’ is what we have heard all along. The currently popular version, taking a dig at those who are not too quick on the uptake is ‘He who laughs last, thinks slowest.’ Many of those who believe ‘Love is blind’ also agree that the addition ‘but marriage is a real eye-opener’ is perfectly acceptable.
If some proverbs get shortened and others get extensions, there are some which get transmogrified too. Like ‘Absence makes the heart wander’ to reflect the state of the philanderers. Giving a thorough twist to the expression ‘friend in need’, the popular saying gets changed to ‘A friend in need is no friend of mine.’
The wise men had told us ‘If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.’ We are so self-conscious that we do not want others to know about our having attempted and failed. Or loved and lost. Therefore we have the modern-day counterparts modify the advice to ‘If at first you don't succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.’ There is a variation which says, ‘If at first you don't succeed, then skydiving isn't for you.’ Macabre, of course, but reflecting the sense of humour we seem to enjoy.
If that is a reminder of the modern-day sports, here is one to tell you that today’s weapons are not the primitive ones our forefathers used: ‘Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.’
Even scientific laws have been re-invented. Sir Isaac Newton would nod in agreement with his third law look-alike ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite criticism.’ We all know that ‘Light travels faster than sound.’ How do you like the appendage ‘This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak’?
Here is a gem ‘Change is inevitable, except from an ATM’, something all of have experienced at one time or another. The first part of the proverb perhaps explains why proverbs too don new garb in different times!