Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with creating a manifesto reflecting wonders, curiosities, and delights currently captivating me – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
G is for…
gnome – short pity statement of general truth; aphorism, proverb
This definition, from the 1570s, predates the more familiar one delineating the species of diminutive beings that inhabit the interior of the Earth and act as guardians of its treasures, and possibly hang out in your garden.
I have a great fondness for adages and proverbs. What’s not to like about a little nugget of wisdom?
I’m fascinated by things like this – what societies consider important and how they view the world. I’m particularly enamored of aphorisms that are so culturally specific that they make no sense to the culture I live in. Such as the German “Get the cow off the ice.”
When I visited Ireland I begged everyone to tell me proverbs and colloquialisms, but my favorite “find” was when someone spontaneously retorted that something was “As useful as a lighthouse on a bog.”
Other wisdom sayings I delight in are:
- What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t witness with your mouth. (Yiddish)
- If an ass goes traveling it will not become a horse.
- A rich child often sits in a poor mother’s lap.
- If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow. (Chinese)
Being the apian lover that I am, I’m always on the look out for proverbs about bees. Here are three of my favorites:
- When a bee comes to your house, let her have beer; you may want to visit the bee’s house some day. (Congolese)
- A hippo does not have a sting on its tail, but a wise man would still rather be sat on by a bee. (Polish)
- He who touches honey is compelled to lick his fingers. (Moroccan)
Years ago I did a mailart call for adages and wisdom sayings, asking the network to forward their contributions to me as Minnie Maxim c/o Palace of Pithy Proverbs. I received some wonderful ones. It always makes me smile when I think that perhaps the best gnomes are read by gnomes sitting on mushrooms in gardens. Perhaps just like this:
But there is another aspect to maxims that fascinate me as well. Myth tells us that Zeus declared Delphi to be the center of Earth – it’s navel. And that by 800 BCE it had been dedicated as a major site of worship for Apollo. We tend to know Delphi as the place where the Oracle was consulted. That’s certainly always been the most intriguing part to me. But it was an interesting sidetrack to learn that inscribed on the front columns of the temple are 147 maxims said to be given by Apollo.
The maxims are short, I think none more than 5 or 6 words, and offer guidance for conduct – a compendium of ethical and moral behavior. Here are my four favorites:
- Know what you have learned.
- Honor the hearth (or Hestia).
- Control the eye.
- Keep deeply the top secret.
Wise and interesting instructions aren’t they? And I’m not sure we can ask for more from our gnomes.
I love living in a world where gnomes can offer truth and guidance, often with a touch of humor. Wisdom teachings can be found in the most amazing forms.
Do you have a favorite maxim? Prefer your gnomes to be in the garden? Do tell – you know I’d love to hear.
I didn’t know about that early definition for gnome. How fascinating.
I adore proverbs and keep a short list of them that appeal to me in the moment. My list is always changing because so is life.
As for a favorite maxim, here’s one that I tell myself often: “when in doubt, don’t.” It reminds me to be certain about my motives for what I’m about to do. If you know the why of things, then the how is a whole lot easier.
I have no doubt that excellent guidance has served you well Ally. That pause to get to clear on your motivation before forging ahead (or not) can really keep the energy clean throughout.
And I love your point that your favorite proverbs are always changing because life is always changing. That’s something I admire about you Ally, and something I think is important but often overlooked. We need to consciously keep ourselves current – keep pulling ourselves into our most energetically updated iteration.
Lighthouse on a bog, lol 😀 My favorite is when people ask how you are, and the answer is “struggling like a pig on ice.”
The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales
LOL – nice one!
Fun ones! When I first moved off the farm and into a city, I told someone their barn door was open. They had no idea I meant. So I tried again – “The cows are getting out,” I said, to a look of utter bewilderment. Finally I told them their zipper was down.
In Ecuador, someone explained that when two people are arguing, you can say they are like the cat and the dog. I said when it is raining hard, we say that it is raining cats and dogs. They were so puzzled and could not figure out why we would say animals were falling from the sky.
Emily In Ecuador | Greenery Delivered to Your Door in Puerto Lopez
I’m pretty sure I could stay lost in the land of language – there’s so many curiosities and strange things to explore. Arguing like the cat and dog makes a lot more sense to me than our raining idiom. I’ve never found an explanation for that one that remotely satisfies me.
Had a good laugh thanks Deborah! One I heard the other day – it’s like having an ashtray on a motorcycle – 🙂 I use “XYZ” to mean ‘examine your zip’ –
I did not know about all those 147 aphorisms on the columns at Delphi – just the oft-quoted one “Know Thyself”.-
Love the happy gnome reading gnomes …
Oh I like the ashtray/motorcycle one Susan! And your XYZ makes me laugh as well. Language can be so fun!
Once again, Deborah, you have taught me something new. I did not know about this meaning of gnome. I have been thinking about putting some gnomes up in our yard when we finally get around to redoing it. Know what you have learned is so deep. LOL about the bee and the elephant, for sure! Thanks. Have a great weekend.
I bet you’ll think about your potential garden gnomes a bit differently now. Should any turn up do ask them if they have any gnomes to share.
Wishing you a happy weekend as well Janet – and hopefully one filled with a generous amount of laughter.
That was a wonderful new world of aphorisms. I think I like the one about the bee and the hippopotomus. Or maybe a rich child sits in a poor mother’s lap or perhaps if an ass goes travelling. ‘
This was such a fun read.
LOL- you’re as bad as I am. I can never pick just one favorite. 🙂
Very wise words today and so many of them and such humorous ones too! – difficult to choose just one. But if I had to pick I’d say – an ass doesn’t become a horse if it goes travelling – so true! 🙂
I’m quite fond of that one as well Nilanjana. 🙂
Hi Deborah – love reading this … and I too didn’t know the meaning of ‘gnome’ not the little ceramic creature that bedevils many a garden. Necessity is the mother of invention – I certainly adhere quite often to this one … cheers Hilary
Good old necessity is a great inspirer!
Not a great fan of the garden ‘decorators’… but totally get the original use of this word; thanks for bringing it to light! Golly, it won’t surprise you to hear that my list is endless… but just for fun, back in the day when we wore such things, if you heard the words “it’s snowing down below” it meant your petticoat was dropping south of your skirt hem!!! Have a great Sunday. YAM xx
Ah that brings to mind a question – why the need to be sly in pointing out something like that? In any case, wishing you a lovely weekend as well Yamini.
Like Ally, I was unfamiliar with that meaning of gnome. I do love many sayings, although they aren’t coming to mind at the moment. My 89 year old dad uses a bunch of them, but they are local (from his growing up days in Roslyn, Washington); for example, “So and so is as sober as Judge Connell.” (a notorious drinker in their town)
The shorthand of shared reference points is interesting. I remember reading a study in an anthropology class about how many new people/influences had to be introduced into a small town in order to expand the base so that once-commonly-understood references weren’t clear any more. I actually don’t remember any of the specifics, but I’ve carried that remembrance with me. It was probably the first time I understood change in quite that dynamic manner.
Are you familiar with the board game “Wise and Otherwise”? You would love it – everyone makes up endings to the first half of a proverb, and then votes on which ending they think is the real one. Do a search on it and check it out (and no, I have no relation to the makers of the game! lol) My family loves it, and even if you didn’t want to play the game, its cards have hundreds and hundreds of crazy proverbs from all around the world.
I DO know that game Anne – and it’s wonderful. And it goes to show we can all make up our own proverbs, and they’ll likely be hilarious.
Thanks so much for stopping by.
I’d never given a moments thought to gnomes, not until, reading this anyway! Great words of wisdom – I’m off to dip my finger in honey!
My Friend Rosey – G is for Grannie
Hm…gnomes are not my ‘thing’, well, not in the garden that is. And I surely have wished those little created would do my household tasks while I sleep, hihi.
Your post definitely make me re-think about gnomes…looking forward to what more you have to teach.
LOL – I certainly wouldn’t turn down a helper to do my household chores while I sleep either.
I have never heard that definition of gnome before – thank you for educating me. I’m going to have gnomes reading gnomes on the brain now 😉
Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters
LOL – it’s a hard one to get rid of isn’t it?!
Your site is always so informative. Gnome’s now have their own movie – guess it was about time.
Great aphorisms – wish I had one to add to your collection…
Maxims are Yoda speak. 🙂
Thank you for visiting and commenting on the WEP A to Z Blog Contribution – GENRE!
LOL – Yoda speak indeed!