When three heads are put together, the results can be shockingly revelatory. Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, and Fred R. Shapiro have now compiled The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs, the first proverb dictionary to be based on electronic research from full-text databases. With more than 1,400 entries, this exhaustive collection of post-1900 proverbs, explains their origins, and in some cases, definitively challenges popular uses and legends of “who-said-what-first.” And if not the true origin itself, the first known appearances of popular phrases like “Sex sells” and “Wake up and smell the coffee” are sure to surprise; or even not as popular, but sure to make you think: “A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged.”
Only a week since the Dictionary’s official publication, already Ben Zimmer has written about the project for the Boston Globe. His observation that “modern proverbs” might sound like a contradiction in terms is justifiable, but here are just a few words that have become commonplace in the last century: TV, Internet, sucks—we imagine you’ve heard of them, and they certainly deserve a place in our thinking about common and popular phrasing.
Now, you can submit your own contribution for possible addition to The Dictionary of Proverbs. And stay tuned for more updates and a Summer Reading giveaway quiz about the Dictionary! Like the book quiz on Ben Yagoda’s “Lingua Franca” blog at the Chronicle of Higher Education, we’ll show you why and how “there are no stupid questions.”