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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, entertaining, but with drawbacks, 23 April 2007
This review is from: As They Say In Zanzibar (Hardcover)
This collection of proverbs from many lands looks quite impressive: the hefty book ends at page 717. The proverbs are grouped under 468 themes from 1 Existence, 2 Family, 3 Sameness, through themes of material objects such as 38 Clocks--Watches or 73 Bottles--Cans, body parts such as 243 Ears and 244 Eyes, and abstractions such as 40 Beforehand, 41 Afterwards, 45 Oldness, and 46 Age, to 467 Clergy and 468 Church.

For every proverb, naturally, the country of origin is stated. It is very entertaining to dip into, and sometimes illuminating about countries; for instance in theme 165 Materials we find these proverbs:- 6: Not every sort of wood is fit to make an arrow (FRANCE); 8: It isn't every kind of wood that can make a whistle (LATVIA).

However there are some grounds for possible disappointment, though there may be good reasons for the author, editors and publisher's decision on each case.

First, there are not as many different proverbs as you might expect given such a big book. A generous type size is used, and the entries are set out spaciously on the page, 12 to 14 on a page that has a theme heading on it, 16 or 17 otherwise. After 34 pages of front matter including a list of themes (pp. 17..32), the proverbs are on pages 35..594 (560 pages).Pages 595..717 are devoted to various indexes including to and from Roget and a normal keyword index listing all the proverbs with each word, all excellent. Of the 560 pages, 468 have a theme heading and the rest don't. Ignoring some panels with fewer, we thus have room for about 8020 proverbs. But many if not most proverbs appear more than once, greatly reducing the number of different proverbs on offer. For example, we have 193 Cats 11: "A cat may look at a king" (ENGLAND) which appears also as 277 Looking--Seeing 14 and 390 Power 16. Similarly 195 Dogs 4: "A dog may look at a bishop" (FRANCE) also appears as 277 Looking--Seeing 13 and 467 Clergy 1.

Second, there is no guaranteed way to compare and contrast the ways different countries have to encapsulate the same thought. The previous example also illustrates this perfectly: the most interesting thing to notice about the two proverbs "A cat may look at a king" and "A dog may look at a bishop" is that they are England's and Frence's respective ways of making the same (vaguely moral-philosophical) point, which we can call the "moral" of the proverb. However, the grouping is into ostensible "themes", which are actually based on the (also indexed) key words in the proverbs, means that although the English proverb appears under both the themes Cats and Power, and the French proverb appears under both the themes Dogs and Clergy, and each is referenced in the keyword index under both its chief words, the only way to come across them both while looking at one, and thereby to tie the two via the common "moral", is to discover the third appearance of each under theme Looking. You will only make the comparison between the choices of animal and important personage in the two countries if you browse extensively and happen to find them both by chance. The odds of coming across both are perhaps slightly helped by the fact that under Cats and Dogs themes, animals with adjacent initial letters, they are only 3 pages apart; and under theme 277 Looking--Seeing they are adjacent proverbs. BUT had the French chosen a monkey instead of a dog for their proverb, the animal separation would have been rather greater. Similarly, had the French version of the proverb been (say) "A dog can lick a bishop's boot" (dogs do tend, unlike cats, to lick things belonging to other people) the third appearance (aside from Dogs and Clergy) would have been elsewhere --- Licking not being a theme in the book, perhaps next to 253 Touch 6: "A dry bone is never licked" (ALBANIA). Then, the two proverbs with identical moral would never have been found at all.

There are probably many sets of proverbs with same same moral, expressed so differently in different countries that I not only do not know of them but also cannot find them by reading this book --- unless I were to read the entire book, recognize and memorize all the morals, and then cross-relate the similar morals in proverbs with no common key-words at all. As it was, I could come across "A cat may look at a king" (ENGLAND) and "A dog may look at a bishop" (FRANCE) only by one of *two* coincidences (in fact I found them by reading a lot all at once at the animal theme pages). This is a problem which it would have been quite difficult to solve, so it is perhaps not surprising that neither David Crystal nor his publishers' editors attempted it (as far as I can see, anyway; the Roget index doesn't help either). However, were somebody to find a way to cross-relate by moral and to implement it in a future much enlarged edition of this book, it would double its actual usefulness, though not perhaps its simple entertainment value.

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