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DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PROVERB AND AN IDIOM

A proverb is 'a short, well-known pithy say, stating a general truth or a piece of advice'(the Oxford Dictionary), for example, 'civility cost nothing. This implies that a proverb is a simple and concrete saying, popularly known and repeated, and based on common sense and life's experiences. The above stated proverb for instance, is just understandable in real life; being civil or polite does not take anything from you.

An idiom is defined as a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. For example, 'muddy the waters'. To explain further, it is a group of words whose meaning is not derived from the literal meaning of the words used to form the idiom. With the above example, it means to confuse a situation; this meaning is not the direct meaning of the words 'muddy' and 'waters'.

Both proverbs and idioms have meanings that are greater than the meanings of their individual words.

However, the literal meaning of proverbs does make sense when put in their contexts. The literal meaning of an idiom does not make sense and cannot be easily understood unless one has learnt or heard of it before. Proverbs are mostly complete sentences which help to give more understanding to them. Idioms are mostly phrases or short arrangements of words.

Proverbs usually evoke some sense of wisdom and most of them are biblical and religious, making them universally clear (although there may be some slight differences in their interpretation from one culture to the other). Idioms on the other hand carry lots of cultural baggage along with them. They are generally used when referring to an expression that is peculiar to a language. That is why it is not easily comprehensible .

The idiom, 'as poor as a church' was originated from the European church building. In the 17th century, church buildings had no place to store or prepare food. So a mouse in an European church had no source of food. But one will wonder if a mouse in the contemporary church building also poor.

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