Written by 16:25 Asian Stories

10 Proverb Origin Stories in English – Download PDF

Today we have gathered 10 of our most favorite Proverbs origin stories. Proverbs are words of wisdom or simple home truths expressed in a sentence…often metaphoric in nature. They basically deal with dictates on the disciplined and proper conduct of one’s life.
The study of Proverbs is called Paremiology and the origin of proverbs can be traced as far as the times of the great Philosopher Aristotle. But the authors of most of the proverbs are still unknown.

1. A bad workman always blames his tools.

Kumar and Ravi were two farmers who were neighbors. Both owned a pair of oxen each with which they plowed their land. Kumar worked hard all day long in order to get a good yield and looked after his oxen very well since he knew that they were very important for his farming activity.

Ravi on the other hand was very lazy and a miser who never fed his oxen properly but extracted maximum work from them and kept complaining that they were not doing a good job.

As a true friend Kumar advised and pointed out to Ravi that it was cruel to ill-treat the animals which were helping him make a living. Ravi paid little heed to Kumar’s words. He soon bought a tractor to plow his land and chased the oxen away since he no longer needed them. Taking pity on the poor animals Kumar took them under his wing although he could ill-afford to maintain them.

The monsoon soon arrived and it was time for cultivation. Kumar’s land was well plowed and ready for cultivation – thanks to his oxen. Ravi in his miserly fashion had not maintained his tractor well and it kept giving him trouble. As a result, he could not get his land ready for cultivation on time. He lamented and blamed it all on bad luck not realizing that it was he who was responsible for his miserable state. Ravi not only lost out on a good yield by his laziness but also spent more money than required to repair his tractor due to poor maintenance.

Despite having better equipment Ravi was unable to get the best results, whereas Kumar was a good workman and hence was able to succeed with the limited resources that he had.

2. Actions speak louder than Words

Sita was a ten-year-old girl who went to school by bicycle every day. She was a kindhearted young girl always willing to help people. She was very good at studies and always followed her teacher’s advice that one must always lend a helping hand to those in trouble.

One morning, as she was on her way to school, she saw a blind man trying to cross the road in the midst of busy traffic. There was no one to help him and he was in danger of getting hurt by the speeding vehicles. Sita, who saw this, parked her cycle in front of a shop and requested the shop owner to look after her cycle, telling him that she was going to help the blind man. Sita ran across to the blind man, took hold of his white cane, and told him to walk with her. She waved her hand at all the vehicles, signaling them to stop.

All the vehicles stopped and gave way for them to get across. The drivers were touched by the helping move of a small girl who did this small help. The blind man thanked Sita profusely and wished her good luck. Sita’s class teacher who was passing by saw this and felt very proud of her student. Sita’s gesture towards the blind man clearly showed her good intention to help others who were in need.

That day the teacher told the whole class of Sita’s helping tendency and asked them to applaud her. She also told the other students that they should follow Sita in converting what they learn into action. Sita was very pleased that she could at least do this small help for a handicapped person. After that Sita became famous among the school students and she was awarded in the school function for her humanitarian gesture.

3. All is well that ends well.

Once there lived a slave called Androcles who was yearning to be set free by his master since he was treating him badly. So Androcles hatched a plan and escaped into a nearby forest. After he had traveled a while Androcles suddenly heard a roar behind him and found a lion standing close by. He was sure the lion was going to kill him. But instead, the lion slowly limped towards him and held out its paw. There was a thorn stuck to its paw and there was a lot of blood oozing out.

Androcles removed the thorn and the lion walked away peacefully into the forest. After a few days, Androcles was captured by his master who was so angry that he had run away. The master decided to throw Androcles to a lion. This was a common practice in ancient Greece where the slaves were often thrown into an arena to fight a starving lion.

The next day a huge crowd had gathered to watch the fight. The King was also present. A lion that had been starved for a number of days was brought into the arena in a cage. As soon as Androcles was brought in, the guards let the lion out of the cage. Androcles was trembling in fear as the lion rushed at him with great rage. Much to the astonishment of the crowd the lion suddenly stopped in its path looked intently at Androcles and then went and lay down near his feet. Androcles was delighted as he realized that it was the same lion that he had helped in the forest. He hugged the lion as the entire arena watched in stunned silence.

The King was overjoyed at seeing such a brave act and permitted Androcles to be freed. When he entered the arena, Androcles thought that he was a dead man but the turn of events ensured the opposite of his freedom.

4. As you sow so shall you reap.

Once upon a time, there were two kings who ruled over neighboring kingdoms. King Aryan was a great warrior who looked after his subjects very well. All his people loved him because he was always looking into their safety and welfare and made sure that all his subjects led a very happy and healthy life.

King Vaishal on the other hand was a very lazy man who loved to spend his time entertaining and dancing and paid scant attention to the needs or developmental activities of the people. His people were very angry because he hardly ever came out of the palace to look into their needs or listen to their woes.

One day a powerful Sultan decided to capture these two kingdoms and made his way to them with his strong army. King Aryan’s army was alert and was ready to face the oncoming onslaught in all preparedness. Although they knew that the enemy was more powerful, their love for their King was so much that even women and children were ready to come to the war front and fight to protect their King.

It was a different story in the kingdom of King Vaishal. When they heard of the impending war, all the people started fleeing to the neighboring kingdoms leaving the King all by himself. They were not interested to protect their King who did nothing for their welfare. King Vaishal only then realized his foolishness but it was too late by then. He was defeated in the war and fled for his life.

King Aryan on the other hand defeated the Sultan with the help of his motivated army and paved the way for his people to live in peace. King Aryan had the welfare of his people at heart at all times. His subjects returned his love by being loyal and supportive to him during testing times.

5. Better be alone than in bad company.

Once there lived a group of monkeys in a small forest next to a mangrove. There were a lot of youngsters among the group who played around and spent their time happily. One day a new monkey family came to live with the group. The new family had two little monkeys – Tittoo and Bittoo – that were very mischievous and naughty beyond imagination.

Soon Tittoo and Bittoo began to make friends with the other little monkeys and tempting them to join in their pranks.

“You are living such a boring life. You must be adventurous like us. You are missing out on so much fun,” they would tell the other youngsters.

The other monkeys too were fascinated by Tittoo and Bittoo’s activities and soon joined in. They played havoc in the neighboring mangrove by eating all the mangoes and stealing things from anyone who passed by. They ransacked the houses in the neighboring village and took great pleasure in scaring young children and snatching away their toys.

Monty and Bunty were two close friends who refused to join the gang in their naughty acts for they thought that it was not nice to steal things from innocent passers-by. The other monkeys made fun of them by calling them cowards but Monty and Bunty did not bother about that. They played by themselves in the forest while all the others were together as a gang.
Fed up with the notorious activities of the monkeys, the owner of the mangrove sought the help of the local police. Monty and Bunty warned Tittoo and Bittoo to keep away from mischief since they had seen a few policemen with guns patrolling the mangrove. But the naughty monkeys refused to listen and continued with their menacing activities.

The next day the police had come armed with tranquilizers and set up traps to capture the monkeys. By dusk, most of the monkeys including Tittoo and Bittoo were caught and taken away to the zoo by the police. The others who managed to escape came back into the forest totally scared and never again ventured into the mangrove, realizing that they had indeed behaved very badly.

Monty and Bonty felt that it was better to be alone than in bad company. Hence they faced no problems. But the other monkeys who played the mischief with Tittoo and Bittoo felt very sad for their friends had been taken away by the police. They realized how important it was to stay away from bad company.

6. Better Safe than Sorry…

Sharad was a fun-loving teenager who loved adventures and challenges. He was well trained in martial arts and was considered a dare-devil by many. He often undertook dangerous assignments as challenges, having his parents worry about his safety all the time. He was especially fond of riding his bike at great speed which often left onlookers stunned and gaping open-mouthed. His college authorities warned him several times saying that he was becoming a bad example to other students who were trying to ape his rash driving.

Sharad laughed away all the admonitions by saying that he was always in perfect control of his bike and confident of his capabilities.

Of late Sharad had been practicing to ride his bike on a single wheel. He had skidded and fallen down several times hurting himself badly in the process. Since he had set his mind on achieving the feat, he refused to listen to anyone’s advice. His friends felt very proud of his adventurous nature and always encouraged him instead of cautioning him.

One day Sharad was provoked to ride his bike on a single wheel by a few college students inside the college campus and he immediately took up the challenge. A few well-meaning students tried to stop him saying that it was too dangerous to carry out since the roads were not in good condition. Sharad refused to listen and got his bike out ready for the act.
The road was cleared and Sharad was getting ready at the far end of the road to begin his act when a few students noticed an oil spill on the road. By the time they could shout a warning to Sharad. he was already speeding down the road.

As he tried to lift the front wheel his back wheel traveled over the oil spill and his bike skidded sending Sharad flying across the road. As people ran across to help him, Sharad lay still in an unconscious state. He was rushed to hospital where the doctors pronounced that he had injured his spine so badly that he would never again be able to walk. It was a great blow to Sharad and everyone dear to him.

Sharad felt terribly depressed and sorry for himself. It was then that he realized that his foolishness in not observing safety warnings had cost him his future. He understood that it was always better to be safe than sorry.

7. Better to get an egg a day than a hen tomorrow.

Once there was a shepherd who was grazing his sheep in the forest. Every morning he would drive them up the hill and bring them back home by late evening. He always dreamt of owning more sheep but hardly took any effort to realize his dream. One afternoon there was a sudden storm and the shepherd hurriedly drove his sheep into a nearby cave for shelter.

When he entered the cave he found some wild goats already inside. The shepherd immediately hit upon an idea. He decided to feed the wild goats along with his sheep so that he would be able to have more animals in his fold. The wild goats were huge and ate a lot of grass and leaves. There was hardly any grass left for the sheep but the shepherd hardly worried about it. He was more interested in making the wild goats fatter so that he could get a better price for them in the market for their meat.

The shepherd kept awake day and night looking after the wild goats making sure they did not run away. A few days later the storm subsided and on his usual visit to the cave one morning the shepherd found to his horror that the cave was empty. The wild goats had escaped into the hills once they realized that the storm had subsided.

The wild goats had also fought with the sheep and left there badly injured. Some of the sheep had even died. It was then that the shepherd realized how foolish he had been in neglecting his own sheep and looking after the wild goat which never belonged to him. He tried to save the remaining sheep but unfortunately, they had not been fed property soon died one after another. Thus the shepherd was left with nothing in the end. He had to stave without his sheep.

8. Don’t judge a book by its cover.

When Anbu was selected to be the School Pupil Leader by the Principal many doubts were raised about his capabilities by the teachers and staff. He was a new student who had joined the school only that year and the teachers preferred somebody who was popular to be elected as the SPL. Anbu was a tall, thin and quiet boy who had just started making friends in school. Although everyone knew that he was good at studies, he did not seem to be a very dynamic person and certainly did not impress with his looks.

But Mrs. Sathya, the Principal, was very adamant and told the teachers that Anbu was a boy with many hidden talents who could inspire and lead the other students by example.
A few months later Anbu proved that the Principal had indeed been right in her judgment. Since Anbu was very good at singing and debating, the school won prizes at all the inter-school cultural events unfailingly. Anbu was selected to lead the Tamilnadu Contingent in NCC at New Delhi for the Republic Day Parade and won many medals in shooting and extracurricular activities.

He was selected as the Best Cadet and the State won the Best Contingent Award under his leadership and he returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Despite all these distractions, he performed well in academics too and managed to win the National Student Scholarship Award. It was only then that the teachers realized how wrong they had been in judging Anbu – that this quiet and unassuming lad was indeed a treasure to the school and who could inspire the others by his actions.

Following his footsteps, many students started performing better at their academics as well as at their extracurricular activities. This made the school one of the best schools in the whole state of Tamil Nadu.

9. The Early Bird Catches the Worm.

Daya was a vegetable vendor in a small village. The vegetables and fruits that he sold in his shop were always fresh and every day there were loads of people frequenting his shop. Daya opened his shop much before the others and invariably all his stocks were exhausted by noon and he went home a happy man with a bag full of money.

This caused a lot of jealousy among the other vendors in the market because the crowd was always more in Daya’s shop than in theirs. They agreed that his stocks were fresh but never really understood the reason.

The other vendors decided to spy on Daya to find out the reason for his success. So one afternoon they followed him as he closed his shop for the day. Daya went home, rested, and then set out in his bullock cart by evening to the nearby town where the wholesale market was located. Daya rested there for the night and got up very early in the morning and bought all the stocks that he required and returned to his village before sunrise.

This way he was able to get fresh stocks from the wholesale market at cheaper rates and open his shop much before the others. Moreover, there was no wastage since he could sell all his stocks.

The other vendors realized that the secret behind Daya’s success was his hard work and good planning. He made sure he was well ahead of all the others in procuring the vegetables so that he got fresh stocks, even if it meant sacrificing his sleep. Daya was well aware that to succeed one had to grab opportunities at the earliest because that was the only way to have an edge over the others.

Other vendors in the same market where Daya sells his vegetables now understood the reason for the success of Daya. They started to follow the methods of Daya in order to make successful.

10. It takes a thief to catch a thief.

Tenali Raman was a very famous Minister and a favorite of King Krishnadevaraya. A lot of people were jealous of his popularity with the king and plotted to get rid of him. They decided to put the plan into action through the royal gardener who was very close to the king. The gardener one day told the king that Goddess Kali had appeared in his dream and told him that unless a very intelligent person like Raman was sacrificed to appease the gods, the kingdom will be ruined.

The king immediately called Raman and told him about it. The king decided that Raman should be thrown into an old unused well at the end of the town and left to die without food and water. Raman immediately knew that something was amiss but readily agreed to obey the king’s order. In the meantime, Raman quietly ordered a few close friends of his to dig a tunnel from the well under the cover of darkness as an escape route. On the appointed day Raman was dropped into the well. The king felt very sad that he had to sacrifice his favorite Minister in this manner to save his kingdom.

Raman quickly escaped through the tunnel and hid in his house for a couple of days. On the third day, Raman appeared in court much to the astonishment of the king and his courtiers. The king was angry and asked Raman why he had escaped from the well.
Raman quickly replied, “Your Highness. I was sent back from heaven by Goddess Kali who wanted you to send the royal gardener to heaven as they did not have a skilled gardener there.”

The gardener immediately realized Raman had indeed outwitted all of them and ran to the king and begged for forgiveness. The king was very angry and ordered the gardener and all the ministers behind the sinister plot to be thrown into prison. Raman was smart enough to guess the manner in which a cunning mind will work and plan accordingly. He had to think like a criminal himself in order to catch the people who were plotting against him. It was Raman’s intelligence and quick thinking that saved his life in the end.

11. Half a Loaf is Better than None.

Once upon a time, there was a hunter who was very fond of hunting birds. He was very skillful in using his bow and arrow. He would often go into the forest and hunt down birds by the dozen and sell them all in the town market for a huge price.

One day on one of his hunting expeditions the hunter found a deer roaming around and wanted to hunt it down since it would fetch him a good price. So he came back the next day and set a trap for the deer. The unsuspecting deer got caught in the trap. Meanwhile, the hunter saw a few birds up in a nearby tree and went about hunting them. The deer knew that it had to do something before the hunter returned.

Unfortunately, the hunter was not able to hunt even a single bird that day and was disappointed. He was however elated on seeing the deer caught in the trap and jumped with joy. The deer lay very still and pretended to be dead. The hunter came close to the deer and when it did not move he assumed that it had died. He wanted to carry the deer as soon as possible to the market so that he could sell its meat and make a lot of money.

He decided to fetch some logs to tie up the deer and carry it home. The deer lay very still waiting for the opportune moment to escape. The hunter released the trap from the deer’s legs and was beginning to tie the deer onto the logs when he heard a rustling sound. He looked up and found a beautiful bird sitting atop a tree branch. The greedy hunter immediately wanted to shoot the bird down. Thinking that the deer was dead he quietly stood up and took aim at the bird with his bow and arrow

The deer realized that the hunter’s concentration was now on the bird. So it leaped up and ran away into the forest at full speed. Hearing the noise the hunter turned around and was shocked to find the deer disappearing into the forest. He missed his aim and the bird too flew away when it heard all the commotion. It was then that the hunter realized that his greed had made him lose both the deer and the bird and he had to return empty-handed that day

Let us know your favorite proverb. We will add them to the next list.