Proverbs enjoy a long oral history. Written literature containing proverbs goes back to Sumerian inscriptions which gave rules of grammar in prover­bial form and to ancient Egyptian collections dating perhaps from 2500 BC... Proverbs were used in ancient Chinese pedagogical writings; they ap­peared also in Vedic philosophical treatises of India. More familiar to west­erners is the Book of Proverbs from the Bible, which contains sayings, asso­ciated with Solomon and in fact having come from even earlier sources.

One of the first collections in English was Proverbs of Alfred (12th centu­ry); the comparative study of proverbs dates back to Erasmus of Rotterdam who published his collection of Latin proverbs in 1515. Besides the work of Ray mentioned above (1670), the compiler of the present work has also re­ferred to that of Thomas Draxe (1616), and to Colonial America, Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac which appeared in the mid-1700s. The proverbs contained therein were of traditional European origin; Franklin merely put them into an American context as he saw fit.11

The literary history of proverbs in Turkish can be traced back to the ap­pearance of some proverbial expressions in Ancient Turkic inscriptions (ca. 8th century), but we can be more confident in citing Mahmut al-Kashghari’s dictionary, which he wrote In Baghdad in 1073/4 to teach Arabs Turkish as the first true literary source of Turkish proverbs. His work is considered by some to be the world’s first real dictionary. 12 In any case, it contains nearly 300 Turkic language proverbs still found in some form in the Turkish of to­day.

The Oghuz Turks’ Book of Dede Korkut, containing twelve heroic legends, is interwoven with proverbs of the 7th through 13th centuries. Those Turkic proverbs are still widely heard in modified form today. A treatise on medi­cine, Teshil, contains as an appendix (with no explanation by its author) a list of nearly 700 proverbs which some scholars believe are even older’ than those of Dede Korkut. Although Ottoman Turks are not mentioned in these proverbs, Teshil is also noteworthy for being among the first to contain a collection of proverbs published in Ottoman Turkish (original. Istanbul, 1480: Veled Izbudak published his edition of these in 1936).

In more recent times, the Ottoman Turkish collections of Ahmet Vefik Paşa (1852). Şinasi (1863) and Ebüzziya (1885) are worthy of note as sourc­es for the present study. Known now mainly as a curiosity. Osmanlı Prov­erbs and Quaint Sayings (London, 1897), by the Rev. E. J. Davis deserves mention as having been the first fairly extensive work in English (over 4,000 proverbs) to introduce Turkish proverbs to the western world. Still generally available and often cited, it is in fact a translation of the Turkish journalist Ahmed Mithat Efendi’s collection in Ottoman Turkish of some years earlier. While the translation itself was seriously inaccurate, it gave some idea of how colorfully proverbs reflected Turkish life and culture of the period.

About the same time, Sir James Redhouse included in his massive Turk­ish and English Lexicon (Istanbul, 1890) a large number of proverbs found in Ottoman Turkish. This is still a valuable reference for Ottoman Turkish scholars of today, and Redhouse’s translations (if not always his interpretations) were reasonably correct. It is significant that while Arabic and Per­sian had heavily penetrated the Turkish of that time to the extent that any Arabic or Persian word could just as well have been understood as “Otto­man,” the final version of his dictionary contained only those Arabic and Persian elements which had actually been employed in Ottoman writings.

The New Redhouse Turkish-English Dictionary (Istanbul, 1968 and subse­quent reissues), “a new dictionary based largely on the (one) published in 1890 by the Publication Department of the American Board (Mission),” con­tains many of these materials; “A body of rare Turkish words has been care­fully preserved, often on the sole authority of Redhouse himself, since he seems to have had informants and other sources no longer available to us.” In the Preface to his own work Redhouse had cited Franciscus a Mesgnien Meninski’s Thesaurus Linguarum Oriantalium Turcicae, Arabicae, Persicae... (first published in 1680) as one of his sources.

The Preface to the 1968 American Board edition further notes that ‘The intention has been to include every word, and as nearly as possible every set phrase or locution, that has been used in standard Turkish as it has been spoken within the geographical area now called Turkey in the last two hundred years... Provincial words and meanings have been included if their use was not limited to one province. We have tried to list all proverbs and folk sayings...”’5 In addition to the “original Redhouse” and its sources, the “New Redhouse” editorial board also had access to the lengthy materials of the Turk Dil Kurumu (cited in the bibliography of this book).

The present writer of this Introduction had strongly criticized the 1968 American Board edition in a long review (21 printed pages) written shortly after its publication. Since that time he has regretted somewhat the strength of his youthful criticism, as well as the fact that none of the correc­tions and changes he suggested were incorporated into the body of a num­ber of reprinting since 1968. In any case, he had acknowledged in his re­view even then that the “New Redhouse” was “quite rich in idiom (and) proverbs.”

Continuing in this tradition, in 1983, the Redhouse Press published its Contemporary Turkish-English Dictionary, important today, because it con­tains proverbs from the collection of Ömer Asım Aksoy, translated and in­terpreted for the first time in English, along with the materials of the origi­nal Redhouse. Altogether, there are over 2,000 proverbs in this work. Other recent works dealing with Turkish proverbs are those of Çeklc, Dağpı­nar, Tosun and Muallimoğlu. Of these, the first two are significant, because for most Turkish proverbs the authors found their English language prover­bial equivalents. cekic found approximately 500 comparisons from within his corpus and Dağpınar about 200.18 In a different vein, Aydin Oy has pro­vided a commendable scholarly overview of Turkic language proverbs throughout history.’

Paremiology is the systematic and comparative historical study of prov­erbs and proverbial expressions. Wolfgang Mieder, himself a renowned scholar in the field, offers an excellent broad bibliographical overview of the subject and current work. Doctor Mieder has been the editor of Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship since it revived, in 1984, its predecessor which had originally been published by the Finnish Literary Society up to 1975.

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What is it that is unique about A Dictionary of Turkish Proverbs by Metin Yurtbaşı? First of all, as mentioned earlier, it is arranged according to con­cept rather than by so-called “keyword (main word)” or simple alphabetical order. In and of itself, this is an extremely difficult task. As explained by Harvard University Press editors in their Introductory Note to Bartlett Jere Writing’s comprehensive collection, Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Say­ings:

Collections and so-called dictionaries of proverbs do not as a rule provide definitions, and for good reason. Proverbial expressions, drawing on folk wisdom and shared experience, convey their message (if not a strict “meaning”) more effectively than a definition could. And many proverbs are not susceptible to definition. A standard exercise in folklore demon­strates that many familiar proverbs are understood in contradictory ways. “A rolling stone gathers no moss” is nonetheless cogent because half its users regard moss as good, half as bad.21

“Definition” in the case of the book now in your hands means that Yurt­bası has categorized his proverbs by concept and has often also interpreted them in translating and matching them with their counterparts from other languages and cultures. This was truly a difficult task, both because of the sheer bulk of the material involved, and because all of it required subjective interpretation.

Why was this task so important? Let’s take one example and follow it carefully through to completion: Suppose we plan on giving a speech on the subject of courage and in it we wish to use a proverb or two to make a sali­ent point, or if nothing else, at least to wake up our audience. If we look at a simple alphabetical listing of proverbs, it is obvious that we are stuck from the start, since the proverb we seek may not begin straight out with the word “courage.”

We would lose the Italian proverb “Who has no courage must have legs” among the “who’s” and likewise the Spanish proverb “Before the time great courage; when at the point, great fear” would disappear among the “be­fore’s.” Even by “keyword” organization, this proverb may be lost in “time” (pardon the pun)...

Suppose further that we want to point out that courage increases with success, that people may change, acquiring courage through exposure to challenge. The simple alphabetical or the more sophisticated “keyword” or­ganization now coughs out the following for us:

“Courage beats the enemy.” [Philippine]

“Courage ought to have eyes as well as arms.” [English]

“Courage vanquishes some sufferings and patience the others.” [Finnish]

“Courage without discretion is useless.” [Philippine]

We may have lost the Philippine “Evading the enemy is true courage,” but never mind.., we’ve got enough Philippine proverbs anyway... It is even easier for the Spanish “It is courage that vanquishes in war, and not good weapons” to be vanquished among the “war” and “weapons” possibilities, al­though courage may emerge the winner since it is (disregarding the “it is”) the first word...

But the real point of all this is that we haven’t succeeded in any case, since none of the above proverbs deals with the real “courage concept” that we are investigating, that of courage increasing with success or exposure to challenge. The source, which we investigated, was an enormous compilation of over 18,500 “world proverbs,”22 and it is truly an excellent work by an outstanding scholar. However, proverbs in it are arranged by “keyword” rather than by concept, so we may find a suitable proverb only if the con­cept is expressly stated in it by keyword. There were eight entries for the “keyword” courage (that is, all of the eight entries contained the word “cour­age”), but none of them fit our need.

Now, let’s look at the “courage concept” entry in this Dictionary of Turkish Proverbs. There are exactly fifteen entries, but of these only one contains the Turkish word for “courage.” One more proverb contains the Turkish word for “bravery” and one more the word for “bold.” However, when we go through these fifteen entries, we easily discover a Turkish proverb that meets our need exactly: “If a goat escapes from a wolf, he becomes a rhinoc­eros.” Not only does this Turkish proverb impart the idea of “courage in­creasing with success and challenge” to meet the needs of our forthcoming speech, Metin Yurtbaşı has also painstakingly matched this Turkish prov­erb, according to its true abstract meaning, with a fair counterpart from an­other language and culture, in this case the English “A serpent, unless it has devoured a serpent, does not become a dragon.” It is important to note here that neither the Turkish proverb nor its English language counterpart contains the word “courage.”

Although it is not always possible to find a match, Yurtbaşı sometimes brings forth as many as half a dozen (some of which may be variations of the same one); in this section containing fifteen Turkish proverbs on “cou­rage,” Yurtbaşı has found over two dozen matches from other languages and cultures. Thus, we may extrapolate a grand total of over fifteen prov­erbs dealing with the subject of “courage.”

In the interest of serious scholars as well as amateur philologists, Yurt­başı carefully documents both the sources of his Turkish proverbs and those matching them from other languages. The Turkish “If a goat escapes from a wolf...” he has found in the 19th century work by Ebüzziya, its Eng­lish language counterpart “A serpent, unless it has devoured a serpent...” in the authoritative Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs.

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In the remainder of this Introduction, we will examine Turkish proverbs from a linguistic point of view. Even though Turkish, far outside the Indo­-European language family, is vastly different from English linguistically and in vocabulary, we will try to find suitable means of comparison that enable the feeling and flavor of the proverbs to be conveyed. First of all, related to syntax:

Turkish proverbs giving advice or admonishing generally place the em­phasis on the stronger “command” clause (whether positive or negative) by positioning it first:

Bin ölç, bir kes. “Measure a thousand times; cut but once.”

Gülme komşuna, gelir başına. “Don’t laugh at your neighbor; the same could happen to you!”

Nerede birlik, orada dirlik. “Where there’s unity there’s harmony.”

Such sentences are often very short —four, six or eight words with one, two or three syllables (to preserve the meter). Statements of simple truth or observation also follow this pattern in Turkish:

Az veren candan, çok veren maldan. “He who gives but little gives from the heart, he who gives a lot gives of his wealth.”

Ucuzdur vardır illeti, pahalıdır vardır hikmeti. “There are things which are cheap for which there is reason/which are cheap that have their flaws, there are things which are expensive that have their intrinsic value.” (i.e. Cheapness has its price.)

Turkish proverbs may also link “clauses” with “connectors” (words or particles) or other, structural devices akin to the Indo-European equivalent of “and,” “out,” “or,” “neither... nor,” “as ... as,” “than,” “who/that/which,” “while,” “so that,” “then,” “when,” and “unless/if’:

Aç kalmak borçlu olmaktan iyidir. “Better to be hungry than to be in debt.”

Kar onunçun yağar ki ayak üstüne. “The reason why it snows is so that our feet would get cold.” “(Why?” “That’s why!” / “Warum?” “Darum!” [i.e. Don’t look for any better or more complicated reasons for such a simple thing.]

Az olsun, uz/öz olsun. “Let it be little, but let it be good.”

Meyvasını ye de ağacını sorma. “Eat the fruit, but don’t ask about the tree it came from.”

Kişiye talep fayda etmez nasip olmayınca. “A request is of no use un­less one has it In his fate.”

Hayır dile komşuna, hayır gele başına. “Desire the good fortune of oth­ers that you too may prosper.”

İven kız ere varmaz, varsa da baht bulmaz. “The girl who hastens won’t marry, but even if she does she won’t find happiness.”

Çok yaşayan çok görür. “They who live longest will see the most.”

Altın tutsa toprak olur. “If he were to pick up gold it would turn to dirt.”

Bakarsan bağ olur bakmazsan dağ olur. “If you look after it, it will be­come a garden; if you don’t look after it, it will become a mountain.”

Avradın malı eşeğin nalı. “A woman’s property has as much value as a donkey’s shoe.”

Avcı zağarı gibi ne yer ne yedirir. “Like a pure-bred hunting dog, he neither eats nor lets others eat.” (Said of one to show his loyalty and de­votion.)

Altın çamura düşmekle kıymetten düşmez. “Gold doesn’t lose its worth by falling into the mud.”

Ağaç yaş iken eğilir. “A tree is bent while it is young.”

In English and Turkish where a verb might be repeated in the second clause because of language structure, both languages also often employ a single verb to compare or contrast two ideas more economically:

Demir nemden, insan gamdan çürür. Lit. “Iron deteriorates with damp­ness, humans with worry.”

Hayvan yularından, insan sözünden tutulur. “Beasts are held by their halters, humans by their promises.”

Altın ateşte, insan mihnette belli olur. “(The quality of) gold is distin­guished through flame, (that of) humans through misfortune.”

Turkish employs another device to keep proverbs succinct; verbs them­selves may vary throughout the sentence, with only the final clause carry­ing the mood, tense and number:

Göz iki, ağız tek — çok görüp, çok dinleyip az söylemek gerek. “Two eyes, one mouth — one needs to see much, listen much but talk little.” (Lit.... much see, much listen, but one needs to talk little.”)

From the point of view of literary style rather than syntax (although often the two are related), Turkish proverbs might be compared much more readi­ly with those of Indo-European languages. Let’s examine one of the most well-known English language proverbs: “A stitch in time saves nine.” Like many Turkish proverbs (e.g., many of the examples given above in the discussion of syntax), it is short, consisting of only six words or six syl­lables. It possesses meter, with each of its three nouns receiving equally strong stress.

Rhyme/rhythm is another fairly universal characteristic of proverbs. Our example not only shows rhythm or meter, but it is also an illustration of rhyme, through both alliteration and assonance.