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Paronomasia in Proverbs (“For every Jack there’s a Jill.”)

English from  time immemorial has exploited the poetic allure of paronomasia in its treasury of proverbs, especially that of alliteration (“In for a penny, in for a pound.”) and rhyme (“A stitch in time saves nine.”). No matter how banal the thought expressed in these longest of idioms, the orchestration of their language gives them a punch they would otherwise lack.

Early this morning, Y-H-B was sitting in a diner over his Sunday pancakes as usual and espied the same couple he had seen there before, the elderly man with his unkempt hair, hollowed-out face, and ill-fitting clothing, his only slightly younger companion also unfashionably dressed and uncomely, with her sawed-off hairdo and unfeminine proboscis. The two were talking animatedly and in an obviously affectionate manner. The thought, given body linguistically, that came to mind, for all the pair’s unloveliness, was: “For every Jack there’s a Jill.” This hoary proverb not only encapsulated the scene but gave the characters inhabiting it a certain dignity they otherwise lacked. It was like the fizz that invariably accompanies champagne, no matter how quotidian the vintage.


[Addendum, courtesy of Jacobus Primus: the Japanese equivalent of the English proverb is Warenabe-ni tojibuta ( 破鍋に綴じ蓋 ‘There is a mended lid for the cracked pot.’). But note the absence of paronomasia, which renders it inferior to the English proverb on that score alone.]

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