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Sticks and stones

  • Sticks and stones is an idiom that is an allusion to a proverb. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that may be a famous quote, an inspirational quote, an epigram, or the topic of a parable. These common sayings are language tools or figures of speech that particularly give advice or share a universal truth, or impart wisdom. Synonyms for proverb include adage, aphorism, sayings, and byword, which can also be someone or something that is the best example of a group. Often, a proverb is so familiar that a speaker will only quote half of it, relying on the listener to supply the ending of the written or spoken proverb himself because these common phrases and popular sayings are so well known. Certain phrases may be a metaphor or a quotation; but if it is a proverb, it is often-used and has a figurative meaning. Speakers of English as a second language are sometimes confused by these pithy sayings as translations from English to other languages do not carry the impact that the English phrases carry. Some common proverbs are the wise sayings better late than never; early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise; an apple a day keeps the doctor away; don’t cry over spilt milk; actions speak louder than words; haste makes waste, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. One of the books of the Bible is the Book of Proverbs, which contains words and phrases that are still often quoted in the English language because they are wise. Many current proverbs are quotations taken from literature, particularly Shakespeare, as well as the Bible and other sacred writings. We will examine the meaning of the idiom sticks and stones and the proverb it alludes towhere the expression came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

     

    Sticks and stones is a retort one uses when taunted or insulted; the expression means that one is unaffected by the taunt or insult. The idiom sticks and stones is an abbreviation of the proverb, sticks and stones may break may bones but words will never hurt me. The earliest known use of the proverb, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, occurred in The Christian Recorder, an American publication for a Black audience, in 1862: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.“ At the time, the publication referred to the expression as an old adage, so we may assume that the term had been in use for longer than its first known appearance in print. Today, sticks and stones is an abbreviated form of the proverb that is often used by adults; the full proverb is often chanted by school children in response to bullying.

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    Examples

    Sticks and stones: Rep. Adam Schiff on what it’s like to be bullied by the president (Spectrum News)

    “Sticks and stones hey,” he wrote, adding a shrugging emoji. (Us Magazine)

    While racist sticks and stones are still breaking bones, do racist words really matter? (New England Journal of Medicine)

    She lied when she said that sticks and stones could break my bones but words could never hurt me. (Jamaica Gleaner)


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