Writing

Adage in Writing (Definition, Usage + Examples)

Posted: January 4, 2023
Word count: 1,347 (5 min)

An adage is a crisp, sharp saying which has its foundation in human life and has stood true for a very long time.

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Tomas Laurinavicius

Co-founder & Chief Editor, Best Writing

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What is adage meaning? (Definition)

An adage is a crisp, sharp saying which has its foundation in human life and has stood true for a very long time. An adage is short and philosophical in nature and has been around through generations. It is easy to understand by a large number of people and is used widely irrespective of country of origin or other barriers.

The function of adages is to convey dynamic and powerful ideas into meaningful sentences. An adage is a traditional saying which is easy to comprehend and can teach valuable life lessons across all ages. Adage (noun) comes from Old French and Latin adagium meaning 'saying'.

What is the difference between an adage, a proverb, an idiom and a cliche?

Adages are similar to what we know more commonly as proverbs. We might know another form of common saying called idioms. But they all are a tad bit different.

An adage is more of a general truth. It is a wider term than a proverb. A proverb holds true in practical life. Adages have universal application and hold true in most situations. They are an old saying that is worth a new thousand words.

An adage is an important fact carrying wisdom. A cliche is a common experience that has happened so many times that it seems nothing new and unoriginal.

An idiom has cultural context and is not understood as universally as an adage or a proverb. Proverbs generally provide advice, while idioms are expressions for a certain circumstance.

An example of an adage is, "Slow and steady wins the race."

This saying has a universal application and means consistency can have a great effect in any life situation. An adage may or may not give advice. It can have interpretations. According to Oxford Learner's Dictionary, an adage is "a well-known phrase expressing a general truth about people or the world".

"According to the old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words."

An example of a proverb is, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away."

This sentence is advisory in nature and promotes healthy eating habits.

An example of a cliche is, "Opposites attract."

This is an overly used saying and only partially true. It may not hold up in many situations and can have the opposite effect.

An example of an idiom is, "The cat is out of the bag."

This is an expression, certain way of saying that a secret is out. An idiom is only a manner of expressing something, and does not have a fixed meaning.

Examples of Adage in Literature (Examples)

Several adages that we use today have originated in great writings and world literature. Quotes from great writers' work are so popularly used that they seep into local, everyday conversations and take on a life of their own. Here listed are some adages from literature around the world.

  • "Tis better to have loved and lostThan never to have loved at all." (In Memorium, Alfred Tennyson)
  • "A friend to all is a friend to none." (Aristotle)
  • "All the world’s a stage,And all the men and women merely players.They have their exits and their entrances,And one man in his time plays many parts,His acts being seven ages." (As You Like It, William Shakespeare)
  • "Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get” (Forrest Gump)
  • "The early bird catches the worm." (A Collection of English Proverbs, John Ray)
  • "Better safe than sorry." (Rory O'More, Samuel Lover)

Aesop's Fables

  • "Familiarity breeds contempt." ('The Fox and the Lion')
  • "Appearances often are deceiving." ('The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing')
  • "Slow and steady wins the race." ('The Tortoise and the Hare')
  • "One person's meat is another's poison." ('The Ass and the Grasshopper')
  • "Things are not always what they seem." ('Bee-Keeper and the Bees')

Poor Richard's Almanack (Benjamin Franklin)

  • "A penny saved is a penny earned."
  • "Fish and visitors stink after three days."
  • "Little strokes fell great oaks."
  • "To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish."
  • "Well done is better than well said."
  • "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
  • "Eat to live, and not live to eat."
  • "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Holy Bible

  • "There is no peace for the wicked." (Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21)
  • "A soft answer turns away wrath." (Proverbs 15:1)
  • "A leopard cannot change his spots." (Jeremiah 13:23)
  • "This is nothing more than a drop in the bucket." (Isaiah 40:15)
  • "Many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14)
  • "You will be more blessed to give than to receive." (Acts 20:35)
  • "Follow the straight and narrow path." (Matthew 7:14)
  • "To everything, there is a season." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
  • "Pride goes before a fall." (Proverbs 16:19)
  • "The love of money is the root of all evil." (1 Timothy 6:10)
  • "The truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)

Adagia (Erasmus)

  • God helps those who help themselves.
  • Call a spade a spade.
  • Put the cart before the horse.

More Examples

  • "If that old adage holds true — y’know, that the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach — then maybe the best gift for his holiday are some plates for pop." (Rod Stafford Hagwood, Sun Sentinel, 7 June 2022)
  • "When times are tough, the tough get going, goes the old saying, and that adage is quite appropriate in today’s investment environment." (Eliron Ekstein, Forbes, 1 July 2022)
  • "As the adage goes, never let a good crisis go to waste." (Bypaolo Confino, Fortune, 9 Nov. 2022)
  • "Don’t put the cart before the horse."
  • "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." (Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare)
  • "A hungry man is an angry man."
  • "Seek and you will find."

How to identify an adage?

If one finds a saying full of wisdom, has universal application then it might turn out to be an adage. Adages are accepted all across the world. They are not always advisable in nature and often lead to a general wisdom about things. An old adage can have relevance even today.

How do you use an adage? (Usage)

There are hundreds of adages for a writer to use in their writing. The best way to use an adage in writing is to choose from the hundred available examples and weave it into your own writing. Take this adage for example: "A leopard cannot change his spots."

A writer can take this and put it into their own writing, like this:

She saw the rising tide beneath the moonlight and was reminded of her own love lost in the waves of time. She has always suffered in love. When she was young, she wanted to get rid of the wounds on her heart. With age, she learned to embrace them, and wear it like an armour. Today, standing in front of the storming ocean she closes her eyes to reflect on her journey as a solitary woman fishing through life. The wounds have solidified and become a part of who she is. A leopard cannot change his spots. He must carry them like armor. There is no her without the scars anymore. She carries her wounds like arrows in a quiver, like wrought iron fences around a flower garden.

Summary

Adages are short sayings that are easily comprehendable and make people aware of importance lessons of life but not in a dictatatorial way. Adages are different from proverbs, idioms, and cliches. Proverbs are adages but adages are not always proverbs. Adages have had a wide use in literature, religious writings, and popular media. One can identify an adage by looking at the characteristics of the sentence and use adages by taking an old adage and writing them into their own words to create something new.

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