The Illustrated Book of Sayings
is your introduction to some of the world’s strangest and most wonderful expressions. I say “introduction” because this book would need to be thousands upon thousands of pages long (and several volumes after that) to include all the curious, magical, and transcendent sayings we use to express ourselves. It is a beginning; for you and for me.
The fifty-two proverbs, expressions, and idioms in these pages will perhaps give you new ways of thinking about the world around you; hopefully, they will breathe some magnificent life into the everyday—color the view slightly differently so that you might be able to see the previously unseen. Most of these sayings reference the natural world in some way—the landscapes and creatures and vegetables alongside which we have evolved—and this says an awful lot about how we have made sense of things in the past, and how we make sense of things now—whether the saying is from a Scandinavian language or an African one. We cast our line into the blue depths of the languages that we know, hoping to catch the right words, and reel them back into our heads so that we might be able to unfold a situation or happening with understanding and insight.
There is a quote that I cannot forget from Brandon Stanton’s photography project and subsequent book Humans of New York
: “I’m learning to be more careful with my words. Words that seem meaningless at the time can end up having a lot of power. Seeds that you didn’t even intend to plant can fall off you and start growing in people.”
The imagery that accompanies this quotation has been stuck in my head since I read it, and that handful of words has sat with me, patiently, throughout the creation of this book. I can no longer simply think of language in terms of letters and words; rather, I think of it as tall plants and tiny seeds and flowering vines that grow slowly but surely around us as we wander through this world trying to learn how we should live.
The sayings in this book are like plants that have, in many cases, been growing for centuries, passed down from one generation to another, grown through one community to another. They have helped us to understand ourselves and others—events that we live through together and the events that we live through alone. The expressions you will find between these pages have shaped and been shaped by diverse people and cultures. They have given us relief, given us reason to laugh, given us ways to describe both the mundane and the profound minutes from which our lives grow. They speak of birds and honey and lakes. Dancing bears and broken pots. Sponge cake and clouds and radishes.
These expressions are ageless, tireless. Subject to change but immortalized in memory.
And they are now yours.
Copyright © 2016 by Ella Frances Sanders. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.