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František Čermák

Charles University Prague

Numbers in Proverbs


Numbers in proverbs may seem an incongruent combination. Since most current types of human experience are covered by proverbs and some of it may be numbered, this may become a research question, however odd and rare it sounds. On the basis of a proverb corpus (Routledge dictionary), proverbs containing cardinal numbers have been collected and inspected, accompanied by their frequency of use. Except for some very basic first numbers and round numbers such as thirty or hundred, hardly any other have been found in use here. However, despite this result, which could be expected, some minor, yet interesting ways of this type of use could have been pointed at here. In the following, such aspects are inspected as symbolic use, motivation and its absence in their use (Four eyes see more than two vs One bird in the hand is worth four in the air) and rare metaphorical transfers. A detailed inspection of proverbs containing one, first, two, hundred, thousand and even in more detail, usage of three and seven is offered. A typical feature of some cases is polyfunctional use of numbers, defying, obviously, their otherwise exact character. However, the general answer to the main research question, is, that most of the use of numbers is not projected in the respective proverbs where they occur.