All roads lead to...? Proverbs containing place-names and their contemporary use.

Proverbs are essentially international, in large part because the advice that they succinctly and poetically contain, such as ‘No smoke without fire,’ is culturally non-specific. Nevertheless, within any corpus, one finds that particular places are mentioned, as in the following, ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ a metaphor meaning ‘great undertakings cannot be accomplished quickly’. There are already several studies of places named in the proverbs of the particular language or languages of an area or country to testify to this, for example, Frank Nussel’s ‘Toponyms in a Corpus of the Proverbs of Spain’ (Proverbium:  Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, Volume 21, 2004, pp. 273-86). There are also studies of such individual proverbs. My paper, however, sets out to look at places and borders referred to in the 100 or so proverbs that have been identified as the commonest throughout all the living languages of Europe. These are detailed in Gyula Paczolay’s classic European Proverbs in 55 Languages... (Budapest, 1997). To be termed a common European proverb it has to occur in over half of the 55 languages and to be found in north, south, west and east Europe. How frequently within this corpus are specific places named? What sort of places are they, real or mythical? What do these places symbolise? Besides addressing these questions, I look at the degree of variation that there is in the place-names in the same proverb both across the range of languages and within any one language and in doing so I consider the part that stylistic features like alliteration play. Are there any place-names that remain constant across the versions in different languages? The short answer to the last is no:  we find, for instance, that ‘All roads’ can lead to Rome, Mecca, Turku, and several other places, as people cease to count Rome as their city of wonder. The proverb’s meaning, that there is more than one way to tackle a problem, has a wide appeal but ‘Rome’ does not have the same significance everywhere. This prompted my examination into which groups of languages share the same place-name and whether there were variants with a more general location with which more people could identify. In England, Scotland and elsewhere, for instance, we can find the variant ‘There are more ways to the wood than one’. What are the boundaries of one place-name or another and what are the territorial and linguistic borders of such proverbs? I also look at how these common proverbs can be recast as anti-proverbs, for example, ‘All roads lead to Romeo’ (Evan Esar 20,000 Quips and Quotes. NY, 1968, as cited in Wolfgang Mieder and Anna Tóthné Litovkina Twisted Wisdom, Modern Anti-Proverbs. Volume 4 in the Supplement Series of Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship.  Vermont, 1999, p. 33). While my focus is on the European group I make some general remarks about toponyms in proverbs and their importance to identity.

Fionnuala Carson Williams, Belfast