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"There is nothing so uncertain as the derivation of proverbs, the same proverb being often found in all nations, and it is impossible to assign its paternity." Proverbs are often borrowed across lines of language, religion, and even time.For example, a proverb of the approximate form "No flies enter a mouth that is shut" is currently found in Spain, France, Ethiopia, and many countries in between.An incommunicable quality tells us this sentence is proverbial and that one is not.Hence no definition will enable us to identify positively a sentence as proverbial".It is embraced as a true local proverb in many places and should not be excluded in any collection of proverbs because it is shared by the neighbors.However, though it has gone through multiple languages and millennia, the proverb can be traced back to an ancient Babylonian proverb (Pritchard 196).Similarly, among Tajik speakers, the proverb "One hand cannot clap" has two significantly different interpretations. Others understand it to mean that an argument requires two people.

The first relates to historical events, the second relates to current events, and the third was "linguistic ornamentation in formal discourse". Some are, indeed, the result of people pondering and crafting language, such as some by Confucius, Plato, Baltasar Gracián, etc.In English, for example, "betwixt" is not used by many, but a form of it is still heard (or read) in the proverb "There is many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip." The conservative form preserves the meter and the rhyme.This conservative nature of proverbs can result in archaic words and grammatical structures being preserved in individual proverbs, as has been documented in Amharic, In addition, proverbs may still be used in languages which were once more widely known in a society, but are now no longer so widely known.Interpreting proverbs from other cultures is much more difficult than interpreting proverbs in one's own culture.Even within English-speaking cultures, there is difference of opinion on how to interpret the proverb "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Some see it as condemning a person that keeps moving, seeing moss as a positive thing, such as profit; others see the proverb as praising people that keep moving and developing, seeing moss as a negative thing, such as negative habits.