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Wellerisms, named after Sam Weller in Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, make fun of established clichés and proverbs by showing that they are wrong in certain situations, often when taken literally.[1] In this sense, wellerisms that include proverbs are a type of anti-proverb. Typically a Wellerism consists of three parts: a proverb or saying, a speaker, and an often humorously literal explanation.

Sam Weller's propensity to use the types of constructions now called "wellerisms" have inspired plays; sometimes, the playwrights have created even more wellerisms.[2]

Some researchers concentrate on wellerisms found in English and European languages, but Alan Dundes documented them in the Yoruba language of Nigeria (Dundes 1964), with African scholars confirming and adding to his findings (Ojoade 1980, Opata 1988, 1990). Wellerisms are also common in many Ethiopian languages, including Guji Oromo.[3] They are also found in ancient Sumerian: "The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: 'The depths of the sea are my urine!'"[4] In a number of languages of Africa, wellerisms are formed with animals as the speaker. In some cases, the choice of the animal may not carry much significance. However, in some cases, such as in the Chumburung language of Ghana, the choice of the specific animal as speaker is a significant part of some proverbs, "chosen precisely for characteristics that illustrate the proverb... Chameleon says quickly quickly is good and slowly slowly is good."[5] Wellerisms in the Antillean Creole French spoken on the island of Martinique also maintain some African Wellerisms, e.g. "Rabbit says, 'Eat everything, drink everything, but don't tell everything.'"[6]

A special format for Wellerisms called a Tom Swifty incorporates a punning adverb that modifies the manner in which the statement was related.[1]

Wellerisms are similar to, but often different from dialogue proverbs. Wellerisms contain the speech of one speaker, but dialogue proverbs contain direct speech from more than one. They are found in a number of languages, including Kasena of Ghana, Georgian, Armenian.[7]

  • "Let me go, Spider!" "How can I let go of my meat?" "Then get on with it, eat me!" "How can I eat a fly?" - Kasena[8]
  • "I have caught a bear." "Get of him." "I can’t, he won’t let me go." - Armenian[9]


  • "Everyone to his own taste," the old woman said when she kissed her cow.
  • "We'll have to rehearse that," said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car.
  • A body can get used to anything, even to being hanged, as the Irishman said. (Lucy Maud Montgomery--Anne of Green Gables)
  • "This week is beginning splendidly," said one who was to be hanged on Monday.
  • "Much noise and little wool," said the Devil when he sheared a pig.
  • "So I see," said the blind carpenter as he picked up his hammer and saw.
  • "Simply remarkable," said the teacher when asked his opinion about the new dry-erase board.

Wellerisms occur in languages other than English. Here are two Dutch examples:

  • "Alle beetjes helpen", zei de mug en hij pieste in zee.
    • (English: "Every little bit helps," said the gnat and it pissed in the sea.)
  • "Alles met mate", zei de kleermaker en hij sloeg zijn vrouw met de el.
    • (English: "Everything should be done measuredly," said the tailor and he hit his wife with a ruler.)

A Hebrew example:

  • .נחיה ונראה," אמר העיוור למת"
    • (English: "We shall wait and see", said the blind to the dead. (lit. "live and see"))

A Russian example:

  • "Да будет свет!" сказал монтёр и перерезал провода.
    • (English: "Let there be light!" said an electrician and cut the wires.)

See also[edit]


  • Dundes, Alan. 1964. Some Yoruba wellerisms, dialogue proverbs, and tongue twisters. Folklore 75.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang and Stewart A. Kingsbury, eds. Dictionary of Wellerisms, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
  • Mac Coinnigh, Marcas, "The Crab's Walk: Wellerism and Fable (AT276) by Bo Almqvist". "Bis dat, qui cito dat” – Gegengabe in Paremiology, Folklore, Language, and Literature. Honoring Wolfgang Mieder on His Seventieth Birthday. 2014.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang, American Proverbs: A Study of Texts and Contexts (New York: Lang, 1989).
  • Mieder, Wolfgang, Proverbs Are Never Out of Season: Popular Wisdom in the Modern Age (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
  • Ojoade, J. O. 1980. Some Ilaje wellerisms. Folklore 75 91.1:63–71.
  • Opata, Damian. 1988. Personal attribution in Wellerisms. International Folklore Review 6:39–41.
  • Opata, Damian. 1990. Characterization in animal-derived wellerisms: some selected Igbo examples. Proverbium 7:217–231.
  • Taylor, Archer, The Proverb (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931).
  • Taylor, Archer, The Proverb, and An Index to The Proverb (Hatboro, PA: Folklore Associates, 1962)
  • Williams, Fionnuala Carson. 2001. Proverbs in wellerisms. Acta Ethnographica Hungarica 52.1:177–189.


  1. ^ a b Lundin, Leigh (2011-11-20). "Wellerness". Wellerisms and Tom Swifties. Orlando: SleuthSayers. 
  2. ^ George Bryan and Wolfgang Mieder. 1994. "As Sam Weller said, when finding himself on the stage": Wellerisms in dramatization of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers. Proverbium 11:57–76. Also Online version
  3. ^ Tadesse Jaleta Jirata. 2009. A contextual study of the social functions of Guji-Oromo proverbs. Saabruecken: DVM Verlag.
  4. ^ "Proverbs: collection 2 + 6". ETCSL. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 
  5. ^ p. 79. Gillian Hansford. 2003. Understanding Chumburung proverbs. Journal of West African Languages30.1: 57–82.
  6. ^ p. 93, Henry E. Funk. 1953. The French Creole Dialect of Martinique. University of Virginia PhD dissertation.
  7. ^ Sakayan, Dora. On Reported and Direct Speech in Proverbs. Dialogue Proverbs in Armenian. In: Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship Vol. 16, 1999, pp. 303-324.
  8. ^ A.K. Awedoba. 2000. An introduction to Kasena society and culture through their proverbs. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  9. ^ Sakayan, Dora. On Reported and Direct Speech in Proverbs. Dialogue Proverbs in Armenian. In: Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship Vol. 16, 1999, pp. 303-324.