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Wellerisms, named after sayings of Sam Weller in Charles Dickens's novel 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, from a watercolor by 'Kyd' c.1890

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

A type of Wellerism called a Tom Swifty incorporates a speaker attribution that puns on the quoted statement.[1]

Examples from The Pickwick Papers[edit]

  • "Then the next question is, what the devil do you want with me, as the man said, wen he see the ghost?"[3]
  • "Out vith it, as the father said to his child, when he swallowed a farden."[3]
  • "Wery glad to see you, indeed, and hope our acquaintance may be a long 'un, as the gen'l'm'n said to the fi' pun' note."[3]
  • "All good feelin', sir – the wery best intentions, as the gen'l'm'n said ven he run away from his wife 'cos she seemed unhappy with him."[3]
  • "There; now we look compact and comfortable, as the father said ven he cut his little boy's head off, to cure him o' squintin'."[3]
  • "Vich I call addin' insult to injury, as the parrot said ven they not only took him from his native land, but made him talk the English langwidge arterwards."[3]
  • "Sorry to do anythin' as may cause an interruption to such wery pleasant proceedin's, as the king said wen he dissolved the parliament."[3]
  • "Avay vith melincholly, as the little boy said ven his schoolmissus died".[3]
  • "Oh, quite enough to get, Sir, as the soldier said ven they ordered him three hundred and fifty lashes".[3]

English examples[edit]

Examples from other languages[edit]

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,[4] (where nine of 310 proverbs in a published collection are Wellerisms)[5] and Alaaba (where about 10% of 418 proverbs were found to be quotations).[6] They are also found in ancient Sumerian: "The fox, having urinated into the sea, said: 'The depths of the sea are my urine!'"[7] Wellerism proverbs have now been documented across Africa, Europe, western and southern Asia, but in almost no languages of eastern Asia.[8]

Antillean Creole French, Martinique:

  • "Rabbit says, 'Eat everything, drink everything, but don't tell everything'."[9]


  • The horse, after he had thrown off his rider [said], "If my burden is always to be thus, I shall become weak."[10]

Choice of speaker[edit]

In a number of languages, especially in 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."[11] Kasena has a wellerism proverb where the chameleon's color adaptability is important, "The chameleon says, ‘When on a tree, assume the colour of its leaf.’”[12] Similarly, there is an Ewe proverb that quotes an animal that is specifically appropriate to that Wellerism, "The chicken says that, it is because of humility that he bows down before entering its coop."[13] Another example of a speaker being specifically chosen to go with the statement in a Wellerism is "The bat says that there is no difference between standing down and upright", from the Tiv language in Nigeria.[14]

Dialogue proverbs[edit]

Wellerisms are similar but not identical to dialogue proverbs, as shown by Kapchits[15] and Unseth.[16] 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 Armenian,[17] French,[18] Georgian,[19] Kasena of Ghana, and Pashto of Afghanistan and Pakistan.[20]

  • "They asked the camel, 'Why is your neck crooked?' The camel laughed roaringly, 'What of me is straight?'" Shor/Khakas (SW Siberia)[21]
  • "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[22]
  • "I have caught a bear." "Get rid of him." "I can't, he won't let me go." — Armenian[17]
  • The vulture says, "I'll shriek and the shepherd will forget," [and] the wolf says, "I'll eat the kid's tail." — Luri language of Iran[23]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ a b c d e f g h i "The Charles Dickens Page - Wellerisms Found in Pickwick Papers". Charles Dickens Page. Retrieved 16 May 2021.
  4. ^ Tadesse Jaleta Jirata. 2009. Among the Igbo people of Nigeria, Wellerisms are also very common. A contextual study of the social functions of Guji-Oromo proverbs. Saabruecken: DVM Verlag.
  5. ^ p. 433. Peter Unseth. 2011. Review of Tadesse Jaleta Jirata's A contextual study of the social functions of Guji-Oromo proverbs. Proverbium 29:427–434.
  6. ^ p. 461. 2013. Review of Máakuti t’awá shuultáa: Proverbs finish the problems: Sayings of the Alaaba (Ethiopia). By Gertrud Schneider-Blum. Proverbium 30:459–461.
  7. ^ "Proverbs: collection 2 + 6". ETCSL. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  8. ^ Unseth, Peter, Daniel Kliemt, Laurel Morgan, Stephen Nelson, Elaine Marie Scherrer. 2017. Wellerism proverbs: Mapping their distribution. GIALens 11.13. download Archived 2017-10-29 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ p. 93, Henry E. Funk. 1953. The French Creole Dialect of Martinique. University of Virginia PhD dissertation.
  10. ^ Gordon, E. I. Sumerian Animal Proverbs and Fables 'Collection Five'. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 12.2: 43–75.
  11. ^ p. 79. Gillian Hansford. 2003. Understanding Chumburung proverbs. Journal of West African Languages30.1: 57–82.
  12. ^ p. 47. Awedoba, A. K. 2000. An introduction to Kasena society culture through their proverbs. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  13. ^ p. 22. Agbemenu, Cephas Yao. 2010. A collection of Ewe proverbs. Web access
  14. ^ Pachocinski, Ryszard. 1996. Proverbs of Africa: Human Nature in Nigerian Oral Tradition." St. Paul, MN: Professors World Peace Academy.
  15. ^ p. 311-313. Kapchits, Georgi. 2020. Qaamuuska Casriga Ah: ee Maahmaahda Soomaaliyeed. A Modern Dictionary of Somali Proverbs. Katrineholm, Laashin. Sweden.
  16. ^ p. 19, 20. Unseth, Peter. 2020. African Dialogue Proverbs: An Initial Study of Their Distribution and Forms. Journal of Language, Culture, and Religion 1, no. 2 (2020): 19–32.
  17. ^ a b 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.
  18. ^ Magdalena Lipińska. 2015. Les proverbes dialogués Français à la lumière de l'analyse comparative avec les proverbes dialogués polonais. Proverbium 32: 221–236.
  19. ^ Hasan-Rokem, G. 1994. Georgian Proverbs of Dialogue and Dialogue of Proverbs in Israel. Proverbium 11:103–116
  20. ^ p. 310. Bartlotti, Leonard and Raj Wali Shah Khattak. 2006. Rohi Mataluna: Pashto Proverbs, expanded edition. Peshawar: Interlit Foundation.
  21. ^ p. 176. Roos, Marti, Hans Nugteren, Zinaida Waibel. 2006. Khakas and Shor proverbs and proverbial sayings. In Exploring the Eastern Frontiers of Turkic, ed by Marcel Erdal and Irina Nevskaya, pp. 157–192. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.
  22. ^ A.K. Awedoba. 2000. An introduction to Kasena society and culture through their proverbs. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
  23. ^ Freidl, Erika. 2015. Warm Hearts and Sharp Tongues. Vienna: New Academic Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dundes, Alan. 1964. Some Yoruba Wellerisms, Dialogue Proverbs, and Tongue-Twisters. Folklore 75.
  • 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 and Stewart A. Kingsbury, eds. Dictionary of Wellerisms, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
  • 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.

External links[edit]