According to Marvin "the origin of most proverbs is unknown. 'They were anterior to books,' says Disraeli, 'and formed the wisdom of the vulgar, and in the earliest ages were the unwritten laws of morality.' As a nation's proverbs predate its literature it is impossible to trace them to their beginnings. They spring from an unknown source, increase in volume as they roll on and are adopted by all as unconsciously as they have sprung into existence." He also points out that in youth we thought that the proverbs quoted by our elders were mere "ways of speaking", borrowed from others of their own generation. As we grew older and sought to discover from whence they came we were surprised to learn that many, if not all of them, had been used for centuries not only by our forbears but all over the world.
Regarding the origins of the proverbs Meider, the famous paremiologist, states that:
Proverbs, like riddles, jokes, or fairy tales, do not fall out of the sky and neither are they products of a mythical soul of the folk. Instead they are always coined by an individual either intentionally or unintentionally, as expressed in Lord John Russell’s well-known one-line proverb definition that has taken on a proverbial status of sorts: 'A proverb is the wit of one and the wisdom of many'. He also explains how a statement can turn into a proverb. He believes that if the statement contains an element of truth or wisdom, and if it exhibits one or more proverbial markers, it might “catch on” and be used first in a small family circle, and subsequently in a village, a city, a region, a country, a continent, and eventually the world.
The global spread of proverbs is not a pipe dream, since certain ancient proverbs have in fact spread into many parts of the world. Today, with the incredible power of the mass media, a newly formulated proverb-like statement might become a bona fide proverb relatively quickly by way of the radio, television, and print media. As with verbal folklore in general, the original statement might well be varied a bit as it gets picked up and becomes ever more an anonymous proverb whose wording, structure, style, and metaphor are such that it is memorable.
Furthermore, Meider mentions that it is usually quite difficult to trace the origin and history of a proverb in a particular language. So, studying European languages he proposes four sources for the distribution of European proverbs. Of course he clarifies this point that similar issues have occurred in the dissemination of proverbs in Asian, African, and other linguistic and cultural groups. Here these four sources will be outlined briefly:
1. There is no doubt that a considerable corpus of common European proverbs can be traced back to classical times (Greek and Roman antiquity). Since they were loan translated from the same sources, they exist in the many languages of Europe in identical forms. Little wonder then that exact equivalents of the classical proverb “Where there is smoke, there are fire” can be found in 54 European languages.
2. A second source of proverbs for the entire European continent and beyond is the Bible, whose proverbs date back to classical antiquity and early wisdom literature. As a widely translated book, the Bible had a major influence on the distribution of common proverbs since the various translators were dealing with the same texts. Several dozen biblical proverbs are thus current in identical wordings in many European languages, even though speakers might not remember that they are employing proverbs from the Bible.
3. The third source for common European proverbs is Medieval Latin. It must not be forgotten that the Latin language of the Middle Ages had the status f a lingua franca, and as such it developed new proverbs that cannot be traced back to classical times. Many Medieval Latin proverbs in their exact translations have spread to European languages, and they certainly belong to some of the most popular proverbs today. Many Medieval Latin proverbs in their exact translations have spread to European languages, and they certainly belong to some of the most popular proverbs today. A well-known example is: “Crows will not pick out crows’ eyes”.