English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Is this an English proverb? On quotations websites, it is often attributed to Sir Boyle Roche, but it is not listed on WikiQuote (I added it to the list of unsourced quotes on the discussion page). Another website says its a German proverb, but I couldn't find it (my German is very basic though).

share|improve this question
Not one I've ever heard. – Charles May 11 '12 at 15:55
up vote 2 down vote accepted

I'd call this a quote, rather than a proverb.

There are only 14 instances of "disappointment is the nurse" in Google Books. Every one for which I can view the context continues with "of wisdom", and almost all of them explicitly attribute it to Sir Boyle Roche. This website claims it's a "German Proverb" - but even if that were true, the fact that Sir Boyle Roche rephrased it in English wouldn't make it a proverb from our point of view.

Note the related "experience is the mother of wisdom", which gets 2330 hits on Google Books. Personally, I wouldn't even call that a "proverb" - it's hardly in the same league as "necessity is the mother of invention" (80,000 hits).

share|improve this answer
Apparently, the question is whether it is 'English,' not whether it is a proverb. – Kris May 11 '12 at 16:45
Neither proverb nor quote, this's been called the 'Irish bull' I hear. – Kris May 11 '12 at 16:53
@user20908: I offer no opinion on the "wisdom" embodied in the quote itself. All I'm saying is it's definitely not a short pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept, because hardly anybody will ever have heard of it - regardless of whether they might agree that it embodies a "basic truth". – FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 17:37
@user20908: I don't think there's any doubt that the words are English. I think the question is: "Is this an English proverb?" – J.R. May 11 '12 at 18:47
@J.R.: Apparently the jury is still out on that one. Obviously I don't think it's "an English proverb", but thus far only one other person out of the 40 who've viewed this question agrees with me. Maybe the other 39 are all waiting to see if anyone is prepared to stick his head over the parapet and say "Sure it's a proverb - where I live, people are always saying it". – FumbleFingers May 11 '12 at 20:43

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.