The Meaning of Adage: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of adage? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the word adage, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does adage mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language and other sources like Collins English Dictionary and American Heritage, the word adage is a noun that refers to a saying, often in metaphorical form, that embodies some common observation. This is a memorable saying that provides some important fact of experience or trite maxim on the common experience. Adages are passed down from generation to generation, or memetic replication. This longeval tradition of philosophical aphorism presents an important truth and allows a person to gain access to knowledge. The word adage is two syllables – ad-age, and the pronunciation of adage is ˈædɪdʒ.

An adage has not necessarily gained credit through long use, but it gains distinction by particular depth or good style. This is considered an aphorism. One that has wit or irony and excellent style is an epigram. True adages have credibility and this pithy expression may near overuse. These interesting observations are often in popular use. Some may have skeptical comments about their overuse.

There are a plethora of different adages you may hear frequently. Many of these were written by Benjamin Franklin, who published Poor Richard’s Almanack from 1732 to 1758. Using an almanac was popular in colonial times. Franklin wrote under the pen name “Poor Richard” to publish his almanacs containing weather forecasts, household tips and tricks, and other fun facts. Below are a few of his adages and others from Your Dictionary

Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus also published a collection with over 4000 in the final edition of Adagia published in 1536. The word adage was even used in William Shakespare’s MacBeth, spoken by Lady MacBeth in the quote, “Like the poor cat i’ th’ adage.” Such adages can come from anywhere, from the Holy Bible to internet forums and online communities, to movies, to Aesop’s Fables. Many different a prime example are below. Other adages include the Peter Principle, Murphy’s Law, which is the imitation of the nomenclature of physical laws, or other different adages in different professions like scientists that may give especial depth to something specific to that genre.

  •  “Many are called, but few are chosen.” – Matthew 22:14
  •  “Eat to live, and not live to eat.”
  •  “Well done is better than well said.”
  •  “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
  •  “Fish and visitors stink after three days.”
  •  “The early bird catches the worm.” – A Collection of English Proverbs, John Ray
  •  “The truth shall set you free.” – John 8:32
  •  “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” – Forrest Gump, Winston Groom
  •  “Follow the straight and narrow path.” – Matthew 7:14
  •  “Familiarity breeds contempt.” – “The Fox and the Lion”
  •  “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
  •  “Pride goes before a fall.” – Proverbs 16:19
  •  “To everything, there is a season.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
  •  “You will be more blessed to give than to receive.” – Acts 20:35
  •  “Better safe than sorry.” – Rory O’More, Samuel Lover
  •  “One person’s meat is another’s poison.” – “The Ass and the Grasshopper”
  •  “Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
  •  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
  •  “This is nothing more than a drop in the bucket.” – Isaiah 40:15
  •  “Appearances often are deceiving.” – “The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing”
  •  “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” – “In Memoriam,” Alfred Lord Tennyson
  •  “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
  •  “Let’s call a spade a spade.”
  •  “A soft answer turns away wrath.” – Proverbs 15:1
  •  “A friend to all is a friend to none.” – Aristotle
  •  “Little strokes fell great oaks.”
  •  “Things are not always what they seem.” – “Bee-Keeper and the Bees”
  •  “There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21
  •  “The love of money is the root of all evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10
  •  “A leopard cannot change his spots.” – Jeremiah 13:23
  •  “Many hands make light work.”
  •  “Curiosity killed the cat.” 
  •  “To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.”
  •  “Slow and steady wins the race.” – “The Tortoise and the Hare”

Many different languages also contain their own words for the word adage. You may notice that some of these translations of adage look and sound similar to the word adage. These are called cognates, which are often formed when two words have the same root or language of origin. This list of translations of adage is provided by Word Sense.

  •  Portuguese: adágio‎ (masc.), dito‎ (masc.), anexim‎ (masc.)
  •  Italian: modo di dire‎ (masc.)
  •  Serbo-Croatian: poslovica‎, izreka‎
  •  Tagalog: sabihin‎
  •  Bulgarian: пословица‎, поговорка‎
  •  Dutch: gezegde‎
  •  Georgian: გამონათქვამი‎
  •  German: Sprichwort‎ (neut.)
  •  Spanish: adagio‎ (masc.), refrán‎ (masc.), dicho‎ (masc.)
  •  Finnish: sanonta‎
  •  Russian: посло́вица‎ (fem.), погово́рка‎ (fem.)
  •  Swedish: talesätt‎ (neut.), ordspråk‎ (neut.)
  •  Norwegian: visdomsord‎ (neut.)
  •  Greek: παροιμία‎ (fem.), γνωμικό‎ (neut.)
  •  Persian: پند‎ (pand)

What is the origin of the word adage?

According to Etymonline, the word adage has been used since the 1540s to refer to a brief and familiar proverb. This comes from the 16c French adage and the Latin adagium. In Latin, this was a collateral form of adagio, from the prefix ad meaning to and the root agi and aio, meaning “I say.” This is similar to the Armenian ar-ac and asem. It may also be related to the word agein meaning to set in motion or urge. This comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ag- meaning to drive or move. One can ade the suffix al to the word adage to make the related word adagical (adj.)

What are synonyms of adage?

There are many different words that have the same meaning as the word adage. These are called synonyms, which are very useful to know if you are trying to expand your English language vocabulary or avoid repeating yourself. This list of synonyms of adage is provided by Thesaurus.

  •  precept
  •  witticism
  •  epigram
  •  platitude
  •  statement
  •  word
  •  motto
  •  folk wisdom
  •  bywords
  •  dictum
  •  catch phrase
  •  old saw
  •  adage
  •  axiom
  •  daffodil
  •  truism
  •  apophthegm
  •  repartee
  •  saw
  •  byword
  •  moral
  •  maxim
  •  aphorism
  •  gnome
  •  apothegm
  •  saying
  •  text
  •  proverb
  •  cliché

Overall, the word adage means a pitchy expression that is a universal truth. Such collections of products of folk wisdom come from anything from ancient writers, to popular culture, to popular works of fiction. Some families have their own collection of their own adages as a kind of jargon or subculture within the family. These usually are a form of basic truth that are a general moral rule, ethical rules, general rule of conduct, or ethical guidelines followed by the majority of people.


  1. adage: meaning, origin, translation | Word Sense 
  2. ADAGE Synonyms: 9 Synonyms & Antonyms for ADAGE | Thesaurus 
  3. adage | Origin and meaning of adage | Online Etymology Dictionary  
  4.  Adage | Definition of Adage | Merriam-Webster 
  5. Examples of Adage in Literature | Your Dictionary