11 Old-Timey Sayings We Should Bring Back

Bring them back!
Bring them back! / CSA-Archive/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Before the internet, we couldn’t use memes to express ourselves. Instead, we used proverbs: catchy lines that aim to encapsulate universal truths. Some were introduced to the world by witty writers, and some seemed to emerge fully formed into the collective conscious. Many of them are still with us, but many more have fallen out of use over the centuries.

The oft-repeated nature of proverbs makes it tough to nail down a definitive origin for some of them, and it also means it’s pretty common for there to be multiple variations of a given phrase. In short, the sources below are all great historical examples of their associated proverbs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they originated the expressions. Whatever the case, it’s fun to try to work them into as many modern-day conversations as you can.

1. “As like as an apple to an oyster.”

Source: Thomas More, 1533

If you’ve ever been annoyed that apples and oranges actually are quite similar, this 16th-century phrase uses something very non-apple-y.

2. “Children are certain cares, but uncertain comforts.”

Source: John Clarke, 1639

You can bet you’re gonna have to change their diapers, but there’s no guarantee they’ll stick around to change yours. (Alternately, some take this to mean parenthood is extremely stressful.)

3. “Where cobwebs are plenty, kisses are scarce.”

Cobwebs in a house
Dirty house? No kisses for you! / Devon OpdenDries/Moment/Getty Images

Source: Notes and Queries, 1864

Dirty houses are not sexy.

4. “He who would pun would pick a pocket.”

Source: Benjamin Victor (quoting John Dennis), 1722

If you’re of such low character that the best jokes you can come up with are throwbacks from The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, there is nothing you won’t stoop to.

5. “A friend to all is a friend to none.”

Source: John Wodroephe, 1623

This is why politicians are so widely disliked: In morphing to please so many types of people, they often appear dishonest and false.

6. “Garlic makes a man wink, drink, and stink.”

garlic on a cutting board
Be wary of garlic. / Azri Suratmin/Moment/Getty Images

Source: Thomas Nashe, 1594

Garlic apparently inflames your lust, lures you to drunkenness, and makes your entire body smell like over-seasoned meat.

7. “Bachelors’ wives and maids’ children are well taught.”

Source: John Heywood, 1546

When you don’t have a spouse or a kid, you know everything about maintaining a healthy relationship with spouses and kids.

8. “We are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed.”

Source: Thomas Fuller, 1732

You know all too well what this means.

9. “Gluttony kills more than the sword.”

Man with open mouth hovering over fries
Heed this proverb about gluttony. / Peter Cade/Stone/Getty Images

Source: The Dialogues of Creatures Moralised, 1535

Even in 1535, overeating was still hardening arteries, enlarging hearts, and filling graveyards.

10. “You should know a man seven years before you stir his fire.”

Source: Charles Dibdin, 1803

Whether it’s a friend or significant other, you should make sure you know the person before you feel too at home at their place.

11. “The substance of a lady’s letter, it has been said, always is comprised in the postscript.”

Source: Maria Edgeworth, 1801

Just because the ‘P.S.’ comes after the sign-off doesn't mean it's an afterthought—in fact, it’s often the opposite.

A version of this story ran in 2013; it has been updated for 2023.