Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs. A study on Italian and French

Marina Bletsas

Karl-Franzens-Universität-Graz (


In this contribution, I aim at reconstructing and categorizing the recurrent gendered metaphors for WOMAN in Italian and French proverbs against the backdrop of Cognitive Metaphor Theory (CMT). After focusing on the particular interplay of metaphors and the
paremiological text genre, chosen as a means of gaining insight into diachronically longstanding cultural beliefs, I propose the use of a bottom-up method to address cultural conceptual metaphors about WOMAN. Finally, I address analogies and differences in the metaphorical patterns involved in the construction of gender in Italian and French proverbs.

Der Beitrag will in italienischen und französischen Sprichwörtern rekurrierende Metaphern für das Konzept FRAU vor dem Hintergrund der kognitiven Metapherntheorie analysieren.
Die parämiologische Textsorte gilt als privilegierte Brille, um Einsichten in diachron langwährende kulturelle Überzeugungen zu gewinnen. Der Fokus wird zunächst auf das Verhältnis von Metapher und Sprichwort gelegt, bevor die Rekonstruktion und Kategorisierung kultureller konzeptueller Metaphern für Frauen bottom-up angegangen wird. Analogien und Unterschiede metaphorischer Muster, die in italienischen und französischen Sprichwörtern zur gender-Konstruktion beitragen, werden schließlich aus kontrastiver Perspektive beleuchtet.


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Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs. A study on Italian and French
Marina Bletsas, Karl-Franzens-Universität-Graz (

In this contribution, I aim at reconstructing and categorizing the recurrent gendered
metaphors for WOMAN in Italian and French proverbs against the backdrop of Cognitive
Metaphor Theory (CMT). After focusing on the particular interplay of metaphors and the
paremiological text genre, chosen as a means of gaining insight into diachronically longstanding
cultural beliefs, I propose the use of a bottom-up method to address cultural
conceptual metaphors about WOMAN. Finally, I address analogies and differences in the
metaphorical patterns involved in the construction of gender in Italian and French proverbs.
Der Beitrag will in italienischen und französischen Sprichwörtern rekurrierende Metaphern
für das Konzept FRAU vor dem Hintergrund der kognitiven Metapherntheorie analysieren.
Die parämiologische Textsorte gilt als privilegierte Brille, um Einsichten in diachron
langwährende kulturelle Überzeugungen zu gewinnen. Der Fokus wird zunächst auf das
Verhältnis von Metapher und Sprichwort gelegt, bevor die Rekonstruktion und Kategorisierung
kultureller konzeptueller Metaphern für Frauen bottom-up angegangen wird.
Analogien und Unterschiede metaphorischer Muster, die in italienischen und französischen
Sprichwörtern zur gender-Konstruktion beitragen, werden schließlich aus kontrastiver
Perspektive beleuchtet.

1. Introduction
This paper deals with the metaphorical conceptualization of the female gender
in Italian and French proverbs. In other words, I ask what conceptual
metaphors emerge from the linguistic material constituted by Italian and
French proverbs on women, i.e. what source domain or domains are used to
reason about women in the proverbs of these two Romance languages. The
perspective is thus onomasiological at first, in that it takes the concept WOMAN
as a starting point to look for the linguistic expressions suggesting a metaphorical
construction of the concept. It then becomes semasiological, as we
turn to modelling the abstract conceptual metaphors behind their linguistic
Drawing on Cognitive1 Metaphor Theory (see Lakoff/Johnson 22003 [1980]), I
distinguish between metaphorical expressions, to be found on the linguistic
surface, and conceptual metaphors, defined as the use of “inference patterns
from one conceptual domain to reason about another conceptual domain”
(Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 246). This linking between the two conceptual domains,
source and target domain respectively, gives rise to metaphorical mappings,
i.e. to systematic cross-domain correspondences (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 246)
that permeate and inform our thoughts and speech.
As a cognitive instrument, metaphor is thus universal. This does not mean that
any specific conceptual metaphor is necessarily universal. We can differentiate
between primary metaphors, grounded in universal human experiences, and
culturally specific metaphors which can be highly complex, drawing on
primary metaphors and/or other culturally specific ones (cf. Lakoff/Johnson
2003: 257).2 For instance, the cognitive metaphor AFFECTION IS WARMTH can be
traced back to the bodily experience of the heat perceived when involved in
the display of affection implied in being held (cf. Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 255).
As opposed to such a metaphorical source, the conceptualization of the divine
in terms of father is specific e.g. to the occidental patriarchal tradition, as
testified by alternatives such as extant female conceptualizations of the divine
in Sisterhood-of-Avalon-paganism. What does appear to be universal is the
indispensability of metaphor in such an abstract domain as that of the divine:
it is a concept, just like that of love or time – or gender –, which we can hardly
speak about except through the use of metaphor. The specific metaphor we
use, however, is culture-bound.
This means that metaphors are not, as the classical rhetorical view will have it,
based on similarity of any factual kind. If this were the case, there would
hardly be such a wide variety in the choice of source domain for one and the
same target. Rather, metaphors are based “on cross-domain correlations in our
experience, which give rise to […] perceived similarities between the two
1 It should be noted that cognitive is here used in a broad sense, referring to patterns of
thought involving the body, emotion, cognition, actions and cultural background knowledge
(cf. Schmitt 2017: 38).
2 On the issue of universality vs. cultural specificity of metaphors, see esp. Kövecses (2005).
domains within the metaphors” (Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 245, my emphasis).3
The conceptual metaphor itself, therefore, is not a factual entity to be
discovered, but an abstract pattern gleaned from the linguistic expressions at
hand; the fruit of a hermeneutic reconstruction (cf. Schmitt 2017: 89–94).4
This hermeneutic reconstruction is here to be applied to the conceptualization
of WOMAN. Studies on gendered metaphors, i.e. metaphors generally
attributed to a gender (cf. Hegstrom/McCarl-Nielsen 2002: 220) specifically
focussing on women, are not new to cognitive linguistics. Variations of the
conceptual metaphor WOMEN ARE FOOD have been studied for English (cf.
Hines 1999b; Hegstrom/McCarl-Nielsen 2002; Kövecses 2006) and Spanish (cf.
Gutiérrez-Rivas 2011). It has also been shown that women are conceptualized
as things and as animals in English (cf. Nilsen 1996; Hines 1999a; Kövecses
2006; López Rodríguez 2009) and the animal metaphor is attested for French
and Italian, too (cf. Baider/Gesuato 2003). Despite these findings, the subject is
still oddly understudied, especially since the argument has been made that
“gendered metaphorical expressions actually reproduce the patriarchal
culture” (Montashery 2013: 107). With this in mind, I turn to proverbs, a text
genre that feeds both off metaphoricity and historical replication and which
has not, to my knowledge, been analysed from the perspective of gender
construction, especially in the languages I focus on here.5
The cognitive metaphor approach, on the other hand, has already been
applied to the study of proverbs – explicitly by Gibbs/Beitel (2003), who focus
proverb understanding, and implicitly by Lakoff/Turner (1989). The latter
embed proverb analysis in the broader frame of CMT, suggesting that proverb
3 This in turn depends on a philosophical premise of CMT which rejects the objectivist
paradigm (see Lakoff 1987).
4 This useful theoretical clarification is offered as a means of avoiding what Schmitt calls
the scientism fallacy of CMT. In fact, (metaphorical) expressions used by Lakoff & Johnson
in relation to conceptual metaphors, such as discover, are infelicitous in that they imply the
finding of a truth in an objectivist sense. However, it is important to stress that the American
authors themselves do not ascribe to such a Weltanschauung, as pointed out above (see
footnote 2).
5 Kerschen (1998) and Storm (1992) have authored reference works of American English
and Japanese proverbs about women respectively. While their categorizations of the indexed
proverbs relate to the findings of the present paper, there is much to be gained from
applying the cognitive perspective.
metaphors are based, among other things, on the great-chain-of-being-system,
i.e. the hierarchical order implicitly shared in Western societies that places
humans at the top and natural physical things at the bottom (cf. Lakoff/
Turner 1989: 170–171). Despite incidentally mentioning internal categorizations
of the human level of the system (cf. Lakoff/Turner 1989: 209), the
elaboration of this chain of power strikingly misses a ring: WOMAN. Using the
so-called generic masculine in reference to humans, Lakoff/Turner’s account
indeed fails to really focus on the place reserved to WOMAN in the chain by
proverb metaphors, which is clearly lower than that attributed to MAN.6 What
is more, none of these studies focus on the relevance of the diachronic dimension
in the metaphoricity of proverbs.
2. Metaphoricity of Proverbs and Diachronic Relevance
Paremiology offers only little help in addressing our questions. Over fifty
definitions of proverb were counted by Mieder back in 1985, and there have
been many other characterisations since.7 The more recent ones highlight
fixedness (Gibbs/Beitel 2003: 111–112; Mieder 2007; Harnisch 2003: 164; Hallik
2007: 35; Steyer 2012a: 311) and syntactic independence (Gibbs/Beitel 2003:
111–112; Harnisch 2003: 64; Steyer 2012a: 311), attributing to proverbs a
generally shared deontic content with a directive force (Gibbs/Beitel 2003:
111–112; Harnisch 2003: 164; Mieder 2007) and/or an epistemic content
(Gibbs/Beitel 2003: 111–112; Harnisch 2003: 164) with a descriptive, if not
explanatory force in a given situation.8 At the core of most paremiological
definitions and characterizations, whether they be structural-semantic,
6 In American English proverbs as well as in Romance ones, as even a cursory glance at
Kerschen’s collection (1998) easily shows.
7 While giving necessary and sufficient conditions for the definition of proverb has proven
difficult, the evolution of the term at least can easily be retraced: starting out from the Latin
proverbium, literally “fore-word”, the term makes its way into modern European languages
(Engl. proverb, Frz. proverbe, Ital. proverbio, Rus. pogovoka) thanks to Bible translations and
especially via the Old French form proverbe (cf. Riedel 2014: 11).
8 Recognizing that no single constellation of these traits is necessary and sufficient in
defining a proverb, one can side with Harnish (2003) and Gibbs/Beitel (2003), who instead
characterize proverbs using the notion of prototype. This approach is useful for its flexibility,
however their account highlights traits such as literarity and formal figures of speech typical
of literary genres, which are arguably not the most central to defining proverbs per se.
functional-pragmatic or cognitive, there is an unfortunate lack of a focus on
proverb metaphoricity. This is all the more conspicuous since the association
of metaphor and proverb dates back at least to Aristotle (Rhet. III, 11, 1413a,
17), who understands proverbs as meta-phors, i.e. transfers of one species onto
another. In relatively recent years, some scholars have contemplated proverb
metaphoricity as only contingent (Röhrich 2000; Steyer 2012b: 7), albeit typical
(Gibbs/Beitel 2003: 116; Lapucci 2006: XXVII). Even the cognitivist paremiologist
Honeck (1997) views metaphor as only one among many tropes
occurring in proverbs; with his distinction between similes and metaphors, he
reveals a quite traditional grasp of the concept. Seitel (1981) and Geary (2012)
do take a more radical approach, but still remain within the boundaries of
classical metaphor view.
Of course, from a cognitive linguistics perspective, it could be argued that it is
almost redundant to state the metaphoricity of proverbs, given the omnipresence
of metaphor in discourse. To put it in Gibbs/Beitel’s words, proverbs’
“communicative functions rest on the primacy of metaphor in the ways
people ordinarily think” (2003: 152). Thus, we could simply take proverbs as a
text genre – as any other text genre – to study conceptual metaphors. This
might indeed be true. However, we should not fail to consider the specificity
of the interaction between conceptual metaphor and proverb – thus, of the
importance of studying the conceptual metaphors displayed by proverbs for a
given target domain. For what is all but banal is the semantic crystallisation of
the metaphors we can ferret out from this text genre – and the cultural insights
this allows.
The cultural relevance of proverbs per se need hardly be argued. They are
repositories of “attitudes or worldview (mentality) of various social classes at
different periods” (Mieder 2007: 401), loaded as they are with cultural
symbology (cf. Steyer 2012b: 8). But I believe their key role in identifying
metaphors specific to a culture has not been stressed enough so far. In fact, the
linguistic crystallisation of an established folk belief relying on a metaphor in
the cognitive sense must draw on a diachronically recurrent metaphor, i.e. on
a conceptual metaphor. In other words, if a metaphor can be obtained from a
fixed text like that of a proverb, that is probably good prima facie evidence that
it is well represented among a given linguistic and cultural community, and
has probably dressed itself in a variety of linguistic garments in everyday
language. In this sense, the study of proverbs holds not only a general historic
and social interest (cf. Bierbach 1995: 269) but is also of the utmost importance
for the diachrony of a given concept. Even an author like Gibbs, who has
worked extensively, from a cognitive-psychological perspective, on metaphors,
and specifically on proverb metaphoricity (Gibbs/Beitel 2003), acknowledging
as early as two decades ago the “culturally embodied nature of what
is cognitive” (Gibbs 1999: 162), has hardly dealt with this point. I thus suggest
viewing the proverbial text as a goldmine of conceptual metaphors ingrained
in a specific discourse tradition, understood as the discourse regularities
producing speech act patterns and text genres that are grounded in a historic
dimension (cf. Koch 1997: 46). Proverbs, in other words, serve as a kind of
funnel for what can be called cultural conceptual metaphors thanks to the metaphoricity
of thought and language – and, thus, of the proverb itself – on the
one hand, and to their diachronic crystallisation on the other hand (see Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Paremiological Funnel for Cultural Conceptual Metaphors
If this is the case, then, embracing a contrastive perspective in the linguistic
study of proverb metaphors should prove particularly revealing and rewarding
in at least two respects. The most obvious one is certainly the
comparison of cultural conceptual metaphors. But there is also something else,
perhaps something more, to be gained. By reconstructing and comparing the
cultural conceptual metaphors used for a target in different languages, we can
begin to trace the borders of their discourse tradition. For a discourse tradition
Cultural Conceptual Metaphor
can coincide with, but is by no means bound to the extension of an idiom (cf.
Koch 1997: 46).
3. Studying Gendered Metaphors in Italian and French Proverbs
Hardly any other concept has been the object of such prolific proverb coining
as WOMAN (cf. Lapucci 2006: 343).9 There are 280 Italian proverbs on WOMAN
in Lappucci’s dictionary alone, which collects proverbs of common usage in
Italian (cf. Lapucci 2006: XXV). Similarly, 168 French proverbs on WOMAN
could be gleaned from multiple French paremiographic collections (Pineaux
1967; Dournon 1986; Montreynaud et al. 2002). These will be the subject of my
analysis in what follows. Specifically, I analyse the metaphors whose target
domain is that of WOMAN, i.e. sayings that describe or comment on women or
instruct (men) about the norm of conduct around women.10
Having established the target domain WOMAN and the proverb corpus, the
core of the work lies in the systematic analysis of a group of examples. In
Schmitt’s refined bottom-up methodology for the analysis of conceptual
metaphor (cf. 2017: 456–528),11 this first involves the identification of
9 According to Contini (1960: 521), the anonymous paremiographic work Proverbia quae
dicuntur super natura feminarum is the first misogynistic text in Vulgar Italian, in turn inspired
by a French one. Proverb production on women in these languages must then be dated back
to well before the 12th century. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that “there is not a
similar set of sayings about men, since everything is observed from their point of view”
(Kerschen 1998: 6).
10 Any proverb about women employing a female entity as a source domain or displaying
only conceptual metaphors unrelated to women is not taken into consideration.
11 Developed in and for social sciences, Schmitt’s qualitative metaphor analysis is, to my
knowledge, the one attempt to provide a systematic, repeatable bottom-up method based on
CMT. Not only does this qualitative metaphor analysis make up for CMT’s lack of explicit
method, but it also provides the basis for incrementing bottom-up studies, which are still not
all too common in the literature. CMT, in fact, was not born from the empirical study of
natural language corpora, but from introspection and the linguist’s and speaker’s intuition.
The operationalization of Schmitt’s method comprises the following steps relevant for a
linguistic study: identification of target domain, unsystematic, broad-based collection of
background metaphors and self-analysis, sampling (i.e. corpus definition), systematic
analysis of a sub-group, heuristic interpretation (see Schmitt 2017: 458–518). A word should
perhaps be spent on the second, less obvious step, the collection of background metaphors.
Schmitt explains: „Um die kulturell übliche Metaphorisierung eines Themas zu erfassen,
wird ein Horizont von möglichen Metaphernfeldern zu den Zielbereichen aus heterogenen
Materialien gesammelt“ (2017: 457). This in principle poses a circularity problem: if the
metaphorical expressions, including what classical rhetoric views as similes,
through deconstructive segmentation of the texts. Secondly, the reconstruction
of conceptual metaphors, i.e. the synthesis of collective metaphorical models
must be carried out. These two sub-steps are clearly the crucial ones from a
linguistic point of view. Accordingly, we can find some criteria for how this
analysis should be carried out in the linguistic literature, too. For instance,
Hines (cf. 1999b: 149), who analyses WOMEN AS DESSERT in the CMT frame,
asks that a metaphorical expression have a nonmetaphorical, referential sense,
to be considered central to a conceptual metaphor. However, the need for a
metaphorical expression to be referential seems altogether questionable. If I
say Women have nine lives, I am neither denoting cats nor am I availing myself
of the cat concept to directly designate another extralinguistic entity; but there
still is an underlying conceptual metaphor that allows us to characterise
WOMAN by projecting a trait attributed to cats onto them. According to
Lakoff/Johnson (cf. 2003 [1980]: 36–37) the centrality of the referential function
is, in fact, the very thing that distinguishes metonymy from metaphor.12
The reconstruction of conceptual metaphors, comprising decisions about the
broadness of conceptual metaphor formulation, is a heuristic process that
resists precise operationalization – if we are not to entirely clip the wings of
the humanities. The material at hand, filtered through the analyst’s eyes, is
intended to lead to a meaningful categorisation and formulation of the proverb
metaphors. What seems to be shared and accepted in the literature is that
a claim that something is a conceptual metaphor ought to be grounded on
ambition of a high degree of method controlling is upheld for this step, the research risks to
be stranded in a never ending, as well as impossible, game. Anything else, i.e. anything
realistic, is of course inaccurate. The qualification of ‘unsystematic’ likely accounts for this
necessary methodological compromise without renouncing the revenue offered by
embedding the focused corpus in a broader setting, honouring the intertextual and cultural
web in which it is bound. Nonetheless, it is utopian to carry out this step for each and every
single paper on a target domain. The very intertextuality it entails and on which it builds,
however, makes it possible to equate such reconstruction of a comparative background with
a reference to the extant state of the art. At the same time, each further study can and should
be conceived as a tile in broadening the comparative base of metaphors for a given concept
for further analyses. This is all the more true of the present paper on gendered metaphors in
proverbs, for the diachronic nature of the genre I have already dwelled upon.
12 They both share the function of enabling understanding, but metonymy has a primary
referential function, which metaphor does not necessarily share.
recurrent metaphorical expressions. Given that proverbs occur multiply by
definition, this hardly poses an issue for our present purposes. Still, I shall
focus the exposition on the metaphors more represented in proverbs. I will
also assess the similarities and differences between the two set of proverbs –
corresponding to Schmitt’s heuristic interpretation step.
4. Metaphorical Patterns about WOMAN in Italian and French
Though the distribution of metaphoric expressions is different in Italian and
French proverbs, the most common ones in both languages allow the
formulation of two superordinate conceptual metaphors: WOMAN ARE
SUPERHUMAN and WOMAN ARE PROPERTY, with a few further subcategories.
The unidirectionality and metaphoricity of these mappings is given by the fact
that “one domain of knowledge is used to structure another, but not the
reverse” (cf. Gibbs/Beitel 2003: 116). Even when the traits selected from the
source domain are themselves the result of metaphorical personification, they
are not drawn from a gendered source like the target domain they are used to
structure. Before taking a closer look at them, a few lines should be spent on
the linguistic means employed to instantiate these metaphors.
The correspondences between the source domains and the target domain of
WOMAN that make out the conceptual metaphors are established by
associating the latter with a hyponym of the source domain. It is perhaps the
popular origin of the text genre that accounts for the simplicity of the way this
cognitive association is carried out. My findings in fact contradict Geary’s
observation (2012: 194) according to which “proverbs are all source and no
target”, as the linking mostly takes place rather explicitly by direct
identification of two noun phrases via copula (1)–(2) or through the metaphoric
markers come and comme, i.e. the preposition introducing the second
comparison element in an equality comparative (3)–(4). At times, the
identification is aided by parallelism, which sheds light on (perceived)
analogies between concepts or in elliptic predications where the copula or the
prepositional marker are omitted, but can easily be added (5)–(7).
(1) La donna è l’angelo della casa.
(2) Femmes sont à l’église saintes, ès rues anges, à la maison
diablesses. 30/2019
(3) La donna cambia come la luna.
(4) Les femmes sont comme les omelettes, elles ne sont jamais assez
(5) Donna iraconda [è un] mare senza sponda.
(6) Foi de femme [est] plume sur l’eau.
(7) Belle femme [est] mauvaise tête [comme] bonne mule [est]
mauvaise bête.
In (4) the trait perceived as common of the two associated domains is made
explicit: women, just as omelette eggs, need a good beating according to
popular wisdom. This is an extremely common strategy in proverbs, often
used when source and target domain are not explicitly equated, but rather
associated through accumulation. This is achieved linguistically either through
enumeration of phrases (9, 11) or through a single phrasal pair forming a dual
concept (8, 10). Taking the entity paired with WOMAN as metonymically
standing for the quality it is considered to hold, the pair can really be treated
as a hendiadys, which amounts to recognising the conceptual metaphor at
play, with the source acting as a qualifier of the target (e.g. donne bestiali
‘beastly women’ instead of donne e cavalli ‘women and horses’). What follows
can either be the predication of a trait perceived as common of the two
domains or the enunciation of the norm of conduct perceived as advisable
with both these entities, presupposing a trait perceived as common, which is
to be inferred, e.g. imperfection (8) or unreliability (9–11).
(8) Des femmes et des chevaux il n’y en a point sans défauts.
(9) Temps, ciel pommelé et femme fardée ne sont pas de longue durée.
(10) Il tempo e le donne hanno sempre fatto come gli pare.
(11) Donna, vento e ventura presto si mutano.
A common way of creating the association between target and source domain,
especially in Italian proverbs, is making the target the winner of an explicit or
implicit competitive comparison. This entails that WOMAN not only shares the
qualities of the entity with which she is set in a competitive relation but also
holds them in a particularly strong way. The hyperbole thus brings about an
identification. This pattern is most often displayed associating WOMAN with
DEVIL, with the apparent rivalry between the two abstract entities being
conveyed by morphosyntactic or lexical comparative.
(12) Le donne [la donna] ne sanno [ne sa] una più del diavolo.
(13) La donna piccola è più furba di due diavoli.
(14) La donna la fece anche al Diavolo.
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
(15) La donna, per piccola che sia, vince il diavolo per furberia.
(16) Femme sait un art avant le Diable.
Even when there is no clear identification of two referred elements, since an
opposition between the two is established, the mere comparison implied by
the contrast suggests that the two elements must be of the same kind. The
following proverb, e.g., maintains that time has a better effect on wine than
(17) Vin qui vieillit s’améliore, femme vieille devient revêche.
At times, it is merely the syntactic and semantic parallelism of the action to be
performed upon the two elements compared that leads to equating them.
Below, the ability to purchase is to cattle and edibles as choosing is to women
(18) and both can be made (19):
(18) Chi sa comprare buoi e poponi sa scegliersi anche una donna.
(19) Cheval fait et femme à faire.
The identification is achieved to a great extent syntactically in the following
case, where quando has the sense of se in a conditional clause (realis):13
(20) Quando la donna vuole il diavolo l’aiuta.
The coincidence of will and action expressed here suggests namely a causal
correlation as in the simultaneity of deciding to perform a gesture and
carrying it out, and thus leads to cognitively associating the sources of the will
and of the action.
More rarely, WOMAN is equated to (a hyponym of) the source domain through
the projection of an attribute pertaining to the source:
(21) Le donne hanno il cervello di gallina.
This makes the metaphor slightly more implicit. The utmost degree of
implicitness is however achieved in few French proverbs, such as:
(22) Plus le bouc est bourru, plus la chèvre le lèche.
(23) Le ménage va mal quand la poule chante plus haut que le coq.
Here, the reference of the proverb to people, both part of common cultural
knowledge about the usage of the specific proverbs and a general
13 The same simultaneity is conveyed if we understand quando as an independent relative
pronoun, paraphrasable as nel momento in cui. 30/2019
characteristic of the genre (cf. Lakoff/Turner 1989: 166), is key in decoding the
metaphor. In the case of (23), ménage provides at least a hint to human society,
whereas in the case of (22), the correspondence of animal sex and human
gender necessary to understand which behavior is expected of WOMAN is to be
derived from the general human reference of proverbs.
The first conceptual metaphor that can be reconstructed through analysis of
the material at hand is WOMAN IS SUPERHUMAN. From late Latin superhumanus,
‘above/beyond + human’, the abstract concept of the source can be derived by
UP (see Lakoff/Johnson 2003 [1980]: 15–16). The superhuman WOMAN as can
A plethora of proverbs, especially Italian ones, can be ascribed to the
conceptual metaphor woman is a SUPERNATURAL ENTITY,14 with either positive
or negative connotations. Positively, they are mostly equated to angels (24–25;
27, 2), but even to the epitome of the divine (26; 28–29). By highlighting the
privileged relationship of women with the divine, which makes the will of the
two entities coincide, an equivalence is established between the two by
transitivity relation in (26) and (28). Example (29) has the same meaning, but
the divine source domain is coded by the metonymic use of ciel, held to be
God’s residence (cf. Larousse, s.v. ciel), as well as by the use of the idiomatic
expression être écrit (dans le ciel) signifying God’s will.
(24) La donna è l’angelo della casa.
(25) Le donne son sante in chiesa, angele in casa e gazze alla porta.
(26) Quel che donna vuole, Dio lo vuole.
(27) Femmes sont anges à l’église, diables en la maison et singes au
14 Similar proverbs can be found, partly for having wandered from Italian or French, in
American English, too: Better the devil’s than a woman’s slave; What woman wills God wills
(French); When a woman reigns the devil governs (Italian); When the wife rules the house, the devil
is man-servant; Woman rules man, but de debil [devil] rules her (cf. Kerschen 1998: 112–113).
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
(28) Femmes sont à l’église saintes, ès rues anges, à la maison
(29) Ce que femme veut, Dieu le veut.
(30) Ce que veut une femme est écrit dans le ciel.
While the parallelism and the coreference of God’s and woman’s will in (26),
(28), and (29) leads quite straightforwardly to a characterization of WOMAN
through the divine attribute of omnipotence, it is more frequent that such an
attribution is not realized through explicit mention of God. The divine nature
of the trait, then, can be inferred on the grounds of common cultural
knowledge and religious beliefs, as in examples (30) and (31), stating woman’s
ability to influence the weather or, in fact, anything at all:
(31) Quando una donna vuole, fa piovere e nevicare.
(32) Se la donna vuole, tutto puole.
This slight implicitness does, however, leave room for less favourable
interpretations, too – a not so unlikely possibility, as attested by the fact that at
least as many French and most Italian proverbs in the category WOMAN IS A
SUPERNATURAL ENTITY are negatively connoted. In fact, they explicitly relate
WOMAN to DEVIL – another in turn metaphorically shaped entity from the
religious sphere. The association can take place e.g. by direct identification
through a straightforward predication as in (32), (27), and (2) or by attribution
to woman of even higher powers than the devil’s (37, 16) – i.e. by means of
characterizing woman or her activities as devilish.
(33) La donna è il diavolo della casa.
(34) Quando la donna vuole il diavolo l’aiuta.
(35) Quando la donna grida il diavolo scodinzola.
(36) Delle gambe delle donne si fa le corna il Diavolo.
(37) Donna oziosa esca del diavolo.
(38) Le donne [la donna] ne sanno [ne sa] una più del diavolo.
(39) Quando una donna vuole neanche il diavolo ce la fa.
(40) Femmes sont anges à l’église, diables en la maison et singes
au lit.
(2) Femmes sont à l’église saintes, ès rues anges, à la maison
(16) Femme sait un art avant le Diable.
These proverbs often suggest an instrumental relationship between WOMAN
and DEVIL: in (20), it is suggested that the woman can avail herself of the devil
to accomplish her will, while (33), (34), and (35) reverse the relation, at times 30/2019
metonymically reducing woman e.g. to her emotivity (33) or to a body part –
the legs in (34) – serving as an instrument of temptation of the devil.
The supernatural entities that make up the first subcategory of the source
domain WOMAN IS SUPERHUMAN, drawn from the religious sphere and rooted
in the tradition of book religions, have in common that they are at least as
abstract as the target domain. This means they in turn originate in the
metaphorical shaping of abstract concepts in terms of more concrete ones, as
their etymology gives away, allowing a glance behind the curtains of
lexicalisation. The Greek ánghelos ‘messagger’ at the origin of ecclesiastical
Latin angĕlu(m), the Greek diabállein ‘to slander’, from dia ‘across’ + ballein ‘to
throw’ at the origin of Latin diabŏlu(m) and the Indo-European root meaning
‘luminous’ at the origin of Latin dēu(m) (cf. Garzanti 2013; OED) give a sense of
just how concrete and common the experiences underwriting religious
concepts are.
This typical concreteness of the source domain is apparently more evident in
the second most frequent superhuman-metaphor in both Italian and French
proverbs, WOMAN IS A NATURAL FORCE, where the hyponyms associated with
the target domain are elements of nature such as the weather (41, 10; 9, 47),
the wind (11; 47, 51), the moon (42; 47, 48), the sea (43, 5; 49–51), or fire (43, 46;
(41) Fa prima il tempo a cambiare che la donna a vestirsi.
(10) Il tempo e le donne hanno sempre fatto come gli pare.
(42) Donna e luna oggi serena e domani bruna.
(11) Donna, vento e ventura presto si mutano.
(43) La donna, il fuoco e il mare fanno l’uomo pericolare.
(5) Donna iraconda, mare senza sponda.
(44) Donne e fuoco stuzzicali ogni poco.
(9) Temps, ciel pommelé et femme fardée ne sont pas de longue
(45) Temps et vent et femme et fortune changent autant comme la
(46) Comme la lune est variable pensée de femme est variable.
(47) Si traîtresse que soit la mer, plus traîtresses les femmes.
(48) De la mer naît le sel et de la femme le mal.
(49) Femme, feu, messe, vent et mer font cinq maux de grand amer.
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
These elements have all been considered of paramount importance for the
very subsistence of the human race, since the livelihood of entire peoples
depend, and depended even more in archaic societies, on them. So much are
humans at their mercy, that they have all been deified via personification, alias
metaphor. Aeolos, Selene/Artemis,15 Efestos, Helios, Poseidon are only the
Greek names of some of the deities constructed to grasp these forces of nature.
On closer consideration, then, the concreteness of this source domain might
not be quite as immediate as our contemporary worldview, with its different
mythologies, might suggest. The traits it maps unto the concept of WOMAN, i.e.
unpredictability, uncontrollability and danger, are not only perceived as true
of physical nature, but once again of divine nature. Fuoco, for instance, counts
among its meanings, metonymically crystallised, “causa di danni, di rovine”
(Battaglia, s.v. fuoco) and can stand for the divine majesty and wrath, while
mare can signify “situazione difficile, pericolosa” (Battaglia, s.v. mare) and is
used metaphorically by Dante (Par., III, 86) for the divine: “Ell’è quel mare al
qual tutto si move”.16
The second group of cultural conceptual metaphors can be led back to the
general metaphor WOMAN IS PROPERTY. This hyper-metaphor is achieved by
means of hypo-metaphors that associate women with both animate and
inanimate entities on which it is legally possible to exercise property, i.e. a
“right to the possession, use, or disposal of something” (OED).
15 Besides being adored as Selene, Artemis, and Ecate in Greece and, starting with king Titus
Tatius, in Rome, where she was later identified with Diana and Lucina, luna plays a
metaphorical role in medieval symbology, where it is viewed as astro dell’Amore.
Personifications in Italian literature are displayed in Petrarca, Tassoni, Foscolo, Leopardi,
Ungaretti etc. (cf. Battaglia, s.v. luna).
16 Interestingly, the feminine luna has not come to maintain its divine metaphoricity in
Christian times, but appears to have assumed the meaning of “Carattere lunatico, balzano,
stravagante; condizione di alterazione mentale o di stravaganza periodica” (Battaglia, s.v.
luna) metonymically, given that the moon was considered to be the cause of such mutable
and altered states.
17 In Kerschen’s (1998: 67–73) collection of American proverbs, the ones subsumed under the
property rubric, such as Arms, women and books should be looked at daily or Gold, women, and
linen should be chosen by daylight are the most numerous, with only Women and hens are lost by
gadding attested as of Italian origin and none of French background. 30/2019
The animal metaphor draws on a great variety of domesticated animals. Most
domesticated animals called upon are LIVESTOCK, i.e. “farm animals regarded
as an asset” (OED): horses (52–55; 65, 66, 8), donkeys (56, 57) and mules (68);
hens (21, 59, 60; 70–72, 23) and geese (61, 62); goats (57–58; 22, 67–69), oxen (18,
63), and even generic beasts in the restricted sense, already present in Latin
(Robert, s.v. bête), of farm animal (64; 68).
(50) Donna e cavallo: nulla di migliore e nulla di peggiore.
(51) Chi cerca donne e caval senza difetto va sempre a piedi e sta
solo nel letto.
(52) Moglie e ronzino pigliali dal vicino.
(53) Cavallo e signora prendili nel villaggio.
(54) Donne e asini tirano sempre al peggio.
(55) Donne, asini e capre vanno sempre dove c’è più pericolo.
(56) Donne e capre vogliono la corda lunga.
(21) Le donne hanno il cervello di gallina.
(57) Donne e galline per troppo andar si perdono.
(58) Malattia di donna e zoppicare di gallina durano poco.
(59) Dove son femmine e oche parole non son poche.
(60) Donna vana mezza oca e mezza puttana.
(18) Chi sa comprare buoi e poponi sa scegliersi anche una donna.
(61) Donne e buoi dei paesi tuoi.
(62) Una buona donna è sempre una cattiva bestia.
(63) Abreuver son cheval à tous gués, mener sa femme à tous festins,
de son cheval on fait une rosse et de sa femme une catin.
(64) Il n’y a femme, cheval ni vache qui ridait toujours quelque tache.
(8) Des femmes et des chevaux il n’y en a point sans défauts.
(22) Plus le bouc est bourru, plus la chèvre le lèche.
(65) Une femme, une chèvre et un pis (puits) c’est pour gâter tout.
(66) Une bonne femme, une bonne mule et une bonne chèvre sont
trois méchantes bêtes.
(67) Une femme, une chèvre et un puits, c’est pour gâter tout un
(68) Femme qui parle comme homme, et géline qui chante comme
coq ne sont bonnes à tenir.
(69) Les filles et les poules se perdent de trop courir.
(70) Fille qui trotte et géline qui vole de légier sont adirées.
(23) Le ménage va mal quand la poule chante plus haut que le coq.
Animals are themselves notoriously targets of metaphorical mappings consolidated
in language use. For bue ‘ox’, for instance, the metaphorical meaning of
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
“Persona di mente ottusa; stolido, goffo; ignorante” is attested, and the traits
mansueto ‘tame’ and placido ‘placid’ have been crystallised as typical attributes
thanks to poets Marino and Parini (cf. Battaglia, s.v. bue). Asino ‘donkey’ is
reported to mean, metaphorically, “Persona grossolana, zotica, villana;
testarda, ignorante” (Battaglia, s.v. asino), while the idiom farsi asina is
reported to mean “to prostitute oneself”. Even for cavallo, which holds also
positive connotations,18 Battaglia reports less than flatteringly: “Cervello,
intelletto da cavallo: intelligenza piuttosto ottusa, poco acuta”.
The circle closes when these human traits attributed to animals are led back to
humans, here to women, through the metaphors displayed in the proverbs. It
is also noteworthy that many of these metaphoric expressions are attested in
literature as well, if not consolidated by lexicography with a specific reference
to women: Bencivenni uses the horse metaphor for women;19 cavalla,
“femmina del cavallo”, which has its own lemma in Battaglia, is attested in the
expression salir la cavalla meaning “congiungersi carnalmente con una donna”;
capra is used by Brancati in reference to a woman.20
Still in the animal realm, but beyond livestock, we often find animal
metaphors involving pets –almost exclusively cats (73–79), rarely dogs (80):
(71) Donne e gatti amano la casa.
(72) Donna e gatto chi non li conosce cari li paga.
(73) Le donne hanno sette spiriti in corpo.
(74) Le donne sono come i gatti: hanno sette vite.
(75) Donne, mosche e gatti si preparano con comodo.
(76) La donna gabbò il Demonio e il gatto gabbò la donna.
(77) La femme tombe sept fois et toujours se relève.
(78) Donne l’os au chien, le mensonge à la femme.
18 When Tasso (1837: 68), in the dialogue Il conte ovvero dell’impresa, contraposes the warriorhorse
and the servant-ox in his Dialoghi, we can safely assume that the former is considered a
more noble creature: “La natura del cavallo, come sapete, è guerriera, ed egli è segno della
Guerra. […] Però, dipinti e scolpiti in varii modi, sono immagini convenientissime d’animo
guerriero, non meno che il bue sia di ferocità insieme con la soggezione.”
19 “Appresso elli [Santo Paulo] insegna, ch’elle siano d’onesto e semplice riguardo […], e
non […] come sono le folli femine, che vanno col collo isteso e a capo erto […], e riguardano a
traverso come cavallo di pregio” (Bencivenni 1842: 196).
20 “La ragazza abbassò la testa, guardando storta come una capra” (Brancati 1949: 10). 30/2019
Metaphorically, the term gatto signifies, with a negative connotation: “Persona
astuta, sorniona, dissimulatrice, maligna e perversa (o anche avida e rapace)”
(Battaglia, s.v. gatto) – a characterization first appearing in ancient Greek fables
(cf. Grimm 2014: 37–58). The female form gatta is identified tout court with
women: “volendone indicare i sentimenti piuttosto fieri, crudeli, selvatici;
oppure l’indole sfuggente; anche i modi morbidi, teneri, il contegno amoroso,
voglioso” (Battaglia, s.v. gatta).21
The concept of pet, of course, is relatively recent in its modern expansion,
having to await the rise of the bourgeoisie to enter common use.22 Before
advancing to family members, the animals in question were prototypically
working animals almost as much as livestock. This is especially the case in the
farm life reflected in the proverbs, with dogs employed as guardians and cats
keeping diseases at bay (cf. Grimm 2014: 37–58). Hence my suggestion to
gather both sets of animals under the rubric DOMESTICATED ANIMALS. Cats, in
fact, are held to have originated in a “sottospecie del gatto selvatico”
domesticated in ancient Egypt23 (Battaglia, s.v. gatto) and all animal metaphors
occur with animals key to agricultural life and to securing human lives and
Unsurprisingly, then, the same agricultural world can be credited with
metaphorical expressions involving on the one hand WOMAN and on the other
hand AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE. The literature already accounts for the
metaphor WOMAN ARE FOOD, i.e. a “nutritious substance that people or
animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and
21 It can thus be noted that, of all the farm animal employed to conceptualise WOMAN in our
proverbs, the ones for which a feminine form is available next to the masculine, cavalla
‘female horse’ and gatta ‘female cat’, have – in the female – sexual connotations and can carry
a trait of wilderness despite the occurred domestication of the species they belong to.
22 And, presumably, its emulation of aristocratic habits, as dogs kept for pleasure, a trend
started by the Romans, were already in European aristocracy in the 16th century (cf. Grimm
2014: 37–58), when the English term pet begins to refer to them (cf. OED).
23 The godlike status the cat had here would briefly spread to Greece along with the animal
and the influence of Egyptian cult, as the Egyptian cat god Bastes was associated with
Artemis (cf. Battaglia, s.v. gatto).
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
growth” (OED). Some of the Italian proverbs studied also reflect this
metaphor, most notably mapping a typically divisible fruit like citrus fruits
(85) or melon (86) onto the heart of woman, drawing on a double metonymy,
with a body part standing for both the person and her feelings (85–87), and
alluding to a lack of fidelity.
(79) Asini, donne e noci voglion le mani atroci.
(80) Le donne e le sardine sono buone piccoline.
(81) Donna magra carne dura.
(82) Donne e bistecche, più si battono e più diventano tenere.
(83) Il cuore delle donne è fatto a limoncello: uno spicchio a questo e
a quello e l’amore se ne va.
(84) Il cuore delle donne è fatto a melone: a chi ne va uno spicchio, a
chi un boccone.
(85) Il cuore della donna è fatto a spicchi.
But when it comes to food metaphors, it is the French proverbs that attest the
greatest frequency and variety, ranging from real foods such as bread (89),
soup (90), melon (91), pears (92) salad (93), egg variations such as oeufs and
omelettes (94, 4) or salade to fictional foods as in crème de singe ‘monkey’s cream’
et de fromage de renard ‘fox’s cheese’ (88), or even hust hinting at food through
related adjectives and verbs, e.g. aigre ‘sour’, douce ‘sweet’, saler ‘to salt’ (95–
(86) Le cerveau de la femme est fait de crème de singe et de fromage
de renard.
(87) Jeune femmes, pain tendre et bots vert mettent la maison au
(88) Vieille viande fait bonne soupe.
(89) Femme et melon à peine les connaît-on.
(90) Poires et femmes sans rumeur sont en prix et grand honneur.
(91) Cartes, femmes et salade ne sont jamais trop secouées.
(92) La femme et l’oeuf un seul maître veut.
(4) Les femmes sont comme les omelettes, elles ne sont jamais
assez battues.
(93) Femme maigre, femme aigre.
(94) Les femmes sont trop douces, il faut les saler.
Finally, women are metaphorically associated with oenological produce in
both languages:
(95) Di donna e di vino s’ubriaca il grande e il piccino.
(96) Donna di finestra, uva [vigna] di strada. 30/2019
(97) Le donne belle e il vino buono son le prime cose che
(98) Femme et vin ont leur venin.
(99) D’une bonne vigne prenez le plant d’une bonne mère prenez la
(17) Vin qui vieillit s’améliore, femme vieille devient revêche.
(100) Femme de vin, femme de rien.
Considering the typology of foods used in all these metaphorical expressions –
simple ingredients, fruits and vegetables, home cooked foods and viticulture
products stemming from one and the same agricultural world – I suggest the
umbrella source domain of AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE.
The metaphor WOMAN IS COMMODITY, i.e. a “raw material or primary
agricultural product that can be bought and sold”, or a “useful or valuable
thing” (OED) can be considered a specification of WOMAN ARE
In fact, expressions primarily used for possession are of common use for both
women and men in most European languages (e.g. possessive adjectives in my
wife, my husband; verbs expressing possession in I have a boyfriend etc.). This
occurs in proverbs too, with adjectives and prepositions expressing possession
(119, 122; 114, 123), and especially verbs like avere ‘to have’ (103, 121), vendere
and vendre ‘to sell’ (104; 117), valere and valoir ‘to be worth’ (105; 109–111, 115,
118, 120), comprare ‘buy’ (18), scegliere ‘choose’ (18, implicit in 106; 124), prendre
‘to take’ (107, 113, 123, 125), garder ‘to keep’ (112), perdre ‘to lose’ (108), which
are all prototypically referred to inanimate objects and most of which are used
in relation to deeds of sale:
(101) Chi non ha donna ha un gran debito.
(102) Donna che prende donna che si vende.
(103) Se le donne fossero d’oro non varrebbero quello che valgono.
(18) Chi sa comprare buoi e poponi sa scegliersi anche una donna.
(104) Né donna né tela a lume di candela.
(105) Celui qui prend la vieille femme, aime l’argent plus que la
(106) Qui perd sa femme et quinze sous c’est dommage pour
(107) Femme bonne vaut une couronne.
(108) Femme de bien vaut un grand bien.
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
(109) Brave femme dans une maison vaut mieux que ferme et que
(110) Qui a femme à garder n’a pas journée assurée.
(111) L’homme a deux bons jours sur terre quand il prend femme et
quand il l’enterre.
(112) Femme de marin femme de chagrin.
(113) Si la femme vaut, elle vaut un empire, si elle est autre, il n’y a
bête pire.
(114) Maison faite et femme à faire.
(115) Femme qui prend, [elle] se vend, femme qui donne
(116) Homme de paille vaut une femme d’or.
(117) A qui Dieu veut aider, sa femme [lui] meurt.
(118) Femme bonne vaut couronne.
(119) Qui a une femme de bien vit longtemps bien.
(120) Dieu aime l’homme quand il lui ôte sa femme.
(121) Qui prend la fille du voisin en sait le défaut.
(122) La femme ni la toile ne se choisissent à la chandelle.
(123) Ne prends jamais femme chez un cafetier ni une vache chez un
Such metaphors are particularly interesting for their implicitness. But proverb
metaphors also give away more specifically the kind of inanimate commodity
women are conceived as – vases (126), clocks (127), clothing items (128, 135)
(124) Chi vuole donna senza difetti, se la faccia fare dal vasaio.
(125) Donne, orologi e fogli son quasi tutti imbrogli.
(126) Donne dotte e vesti brutte rimangono sempre appese.
(127) Chi casa vuol fare, dalla donna deve cominciare.
(128) Femme prudente et bien sage est l’ornement du ménage.
(129) La femme est la clef du ménage.
(130) Jolie femme, miroir de fous.
(131) La charrette gâte le chemin, la femme l’homme et l’eau le vin.
(132) Pas d’étoupe près du feu ni de femme proche de l’homme.
(133) Belle fille et méchante robe trouve toujours qui les accroche.
Standing for the source domain, there are mostly very tangible household
artefacts of everyday life – the same rural life of the animal and oenogastronomic
selection previously seen. 30/2019
5. In conclusion
Looking at the distribution of the concrete entities used as source tokens
between Italian and French proverbs, it would appear that the conceptual
metaphor WOMAN IS A SUPERNATURAL ENTITY displays a greater frequency in
Italian proverbs and the conceptual metaphor WOMAN IS AGRICULTURAL
PRODUCE in French ones. WOMAN IS A COMMODITY appears to be instantiated
more frequently in a less transparent way in French proverbs. Within the
WOMAN IS A DOMESTICATED ANIMAL metaphor, both Italian and French
proverbs seem to be partial to horses and hens, while goats are more
represented in French proverbs and oxen only in Italian ones.
Beyond such distributional differences of metaphoric expressions, however,
the metaphorical pattern emerging from the proverbs of both languages
appears to be the same, placing WOMAN on a different level of the great chain
with respect to the deictic centre. This deictic centre is identifiable – against the
backdrop of a worldview with a strictly binary understanding of gender –
with MAN. WoMAN is in fact metaphorically placed either above or underneath
MAN, according to the metaphors CONTROL OR FORCE/HIGH STATUS/GOOD IS
UP (see Lakoff/Johnson 2003: 16) – so that the chain might actually be better
visualised as a ladder. Given that this “above” and this “under” correspond to
entities perceived as governing humans and entities perceived as governed by
humans, and that WOMAN is associated to them in opposition to MAN, it
follows that she is metaphorically excluded from the human status, or at the
very least distinguished from its prototypical representative. This would
confirm Kerschen’s observation that “proverbs about women are […] a part of
sexist language just as much as the generic pronoun” (1998: 11). Of course, the
sexism would also be a matter of frequency and exclusivity of the outlined
order and the findings ought to be verified against a study of proverbs about
MAN. However, the sheer quantity of proverbs about women as opposed to
men indicate the constancy of the centrality of MAN.
This metaphorical pattern betrays archaic, rural origins and fosters, with
regard to WOMAN IS PROPERTY, associations with an archaic legal order in
which ownership is tantamount to physical control.24 It is for example
24 For the legal metaphor of OWNERSHIP AS GRASPED THING, see Arms (1999).
Bletsas: Gendered Metaphors in Proverbs
noteworthy that oxen, horses, mules and donkeys fall under the legal category
of particularly valuable goods called res mancipi in the agrarian Roman society
(cf. Marrone 1994: 292). For these things, property is transmitted via
mancipatio, from ‘manus’ hand + capere ‘grasp’ – a legal metaphor rooted in the
physical experience of holding one’s possession in one’s hand. Women cannot
be active party of this bilateral transaction, whose original function in archaic
times is believed to be that of sale deed (cf. Marrone 1994: 135), by themselves.
They can however be its objects, since the transaction can not only transfer real
rights on domesticated animals and valuable inanimate things, but can also
concern slaves as well as filii and filiae familias (equated to slaves under the
patria potestas in archaic Rome) – and women in case of marriage accompanied
by conventio in manum (cf. Marrone 1994: 133–135).
Metaphors raising WOMAN beyond human status can be just as problematic.
As Marrone (1994: 275) sharply notes: “considerazione e rispetto non
comportano necessariamente parità: il rispetto può essere a scapito
dell’uguaglianza.” More so, since the mappings created via WOMAN IS
SUPERHUMAN carry mostly negative connotations.
These findings could, especially paired with previous studies on the matter, be
regarded as a first hint of a discourse tradition in Romance languages – but
possibly even neighbouring languages and English. The hypothesis does not
appear too far-fetched, if one bears in mind the historic routes of proverbs
dissemination: from Greece and Rome through Latin, by means of Erasmus’s
Adagia, thanks to the Bible and Luther’ translations and writings, via didactic
materials throughout Europe and beyond the European continent by way of
English (cf. Mieder 2007). Further studies enquiring on the metaphoric
patterns about WOMAN in other languages’ proverbs ought to shed light on the
matter, while at the same time further contributing to pointing out the
symptoms and researching the origins of prejudice without succumbing to the
temptation to censor folklore (cf. Kerschen 1998: 6).
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