The evolution of proverbs

First-graders were asked to complete the first halves of proverbs and they came up with the following:

“Better to be safe than punch a fifth-grader.”

“Don’t bite the hand that looks dirty.”

“A penny saved is not much.”

“Don’t put off till tomorrow what you put on to go to bed.”

“You can lead a horse to water, but how?”

All, I might add, appear to show a familiarity with economic reasoning, with the possible exception of number four, which to my mind makes no sense whatsoever.

Here is the full story. My colleagues David Levy and Daniel Houser have recently started designing some economic experiments about the evolution of proverbs. Proverbs, like prices, aggregate information. One question is whether proverbs evolve to demonstrate the wisdom embodied in some weighted notion of “average opinion”, the opinion of the median member of the language community, or the most frequently expressed opinions at the mode.


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