The Illustrated Book of Sayings: An Introduction to How We Express What We Mean to Say in Simile, Idiom or Proverb

Erendira Ramirez-Ortega

5 Stars

October 28, 2016

“I’m learning to be more careful with my words. Words that seem meaningless at the time can end up having a lot of power. Seeds that you didn’t even intend to plant can fall off you and start growing in people,” said Brandon Stanton from his photography project and book Humans of New York.


Words are a force to be reckoned with. Emily Dickinson said, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”


It is no wonder, then, that words carry with them a visceral quality that roots itself and then flourishes around us in a powerful curiosity. We wander through the world we know for certain sometimes unaware of what we don’t understand culturally, linguistically speaking, and then suddenly, there is an explanation for that which we don’t understand.


How do we translate a meaning in another language that isn’t translatable and which may seem ridiculous, absurd and nonsensical when attempted?


Writer and accidental illustrator Ella Frances Sanders says that the sayings in her new book, The Illustrated Book of Sayings, are “like plants that have, in many cases, been growing for centuries, passed down from one generation to another, grown through one community to another.”


The sayings Sanders illustrates express the diversity of peoples and cultures from around the world, expressions that range from the mundane to the profound, all limitless and delightful absolutely, all insightful and magnificent. We find the Japanese saying for even the monkeys fall from trees, and the Italian saying about having a head full of crickets.


Not only does Sanders cultivate an understanding that we can only see explained in brief detail, illustrated to capture its full spirit, but for those of us that speak in any of these languages presented here in this book, we may be able to articulate meaning from what we know and understand of these sayings to those who do not speak, say Spanish, in my case. “You are my orange half,” makes no sense in English, but in Spanish, “Tu eres mi media naranja,” is sweetness and life. It reminds me of what my beloved husband would say to me during our courtship, an endearing expression of sentimentality and love.


These sayings are curious and pique interest in how cultures from around the world find simile, metaphor and amusement to poetically blend and bind our languages together. How does one express that privacy, for instance, is to be respected and not sticking noses in places that they don’t belong to is of utmost importance? In Ukrainian, there’s a saying for that.


Pair up The Illustrated Book of Sayings with Sanders’ Lost in Translation. And for good measure, The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz is sure to delight you as well.