A Note on Proverbs

Marc Okrand

It has long been known that proverbs play a significant role in Klingon
culture. They are cited not only to impart the wisdom of Klingon society,
but their correct usage -- at least in the case of so-called "replacement
proverbs" -- is sometimes the only way to regain honor following an
unfortunate situation.

Given the importance of proverbs, then, it is odd that the Klingon
vocabulary associated with them has been little discussed.

The usual term for "proverb" is vIttlhegh, literally "truth rope" and
formed, no doubt, by analogy with mu'tlhegh "sentence" or, "literally,
"word rope."

Two types of proverbs have special names. A "secrecy proverb" -- that is,
a proverb about secrecy -- is generally called peghmey vIttlhegh "secret's
proverb" or "proverb of secrets." Infrequently the singular pegh "secret"
(rather than the plural peghmey) is heard, shortening the construction to
pegh vIttlhegh. Since pegh is also a verb (meaning "keep something
secret"), pegh vIttlhegh can also be interpreted as a sentence meaning
something like "a proverb keeps things secret," that is, it withholds
information rather than being a ready source of answers. To some Klingons,
this is a most insightful coincidence.

The Klingon term for a "replacement proverb" is qa'meH vIttlhegh.
This is the only way to say "replacement proverb" currently, but in the past,
the common term was the lengthier quvqa'meH vIttlhegh, literally,
"proverb for (the purpose of) being honored again." The word qa'meH,
clearly a shortened form of quvqa'meH, was originally used only in the
construction of qa'meH vIttlhegh, but, though historically two verb
suffixes, it has become accepted as a noun in its own right, meaning
"replacement" in the sense of something that takes over for or is used
instead of something that is gone or that has been lost. It is not used for a
temporary substitute or a stand-in; the word for that is lIw.