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Can you make a silk purse out of a sow's ear?

This is one of many English sayings. Others are "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" and also "where there's smoke, there's fire." They are concise ideas that seem to fit many situations. But how do people use these sayings, really? As over-simplifications? Justifications? When is there smoke, metaphorically, without fire? Two birds in the bush that are worth more than one in the hand?

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