D.E. Marvin, comp. Curiosities in Proverbs. 1916.
Proverbs Founded on Historic Incidents, Legends, Folk-Tales, etc.
A black beginning mak’s aye a black end. (Scotch).
Said to have been first spoken by one, John Scott, as a comment on the loss of a flock of sheep that perished in Selkirkshire, Scotland, during the winter of 1620. Only one black ewe escaped, but it was afterwards driven into a lake by some boys and so was drowned.
A black goat has no heart. (Behar).
Applied to weak and timid men who have no courage.
Among the natives of Behar, the bile of a black goat is considered valuable because of its healing qualities.
The following tale indicates the origin of the proverb:
“Once a tiger, who had grown sick and feeble from age, and was unable to hunt owing to failing strength, was strongly recommended by his physician to try the liver of a black goat. Thereupon the monarch of the forest ordered his vazir, the jackal, to get him a black goat. The wily ‘Jack’ by many false promises managed to inveigle a black goat within reach of his infirm master, who took no time in killing it. The cunning jackal, who was himself eager to eat the liver, having heard of its marvellous powers, suggested to his master a preparatory bath before taking the remedy. The tiger approving of the suggestion went to have a bath. In the meantime ‘Jack’ devoured the liver of the black goat. When the tiger came back he was surprised to find that the goat had no liver. Turning to the jackal the tiger asked what was the meaning of this. ‘Sire,’ exclaimed the ‘Jack,’ ‘I thought your majesty was aware that black goats had no liver; otherwise how could your servant have deceived a black goat into your presence?’”—John Christian in Behar Proverbs.
A camel for a farthing and still too dear. (Persian).
Used to indicate poverty so extreme that a farthing seemed to be a large sum.
According to an old Persian story a merchant, having met with business reverses, was reduced to extreme poverty. When in this condition he happened to be in a place where a man had a camel to sell. The merchant’s son went to the camel dealer and inquired the price of the animal. On being told that it could be purchased for a farthing he informed his father, who declared that the price was too high. In time business success returned to the merchant and he became rich. Travelling again with his son, he came to a village where an egg was on sale for a rupee. The young man, hearing what was charged for it, told his father, who at once expressed the opinion that it was very cheap at the price, his changed standards being due not to his knowledge of value but to his altered circumstances.
A goat has only three legs. (Hindustani).
Sometimes it is quoted, “The hare has only three legs,” or “The fowl has only one leg.” The phrase is used in referring to obstinate people who, though they are convicted of error, will not acknowledge that they are wrong.
It is said to have been first used by a man who, having stolen a leg of a goat, hare, or fowl, sought to prove his innocence by stubbornly insisting that the animal did not possess by nature more legs than could be seen.
Agreement with two people, lamentation with three. (Kashmiri).
“Two is company, but three is none.” (English).
The proverb came from the following story: A certain man ordered a servant to lead his horse to pasture in a near village where there was some good grass and charged him not to mount the animal by the way. After his departure he suspected that his servant might disregard his injunction and he dispatched another servant to see that his directions were carried out. On overtaking the man the messenger found him leading the horse as he was told and the two walked on together. In the course of time they became weary and sat by the roadside to rest. When they arose they agreed that it would be easier to ride than walk and so mounting the animal they pursued their way. The master, still being anxious, sent a third servant who, on overtaking the couple on horseback, remonstrated with them on account of their unfaithfulness and threatened to report them. “Do not do it,” they pleaded, “but come join us in our ride.” Yielding to their wishes he mounted the horse and the three men rode on until they came to the pasture land. The next morning the horse died and the unfaithful servants were in great distress lest their actions should come to the knowledge of the master.
A man was once hanged for leaving his drink. (Scotch).
“He will be hanged for leaving his liquor, like the saddler of Bawtry,” is a parallel proverb upon which comment is made elsewhere.
The proverb is usually applied to men who leave their drink before they are through, and originated in the action of Balthazar Gérard just before he murdered the Prince of Orange.
As gude may haud the stirrup as he that loups on. (Scotch).
The phrase is said to have originated with Elliot of Stobbs who, knowing that his stable-boy was the illegitimate son of Elliot of Larriston, was in the habit of remarking, “Better he that holds the stirrup than he that rides,” when he mounted his horse. The young man afterwards succeeded in amassing a fortune and purchased the ancestral estate.
As musical as the cow that ate the piper. (Irish).
“Binny Bryan was a famous piper. On his round one day he found a dead Hessian, and tried to pull off his boots, but pulled off his legs along with them. Boots and legs he carried to a byre, where he slept that night. In the morning he managed to get the legs out of the boots; and when the people who owned the byre came to milk their cow, they found no piper but only a pair of legs, and naturally supposed the cow had eaten the piper and his pipes.”—J. D. White in the Kilkenny Moderator.
A raven that brings fire to its nest. (Hebrew).
This saying takes its origin from the fable of the raven that sought to warm its young by bringing fire to the nest and so burned them all. It is applied to those who injure others in their efforts to do them good.
As the day raises itself, so the sick man raises himself. (Hebrew).
There is an old legend that Abraham wore suspended about his neck a precious stone that had healing qualities. Whoever looked upon it was restored of whatever malady he had. On the death of the patriarch God removed the healing virtue from the stone and gave it to the sun’s rays so that thereafter those who suffered from any illness found the day more restful and freer from pain than the night.
Be a dog rather than a younger brother. (Persian).
This proverb comes from a story of a man who had three sons. The youngest was always considered to be subservient to the others. One cold winter night when there was much snow some friends of the man came by his invitation to spend the evening with him. While he and his two elder sons conversed with the visitors, the youngest son was compelled to minister to their needs and furnish all necessary entertainment. Noticing the boy’s plight, one of the guests asked him to sit down with him and rest, whereupon he sighed and uttered the above adage.
Be deliberate! Be deliberate! ’Tis worth four hundred zuz. (Hebrew).
“The proverb originated under the following circumstances: R. Ida, the son of Ahaba, once pulled a kind of head covering only worn by non-Jewish women from the head of a woman under the supposition that she was a Jewess. He was mistaken and was fined four hundred zuz. On asking the woman her name, she replied that it was Methun, which also means ‘Be deliberate’; ‘Be not hasty.’ There is a further play on the word, for it closely resembles another with the meaning ‘Two hundred.’ Note that the word is repeated, bringing the total to ‘Four hundred,’ the amount paid as a fine. Ibu Gabirol likewise says: ‘Reflection insures safety, but rashness is followed by regrets.’”—A. Cohen in Ancient Jewish Proverbs.
Carry an old man with you in a sack. (Marathi).
“Consult with the old and fence with the young.” (German). “Old men for counsel, young men for war.” (English). “The aged in council, the young in action.” (Danish). “The old effect more by counsel than the young by action.” (German).
There are a number of stories about intelligent young men who were about to set out on a journey alone but who were finally induced to take an old man with them, who in turn compensated them for their consideration by giving them wise counsel by the way. One of the stories tells of the old man consenting to be tied and carried in a sack so as not to wound the pride of the young men.
Does a weaver know how to cut barley? (Behar).
See under this section: “The weaver lost his way in a linseed field,” and under Retorting Proverbs: “Like the wabster stealing through the world.”
“This proverb refers to a story that a weaver, unable to pay his debt, was set to cut barley by his creditors, who thought to repay himself in this way. But instead of reaping, the stupid fellow kept trying to untwist the tangled barley stems.”—G. A. Grierson.
“A weaver jointly with another man sowed sugarcane. When the crop was ripe, on being asked whether he would have the top or the stem, said, ‘Of course the top.’ When reproached by his wife for his stupidity, he said he would never again make such a mistake. The next crop they sowed was Indian corn. When the time for gathering came round he told his friends that he was not to be made a fool of this time and would have the lower part. His friend gave him what he wanted.”—John Christian.
Fight like Kilkenny cats, that ate one another except their tails. (Irish).
“Like the Kilkenny cats, who fought and left nothing but their tails.” (English).
“It is said that when the Hessians were quartered in Kilkenny, they used to amuse themselves by tying two cats’ tails together, and throwing them over a line to fight. Their officer heard of this and ordered that there should be no more cat-fights. Still on a certain day there were two cats on the line when the officer was heard coming, and one of the troopers cut them down, leaving only the tails on the line. The officer asked, ‘Where are the cats?’ when one of the troopers explained that they fought so furiously that they had eaten one another up except their tails.”—J. D. White in the Kilkenny Moderator.
Brewer says regarding the tale: “Whatever the true story, it is certain that the municipalities of Kilkenny and Irishtown contended so stoutly about their respective boundaries and rights to the end of the seventeenth century, that they mutually impoverished each other, leaving little else than ‘two tails’ behind.”
Fool, keep the corn farther off. (Modern Greek).
Sometimes rendered, “Clown, you should have given the corn sooner.”
An avaricious muleteer sought to save money by starving his mule. This so weakened the animal that one day, under a heavy load, it fell to the ground. The muleteer removed the load from the animal’s back and tried to make it rise. Failing, he took some corn in his hand and held it a short distance from its mouth, but it was in vain; the mule was too weak to get on its feet. While the muleteer was engaged in thus coaxing his beast a neighbour passed, and knowing the man’s avaricious nature taunted him in the words of the proverb.
For the bleating we have lost the neighing. (Modern Greek).
“Penny wise and pound foolish”; “Save at the spigot and let out at the bunghole”; “Save at the tap and waste at the bunghole.” (English).
A dishonest peasant, desiring a sheep that belonged to a shepherd, determined to steal it, so mounted his horse and drove to the pen where it was kept. Tying his horse to a bush he entered, but the shepherd’s dog, hearing him, barked and he fled, leaving his horse behind him. On returning to his home his wife asked him why he walked and what had become of his horse. Instead of telling her the story of his misfortune he answered by imitating the baaing of the sheep and neighing of the horse; then he explained the circumstances of his trip. The incident becoming known, the proverb came into use.
God gives bread but we must creep along ourselves also. (Modern Greek).
“God helps them that help themselves,” (English and Scotch); “Help thyself and God will help thee,” (Scotch); “Who guards himself God will guard him”; “God helps him who amends himself,” (Spanish); “God is a good worker, but he loves to be helped,” (Basque); “God sends the thread to cloth which is begun,” (French); “God gives food but does not cook it and put it in the mouth,” (Telugu); “God gives birds their food but they must fly for it,” (Dutch); “God gives every bird its food but does not throw it into the nest,” (Danish).
There are many proverbs of similar import.
A certain man, on hearing that God would care for those who relinquished all their possessions, left his home and retired to the desert where he gave himself to fasting and prayer. On the third day of his retirement he observed many horses laden with baskets of bread passing over a distant highway. Seeing a loaf fall from one of the baskets, he waited and then cautiously dragged himself over the ground to the spot. Seizing the bread he began to eat. As he did so he repeated to himself: “Yes, it is true, God gives bread, but we must creep along ourselves to get it.”
God has His hosts, amongst them honey. (Arabic).
It is a tradition among the Arabs that this proverb was first used by Moawiah, the Emperor, who when he received the news that Aschtar, his enemy, had died from eating honey made from poisonous herbs exclaimed in pious satisfaction, “God has His hosts, amongst them honey.”
Gom Genesa and a brass gate. (Marathi).
In a time of political upheaval a man by the name of Gom Genesa went, without authority from the government, to the “Brass Gate” of the town where he lived and exacted toll of those who passed through. To make the procedure seem valid he gave a receipt on which were stamped the words of the proverb. This practice he kept up for years and accumulated much money. When the fraud was discovered the government, instead of punishing him for it, rewarded him for his shrewdness.
Has she a right to say, “There is” or “There is not”? (Telugu).
A proverb used to indicate that, amongst the Telugu people, the authority of a daughter-in-law is not recognized. Its origin is found in the following story:
A woman told a beggar to go to her house for assistance. The man proceeded at once and was met by the woman’s daughter-in-law who refused to give him anything. On turning away he met the woman who inquired whether alms had been given to him. When she heard that he had been refused she was angry and chastened her daughter-in-law. “Now you may go,” she said to the beggar. “Has she any authority to say there are alms for you or there are not?”
He has a white side and a black side, like the boat of Short John’s son. (Gaelic).
“Mac Iain Ghearr (or Ghiorr)’s proper name was Archibald MacDonell. He was a noted reaver and followed a known practice of pirates in having his boat and sails of different colours on each side.”—Alexander Nicolson.
He is fond of championship who takes locusts under his protection. (Arabic).
This proverb “commemorates Modleg Ben Sowaid, a plucky chieftain, who carried the law of hospitality so far that when a flight of locusts alighted on his territory, and some neighbouring tribe was tampering with them, this Quixote of the desert drove off the invaders and saved the locusts.”—North American Review for February, 1858.
He set fire to his own beard. (Persian).
For other proverbs about the beard see Singular Proverbs and Wit and Humour in Proverbs.
A man hearing that a large amount of hair on the face was a sign of mental deficiency consulted the books of the wise men and found that it was so. He therefore determined to rid himself of a portion of his own beard which was very long. Grasping it at the place where he wished it removed, he set fire to the end. The beard being well anointed blazed up, not only burning off all the hair but inflicting serious injury on his hand and face. His neighbours learning of his effort and its consequences formed the proverb which became common among the Persians and was used by them when they desired to charge people with being the cause of their own injury.
He that invented The Maiden, first hanselled it. (Scotch).
“Regent Morton, the inventor of a new instrument of death called ‘The Maiden,’ was himself the first upon whom the proof of it was made. Men felt, to use the language of the Latin poet, that ‘no law was juster than that the artificers of death should perish by their own art,’ and embodied their sense of this in the proverb.”—Archbishop Trench.
He who loses an opportunity of (eating) the meat, let him feed on the broth. (Arabic).
“An Arabian story relates that the bird kombar once invited King Solomon to dine, and requested that all his courtiers might accompany him. The King inquired whether there was a sufficient supply of food for so large a company and received in answer that everything necessary had been provided. The guests arrived and seated themselves near the banks of a river. When dinner time approached the kombar came flying with a locust in his bill. Having eaten some of it himself, he threw the rest into the water and addressed this proverb to his royal guest, advising him to satiate himself with the locust broth. The wise monarch smiled, he and his attendants drank some of the water, thanked their host and departed.”—J. L. Burckhardt in Arabic Proverbs.
He will be hanged for leaving his liquor, like the saddler of Bawtry. (English).
See proverb: “A man was once hanged for leaving his drink.”
The phrase is said to have had its origin in the fact that the saddler of Bawtry, while under sentence and on his way to the gallows, refused to stop at an ale-house where he was invited to drink, but hastened along the road to the “fatal tree” where he was hung. Soon thereafter a reprieve arrived. Had he stopped to drink, the delay would have saved his life.
I beg your pardon, Madam Cow. (Modern Greek).
Used when one person is mistaken for another.
Alexander Negris gives the following incident as indicating the origin of the saying: “A French gentleman of an absent turn of mind was passing along a public street, when a cow came up behind him, whose shadow caught his eye. Mistaking it for that of a lady, he conceived himself acting unpolitely in walking before her, and turning around he made a graceful bow, saying: ‘Beg your pardon, Madam,’ and hence the proverb.”
I brought the nettle, I sowed the nettle, and then the nettle stung me. (Kashmiri).
The sting-nettle is a plant sacred to the Hindoo God Siva to whom is attributed the honour of first planting it.
A famous fakir put some mud in the palm of his hand; then he planted a nettle in it. Keeping his hand extended for several years the nettle grew to be a large plant and many of his countrymen visited him to see the wonder and bestow alms. One of his disciples, becoming jealous of the fakir’s popularity, knocked the earth and nettle from his hand, whereupon the great man uttered the proverb, intending it to apply not only to the nettle but to the disciple.
If the tail breaks, your head will know who darkened the hole. (Gaelic).
In his Gaelic Proverbs, Alexander Nicolson says that the proverb took its rise from the following story:
“Two men went to a wolf’s den, when wolves still flourished in Scotland, for the purpose of carrying off the whelps. The den was in a cairn with a narrow entrance through which one of the men crept in while the other stood on guard outside. Presently the yelping of the young ones called their mother to the rescue and she bolted past the man outside, who was dexterous enough, however, to seize her by the tail while she was disappearing. So they stood, the she-wolf blocking the entrance and darkening the den, while the man outside held on like grim death. The man within finding the light suddenly obscured called out to his companion: ‘What’s that darkening the hole?’ To which a reply was made in the words of the proverb.”
If it please God I rise, I shall weave a blanket tomorrow. (Spanish).
Generally applied to procrastinators.
A certain woman awoke one night and, suffering from the cold, declared that if it pleased God to keep her from freezing she would weave a blanket on the following day, but the following day being warm she forgot about her resolution.
“If this be human, it’s light,” as the water-horse said. (Gaelic).
According to an old fable the water-horse was in the habit of leaving the water at certain times and disguising his identity, devoting himself to some human being, after which he would carry the object of his attentions on his back into the deepest part of the lake or sea from which he came. One day a young man introduced himself to a maiden who was herding cattle on the banks of a loch. After insinuating himself into her good graces by pleasant conversation and courtesies he induced her to permit him to rest his head on her lap while he slept. While asleep the maiden examined his head and found his hair filled with mud and sand. Surmising that her new-found acquaintance was none other than the water-horse in disguise who would on waking carry her away, she dexterously rid herself of her skirt, leaving it on the ground under his head. Soon the monster roused himself and grasping the skirt shook it, saying as he did so: “If this be human, it’s light,” then he rushed back into the water.
I’m not a scholar and don’t wish to be, as the fox said to the wolf. (Gaelic).
“The fox and the wolf, walking together, came upon an ass quietly grazing. The fox pointed out an inscription on one of his hooves and said to his companion, ‘Go you and read that; you are a scholar and I am not.’ The wolf, flattered by the request, went proudly forward and coming too close to the ass got knocked on the head, leaving the fox to enjoy their common spoil.”—Alexander Nicolson.
In teaching an ignorant person I became troubled in mind, for he broke the nest and destroyed the eggs. (Assamese).
This proverb reminds one of Solomon’s admonition: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”—Prov. xxvi:4.
The saying had its origin in an old folk-tale of a company of parrots that made their home in the hollow of a large simul tree. When the birds flew away they always left one of their companions, an old parrot, to guard the nest and keep the eggs from being destroyed or stolen. One day in their absence a wild cat tried to climb the tree but was prevented by the watchful old parrot who observed its coming. The wild cat, seeing that he would not be able to secure the eggs, began to flatter the old parrot and managed by fair speeches to throw it off its guard and leap on the nest where he feasted on the eggs. The old bird, being much chagrined at what had happened, explained its failure to defend the nest in the words of the proverb.
June, July, and August and the port of Carthagena. (Spanish).
A reply of an old sailor to Charles V, who inquired which port in the Mediterranean was the best, his meaning being that during June, July, and August all the ports were safe, but Carthagena was the best.
Let’s see on what side the camel sits. (Behar).
“He laughs best who laughs last.” (English, French, German, Italian, and Danish). “Better the last smile than the first laughter.” (English).
A greengrocer and a potter hired a camel together and each hung a pannier on its side filled with his goods. As they proceeded on their way the camel occasionally helped itself to vegetables from the greengrocer’s pannier, which caused the potter to laugh at his companion. After a time they paused to rest and the camel in seating itself naturally leaned to the heavier side, which was the side on which was the pannier of pots, breaking all the vessels.
Let that which is lost be for God. (Spanish).
This selfish proverb originated in a will which a man made on his death-bed, in which he disposed of a certain cow that had strayed from the farm and never had been recovered, ordering that if it were ever found it should be given to his children, but if it were never found it should be considered as given to God.
Like the bird Jatayu devouring the chariot. (Bengalese).
Generally used in referring to almost certain evil that cannot be prevented by any proposed course of action.
This proverb originated in “a story of that fabulous bird (the Jatayu) who flying away with a box in which Ravana had shut up Sita, the wife of Rama, he could not swallow it lest he should destroy Sita, yet his not swallowing it led to the loss of his own wings in the struggle to escape from Ravana.”—W. Morton.
No money, no Swiss. (French).
“No money, no Swiss; no pay, no piper.” (French).
The allusion is to a story of the middle ages in which the prime minister of a French king is said to have remarked concerning some Swiss mercenaries who demanded pay for their services, “The money we have given these Swiss would pave a road from Paris to Basle”; whereupon the Swiss commander retorted: “And the blood we have shed for France would fill a river from Basle to Paris.”
One turn meets another; if rats can eat iron, a kite may carry off a child. (Hindustani).
A man, having occasion to travel abroad, left a quantity of iron in charge of a friend. On his return after several years his friend told him that the rats had eaten up the iron. He said nothing but, waiting an opportunity, seized the other’s child, concealed him and told his father he had seen a kite carry him off. On the other’s alleging the impossibility of the thing, his friend made this reply.”—Thomas Roebuck.
On one side the Chevemisa, on the other take care. (Russian).
This saying refers “to an unsuccessful expedition against Kazan in 1524, when the Tcheremisses waylaid the Russian vessels and assailed them from the shore.”—London Quarterly Review, October, 1875.
Shall I pronounce agreeably to the soles of my feet, or agreeably to my tongue? (Hindustani).
A certain dishonest judge was bribed by both parties in a dispute. One thought that he would be most easily influenced in his decision by a present of something that would appeal to his appetite, and so gave him something to eat; the other slipped a gold coin under his foot.
Strike the innocent, that the guilty may confess. (Arabic).
A cadi once arrested an innocent man and bastinadoed him. When asked why he punished a guiltless man he replied that he did so in hopes that the true offender might hear what was done and confess his crime out of sympathy and compassion.
The bear wants a tail and cannot be a lion. (English).
“The proverb is thus explained by Fuller: ‘Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, derived his pedigree from the ancient Earls of Warwick, on which title he gave their crest, the bear and ragged staff. And when he was Governor of the Low Countries, with the high title of his Excellency, disusing his own coat of the green lion, with two tails, he signed all instruments with the crest of the bear and ragged staff. He was then suspected by many of his jealous adversaries to hatch an ambitious design to make himself absolute commander (as the lion is king of beasts) over the Low Countries, whereupon some foes to his faction, and friends to Dutch freedom, wrote under his crest, set up in public places:
Nor is ursa in the feminine merely placed to make the vein; but because naturalists observe in bears, that the female is always strongest.’
The proverb is applied to such who, not content with their condition, aspire to what is above their worth to deserve, or power to achieve.”—John Ray.
The famine will disappear, but the stains will not disappear. (Kashmiri).
This saying is said to have originated in the story of a man who had neglected his sister for so long a time that he well-nigh forgot that she lived. On the approach of famine he thought of her and wondered whether she had food. In remorse over his behaviour he started to search for her that he might relieve her sufferings. As he drew near her house he was observed by his sister who was baking some bread. Not wishing him to know that she had food and desiring to discover the real purpose of his visit, she grabbed the loaf that she was baking from the fire and thrust it quickly under her arm. Thus she concealed the bread, but so burned her bosom that she carried the marks of it so long as she lived.
“The mouse is the better of quietness,” as the moor-mouse said to the town mouse. (Gaelic).
This proverb is evidently taken from the well-known fable of Æsop, “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.
The peg swallowed the necklace. (Arabic).
King Vikram in time of misfortune hung his necklace on a peg. As misfortunes follow one another, the necklace soon disappeared. No one being able to tell how it was lost, the saying went abroad that the peg had swallowed it. When good fortune returned, the King found his necklace on the peg where it had been hung.
There’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip. (English).
This proverb, says Archbishop Trench, in Proverbs and Their Lessons, “descends to us from the Greeks, having a very striking story connected with it. A master treated with extreme cruelty his slaves who were occupied in planting and otherwise laying out a vineyard for him; until at length one of them, the most misused, prophesied that for this, his cruelty, he should never drink of its wine. When the first vintage was completed, he bade his slave to fill a goblet for him, which taking in his hand he at the same time taunted him with the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. The other replied with words which have since become proverbial. As he spoke, tidings were hastily brought of a huge wild boar that was wasting the vineyard. Setting down the untasted cup, the master went out to meet the wild boar, and was slain in the encounter, and thus the proverb, ‘Many things find place between the cup and lip,’ arose.”
The sheep-skin has sufficed to pay the twelve. (Modern Greek).
The phrase is said to have been first spoken by a poor drunken currier who, being indebted to a tavern keeper for drinks, and having no money to pay, took the last fleece that he possessed and gave it to the tavern keeper in settlement of his account. His wife, missing the sheep’s skin, inquired of him what had become of it. Though half drunk at the time, he remembered enough about the transaction to explain in the words quoted, which soon became a proverb.
The weaver lost his way in a linseed field. (Behar).
See under this section, “Does a weaver know how to cut barley?”
See also Wit and Humor in Proverbs: “Now I am going to the battle of the frogs,” etc.
Seven weavers lost their way. Coming to a linseed field that was in flower they mistook it for a river. Removing their clothes they tried to swim through the blue blossoms. After much labour they reached the other side of the field; then they counted themselves to see whether any had been drowned. This they did several times, but the one counting always forgot to count himself so that they finally decided that one of their number had lost his life in the water, and they returned to their homes in great sorrow.
The above story is not peculiar to the Behar people; it finds its echo in various forms and in many lands.
Proverb makers never seem to have held weavers in very high esteem: “Gentlemen are unco scant when a wabster gets a lady,” “Like the wabster stealing through the warld.” (Scotch). “A hundred tailors, a hundred millers, and a hundred weavers are three hundred thieves,” (Spanish). “The ass eats the crop, but the weaver is beaten for it,” “The daughter of a weaver has a longing to call her sister ‘bubu.’” Bubu is a term of respect used in referring to an elder sister in Mohammedan households. “A weaver proud as a king with a gagra full of rice only,” “The weaver asks to be let off fasting but gets saddled with prayers,” “A weaver makes a sad hash when required to reap a field.” (Behar).
“To hear by the noise, it is dulcet in contagion. But shall we make the welkin dance indeed? Shall we rouse the night-owl in a catch that will draw three souls out of one weaver? Shall we do that?—Shakespeare. Twelfth Night.
They that live in glass houses should not throw stones. (English).
“If you have a head made of glass, do not throw stones at me.” (Spanish).
This saying is generally thought to have come into use from the following incident as given by Brewer: “When, on the union of the two crowns, London was inundated with Scotchmen, Buckingham was a chief instigator of the movement against them and parties used nightly to go about breaking their windows. In retaliation a party of Scotchmen smashed the windows of the Duke’s mansion which stood in St. Martin’s Fields and had so many windows that it went by the name of the ‘Glass House.’ The Court favourite appealed to the King and the British Solomon replied: ‘Steenie, Steenie, those who live in glass houses should be carefu’ how they fling stanes.’”
Brewer rightly denies that the proverb originated with James I (VI of Scotland). If there is any truth in the incident the King merely quoted the saying to Buckingham, as a proverb current at the time. King James was born in 1566 and Chaucer, who died in 1400, made use of an adage which was substantially the same, when he wrote, “Frothy (therefore) who that hath an heed (head) of verre (glass), Fro cast of stones war him in the werre (let him beware).”
It is not unlikely that the saying came from Spain and was adapted from the well-known Spanish aphorism, “He that has a roof of glass should not throw stones at his neighbour” or some other phrase of like import.
The proverb is found in many languages.
To fence in the cuckoo. (English).
“The wise fools of Gotham,” “As wise as the man of Gotham” (English); “To put gates to the fields,” (Spanish).
See Contemptuous Proverbs: “As learnt as a scholar o’ Buckhaven College.”
There is an old story that in the early years of the thirteenth century King John determined to secure an estate and castle in Gotham, England, and sent a special messenger to look over the ground. The town folks, hearing of the King’s intentions, were in consternation, for they knew that if the royal purpose was carried out it would be at great expense and would lead to the imposition of heavy burdens on the town that could not well be borne. They therefore planned to circumvent their sovereign’s design by acting like idiots. When the royal messenger arrived he found every one in the place engaged in some trivial employment or idiotic pursuit. This so surprised and disgusted the representative that he reported to his master that Gotham was not a fit place for a King’s residence as the people who lived there were all fools. King John, it is said, at once gave up his project.
Many tales about the Gothamites and their foolish pursuits are recorded. Among those best known is one that the people desired to postpone the coming of cold weather, and, observing that the cuckoo, a bird of sunshine, disappeared when the warm months were over, they determined to prevent it from flying away, and so retain the summer’s warmth and brightness. To carry out this purpose they joined hands around a thorn bush into which a cuckoo had flown, thinking that by so doing the bird would be unable to escape. From this foolish story came the saying above quoted.
“On an eminence about a mile south of Gotham, a village of Nottinghamshire, stands a bush known as the ‘Cuckoo Bush,’” says R. Chambers in his Book of Days. “The present bush is planted on the site of the original one and serves as a memorial of the disloyal event which has given the village its notoriety.”
To rob Peter to pay Paul. (English).
“The proverb pretty certainly derives its origin from the fact that in the reign of Edward VI the lands of St. Peter at Westminster were appropriated to raise money for the repair of St. Paul’s in London.”
“Give not Peter so much, to leave St. Paul nothing.” “Praise Peter but don’t find fault with Paul.” “Who praiseth St. Peter doth not blame St. Paul.” (English). “To take from St. Peter and give to St. Paul.” “To strip St. Peter to clothe St. Paul,” (French). “He reives the kirk to theek the quire.” “Tir the kiln to thack the mill,” (Scotch). “To strip one altar to cover another,” (Italian). “Starving Mike Malcolm to fatten big Murdock.” “The thaich of the kiln on the mill,” (Gaelic). “To steal oil from one temple in order to light a lamp in another,” (Marathi). “He plucked from his beard and added to his mustache.” (Persian).