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W.C. Hazlitt, comp. English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases. 1907.

A bad bush to A dull ass

A bad bush is better than the open field.
Il n’y a pas si petit buisson qui ne porte ombre. Fr. That is, it is better to have any, though a bad friend or relation, than to be quite destitute, and exposed to the wide world.—RAY.

A bad day never hath a good night.

A bad dog never sees the wolf. H.

A bad egg.
Said of an unlucky venture.

A bad Jack may have as bad a Jill.

A bad padlock invites a picklock.

A bad shift is better than none.
New Help to Discourse, 1721, p. 134.

A bad thing never dies.

A baker’s dozen.
i.e., thirteen. The expression, it seems, used to be brown, as in A Brown Dozen of Drunkards, a tract printed in 1618. In the title of her Nature’s Picture, 1656, Lady Newcastle speaks of certain additions as like “the Advantage Loaves to a Baker’s Dozen.”

  • A baker’s wife may bite of a bun:
  • a brewer’s wife may drink of a tun:
  • a fishmonger’s wife may feed of a conger:
  • but a serving-man’s wife may starve for hunger.
  • A Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Servingmen, by J. M., 1598. repr. Roxb. Lib. 166.

    A bald head is soon shaven.
    Quien pequeña heredad tien à pasos la mide. Span.—RAY.

    A Banbury story of a cock and bull. Grose.

    A barber learneth to shave by shaving fools.
    A barbe de fol on apprend à raire. Fr. A la barda de pazzi, il barbier impara a radere. Ital. [Greek]. The same may be understood of a surgeon or physician. In capite orphani discit chirurgus. Prov. Arab.—RAY.

    A bargain is a bargain.
    Lyly’s Mother Bombie, 1592 (Works 1858, ii. 109); Historie of Leir, 1605 (apud Shakespeare’s Library, by Hazlitt, vi. 367.).

    A barking dog seldom bites. B. OF M. R.

    A barley-corn is better than a diamond to a cock.

    A barren sow was never good to pigs.

    A Bartholomew baby.

    A basket-justice will do justice right or wrong. F.

    A bawdy beggar of Billiter Lane.
    Wheatley’s Cunningham in v. Billiter Lane, where it is cited as used proverbially by Sir Thomas More.

    A Bear Garden proceeding.
    Rough treatment or behaviour. The Earl of Castlemain’s Manifesto 1681, p. 72. Speaking of Mrs. Cellier, the writer says: “At her appearing some of the Auditors began to hiss, but upon my entreating the judges to forbid that Bear-Garden proceeding, there was a stop put to it—.” It is curious to find this Elizabethan institution and its rowdyism recollected so long after.

    A beck is as good as a Dieu-guard. DS.

  • A beggarly people,
  • a church and no steeple.
  • This is ascribed to Swift by Malone (Prior’s Life, 1860, 381), and spoken of St. Anne’s Church, Dublin.

    A beggar’s purse is bottomless. CL.

    A bellyful is a bellyful, whether it be meat or drink.

    A bellyful of gluttony will never study willingly.
    i.e., The old proverbial verse—
    Impletus venter non vult studere libenter.—RAY.

    A Bewdeley salute.
    Tapping the ground with one’s cane, as one passes a friend.

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the wood.
    Parliament of Byrdes, (circa 1550); Woodes’ Conflict of Conscience, 1581, in Hazlitt’s Dodsley, vi.; New Help to Discourse, 1721. The latter reads, “One bird in hand,” &c. Heywood says, “Better one bird in hand than ten in the wood.” “E meglio aver oggi un uovo, cho dimani una gallina. Ital. Mieux vaut un vous tenez quo deux vous l’aurez. Fr. [Greek].-Theocr. Præsentem mulgeas, quid fugientem insequeris? [Greek].-Hesiod. The Spaniards say, Mas vale paxaro en mano, que buitre volando. A small benefit obtained is better than a great one in expectation.—RAY. Herbert’s Outlandish Proverbs, 1640, gives another version, A feather in the hand is better than a bird in the air. Plus valet in manibus avis unica, quam dupla silvis. Mediæval Latin. Archbishop Trench (On the Lessons in Proverbs, 1853, p. 29) thinks that the old leonine verse, Una avis in dextra melior quam quatuor extra, betrays an indication of being a growth from the English sentence.

    A bird is known by its note, and a man by his talk.

    A bird may be caught with a snare that will not be shot.

    A bird of the same feather.
    The Brothers of the Blade, &c., 1641, p. 2.

    A bit and a knock, as men feed apes.

    A bit in the morning is better than nothing all day, or than a thump on the back with a stone.

    A bittern makes no good hawk.
    Davies, Sc. of Folly, 1611, p. 145.

    A blackberry summer. D.
    A few fine days at the close of this [Sept.] or opening of the following month, when the fruit of the bramble ripens. This fruit is vulgarly known by the name of “Bramblekite” in the county of Durham. In that district of Yorkshire bordering upon Leeds they are called “blacklegs.”—D.

    A black Christmas makes a fat churchyard. D.
    This is, in effect, the same as A green winter makes, &c., as a black Christmas is of course a Christmas without snow.

    A black hen lays a white egg. R. 1670.

    A black man is a jewel in a fair woman’s eye.

    A black plum is as sweet as a white. CL.

    A black sheep is a biting beast.

  • Sheep haue eate vp our medows & our downes,
  • Our corne, our wood, whole villages & townes,
  • Yea, they haue eate vp many wealthy men,
  • Besides widowes and orphane childeren.
  • Besides our statutes and our iron lawes,
  • Which they haue swallowed down into their maws.
  • Till now I thought the prouerbe did but iest,
  • Which said a blacke sheepe was a biting beast.
  • Bastard’s Chrestoleros, 1598, p. 90.
  • Bastard merely echoes the popular panic, which then prevailed respecting the multiplication of sheep, and its disastrous consequences to us. In Lambeth Library is a prose tract of twelve leaves only, called Certayne Causes, gathered together, wherein is shewed the Decaye of England, onely by the great multytude of shepe.

    A black shoe makes a merry heart.

    A black woman hath turpentine in her.

    A blind bargain.
    Merie Tales of the Mad Men of Gottam, 1630, No. 13.

    A blind man will not thank you for a looking glass.

    A blind man would be glad to see it.

    A blot is not a blot, unless it be hit.

    A blow with a reed makes a noise, but hurts not.

    A blue coat without a badge.
    Shakespeare’s Othello, edit. 1622, The Stationer to the Reader. “To set forth a booke without an Epistle were like to the old English prouerbe, A blew coat without a badge.”

    A blue streak in a cloudy sky.

    A blunt wedge will sometimes do what a sharp axe will not.

    A blustering night, a fair day. H.

    A blythe heart makes a blooming visage.

    A boaster and a liar are cousin-germans.

    A boisterous horse must have a boisterous bridle. CL.

    A bold fellow is the jest of wise men and the idol of fools.

    A book that remains shut is but a block.

    A bow long bent at length must wax weak. C. AND H.
    L’Areo si rompe, se stá troppo teso. Ital. Areus nimis intensus rumpitur. Things are not to be strained beyond their tonus and strength. This may be applied both to the body and the mind: too much labour and study weakens and impairs both the one and the other.

  • Otia corpus alunt, animus quoque pascitur illis;
  • Immodicus contrà carpit utrumque labor.—RAY.
  • A brave retreat is a brave exploit.

    A bribe I know is a juggling knave.

    A bridle for the tongue is a necessary piece of furniture.

    A brinded pig will make a good brawn to breed on.

    A broad hat does not always cover a venerable head.

    A broken apothecary, a new doctor.

    A broken bag can hold no meal. B. OF M. R.
    Un sac percé ne peut tenir le grain. Fr. Sacco rotto nou tien miglio. Ital. Millet being one of the least of grains.—RAY.

    A broken friendship may be soldered, but will never be sound.

    A broken sleeve holdeth the arm back. HE.

    A Bromwich throstle.
    A person who sings out of tune, alias a donkey. Warwickshire and Staffordshire.

    A brown study.
    It seemes to me (said she [Lucilla]), that you are in some brown study, what coulours you might best weare for your Lady.—Lyly’s Euph. 1579, repr. Arber, p. 80.

  • A brown wench in face
  • shews that nature gives her grace. W.
  • A bubble.
    A milch-cow or dupe. To bubble is to squeeze money out of a person. It is used of women of bad character and of sharpers of the other sex. See the Ape-Gentle Woman, &c., 1675, p. 4.
    Johnson quotes the word, and cites passages from Butler and Dryden for its use in this sense.

    A Burford bait.
    A bait to overcharge the stomach. The place intended is Burford in Oxfordshire.

    A burthen of one’s own choice is not felt.

    A bushel [or coome] of March dust is worth a king’s ransom. CL.
    The frosts of January and February pulverise the soil, and the wind in March is calculated so to dry it as to allow the farmer to go about his work well. See a leading article in the Daily News, April 3, 1875.

    A butter-fingers.
    Said of a clumsy person, who cannot hold an object in his hand without dropping it. Dr. Furnivall appears to think that the phrase applies only to a player at cricket, who lets the ball slip through his hands.

    A calf’s head will feast a hunter and his hounds.

  • A calm June
  • puts the farmer in tune.
  • A camel in Media dances in a little cab.

    A candle lights others and consumes itself.

    A Candlemas Eve wind.
    See Notes and Queries, 2nd S., v. 391.

    A Canterbury gallop.
    In horsemanship, the hard gallop of an ambling horse; probably derived from the monks riding to Canterbury upon ambling horses.—Rider’s Dictionary, quoted by Brady (Varieties of Literature, 1826). It seems to have been also known as a Canterbury rack. See Davis, Suppl. Glossary, 1881, p. 102.

    A Canterbury story.
    A long yarn; supposed to be derived from Chaucer’s famous series of Tales.

    A carper can cavil at anything.

    A carrion kite will never be a good hawk. C.
    On ne sauroit faire d’une buse un epervier. Fr.

    A cask and an ill custom must be broken. H.

    A castle that speaketh, and a woman that will hear, they will be gotten both.
    Warkworth’s Chronicle, Camd. Soc., p. 27. “There is ane auld prouerb that says, that ane herand damysele, and ane spekand castel, sal neuyr end with honour,” for the damysele that heris and giffis eyris to the amourus persuasions of desolut [y]ong men, sal be eysile persuadit to brac hyr chaistite, siklik ane spekand castel, that is to saye, quhen the captan or sodiours of ane castel vsis familiar speche and comonyng vitht there enemeis, that castel sal be eysylie conquest, be rason that familiarite and spech betuix enemeis generis trafon.”—The Complaint of Scotland (1549), ed. 1801, p. 167.
    Manningham, in his Diary, March, 1602–3, gives on the authority of “my cosen,” the following proverbial lines:—

  • “Femme que dona s’abandona,
  • Femme que prende se vende,
  • Femme que regarde son honneur
  • Non veult prendre ne donner.”
  • A cat has nine lives, and a woman has nine cats’ lives. F.
    In Fletcher’s Knight of Malta, iv. 2, Gomera says to Mountserrat, “If thou ’scap’st, thou hast cat’s luck”; but there would be no particular difficulty in multiplying illustrations. But the latter part seems to be a later improvement. In Middleton’s Blurt Master Constable, 1602 (Dyce’s Middleton, i. 287), we have: “They have nine lives a piece, like a woman.” The Italians used to say that such an one “had seven spirits, like a cat.”

    A cat may look on a king. HE.
    But in Cornwall they say, A cat may look at a king, if he carries his eyes about him. The first portion, which is the usual extent of the proverb, is the title of a pamphlet published in 1652.

    A cat’s walk: a little way and back. Cornw.

    A cheerful look makes a dish a feast. H.

    A cherry year, a merry year; a plum year, a dumb year.
    A rhyme without reason, as far as I can see.—RAY.

    A Chichester lobster, a Selsey cockle, an Arundel mullet, a Pulborough eel, an Amberley trout, a Rye herring, a Bourn wheat-ear. Sussex.
    All the best of their kind, understand it of those that are taken in this country.—R. Walton’s Angler, 1653, ch. 8. ed. 1844, p. 157. Knox’s Ornithological Rambles in Sussex, 1849, p. 47.

    A child is better unborn than untaught.
    Interlude of Thersites, about 1550, Hazlitt’s Dodsley, i. 427.

  • “Early sharpe, that will be thorne,
  • Soone yll that wyll be naught,
  • To be naught, better vnborne,
  • Better unfed, then naughtily taught.”
  • Interlude of Nice Wanton, 1560, in Hazlitt’s Dodsley, ii. 161.
  • A child may have too much of his mother’s blessing.
    Mothers are oftentimes too tender and fond of their children, who are ruined and spoiled by their cockering and indulgence.—RAY.

    A child’s birds and a boy’s wife are well used.

    A chip of the old block.
    Patris est filius. He is his father’s own son; taken always in an ill sense. “La scheggia vien dal legno.” Ital.—R. See The Brothers of the Blade, 1641, p. 2, and Father’s own son.

    A city nightcap.
    See the play by Davenport so called, written before 1624, and printed in Hazlitt’s Dodsley, xiii. The phrase appears to have been understood in the sense of cuckoldom.

    A clean fast is better than a dirty breakfast. Irish.

    A clean hand wants no washing.

    A clear conscience can bear any trouble.

    A clear conscience is a sure card.

    A close mouth catcheth no flies. C.
    New Help to Disc. 135. This reminds us of the celebrated, but probably apocryphal story about the Duke of Gloucester and Colonel Higgins. Bocca trinciata mosca non ci entra. Ital.—En boca cerrada no entra mosca? Span. The French say, A goupil endormi rien ne tombe en le geule.”—RAY.

    A cock and a bull story.
    Comp. A Tale of a cock and a bull.

    A Coggleshall job.

  • A cold April
  • is the poor man’s fill.
  • A cold April
  • the barn will fill.
  • A cold May and a windy
  • makes a barn full and a findy.
  • A colewort twice sodden [boiled].
    This expression occurs in Lyly’s Euphues and his England, 1580, in the sense of a twice-told tale:—“But growing to questioning one with another, they fell to the whole discourse of Philautus loue, who left out nothing that before I put in, whiche I must omitte, least I set before you ‘Colewortes twise sodden.’” The second or sub-title of Coriat’s Crambe, 1611, is his Colworte twise Sodden. The book was a reprint (with additions) of the verses attached to his Crudities.

    A collier’s cow and an alewife’s sow are always well fed.
    Others say, A poor man’s cow, and then the reason is evident; why a collier’s is not so clear.—RAY.

    A comedy of errors.
    This phrase seems to have acquired a proverbial import. It is so used in the Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary, 1604.

    A common blot is held no stain.

    A common jeerer may have wit but not wisdom.

    A common servant is no man’s servant. B. OF M. R.

    A conscience as large as a shipman’s hose. CL.

    A constant guest is never welcome.

    A contented mind is a continual feast.

    A cool mouth and warm feet live long. H.

    A cool thousand.
    Letter of 1790 from J. Boswell to Bennett Langton.

    A Cornish hug.
    The Cornish are masters of the art of wrestling. Their hug is a cunning close with their fellow combatants, the fruit whereof is his fair fall, or foil, at the least.—R. The best authority on the subject of the Inn Play is the book by Sir T. Parkyns of Bunny.

    A cough will stick longer by a horse than a peck of oats. F.

    A countryman may be as warm in kersey as a king in velvet.

    A courageous foe is better than a cowardly friend.

    A courtesy much entreated is half recompensed.

    A covetous man does nothing that he should till he dies.

    A covetous man is good to none, but worst to himself.

    A covetous man is like a dog in a wheel, that roasts meat for others.
    New Help to Disc. 134.

    A covetous man makes a halfpenny of a farthing, and a liberal man makes sixpence of it.

    A coward’s fear may make a coward valiant.

  • A cow in a clout
  • is soon out. Irish.
  • i.e., The price of a cow wrapped, as is usual, in a rag, is easily lost or spent.—Mr. Hardman in Notes and Queries.

    A cow (or a cripple) may catch a hare.

  • A cracked bell
  • can never sound well.
  • A crafty fellow never has any peace.

    A crafty knave needs no broker.
    A Knack to Know a Knave, 1594, Hazlitt’s Dodsley, vi. 529. John Taylor’s Works, 1630, ii. 77. Harry White his Humour, by M. Parker (circa 1640); apud Halliwell, Literature of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries Illustrated, 1851; compare Two False Knaves, &c.

    A creaking door hangs long on its hinges.
    i.e., People of delicate constitutions, who are always ailing and complaining, often live longer than those who appear more robust. My uncle Reynell was so delicate a child, that he could hardly be reared, yet he lived to 94, partly by taking great care of himself.

    A crooked log makes a straight fire. H.

    A crooked stick will have a crooked shadow.

    A crowd is not company.

    A crown in pocket doth you more credit than an angel spent.

    A Croydon Coranto.
    In The Cold Yeare, 1614, A Deepe Snow, &c., 1615, 4to, it is said in the account of Grim the collier’s runaway team: “And beeing out of their Croydon Coranto, vp Hill, and downe Dale, they fly, as if wild fire had been tyed to their tayles.”

    A cuckold is a good man’s fellow.
    The Contented Cuckold, a ballad, by T. R. [circa 1670.] The primary idea associated with horns was, like that attached to wings, power or vigour, and hence archæologically we gain the accessories to the graphic impersonations of some of the Egyptian and Greek divinities. The use of the term in a contemptuous and modern sense is, however, as shown in my Faiths and Folklore, 1905, in v. of considerable antiquity; but in its vulgar bye-meaning as the masculine organ of reproduction Horn still preserves its original force.

    A cuckoo for one!
    An expression of contempt and derision. So, in the interlude of the World and the Child (Dodsley’s O.P., by Hazlitt, i. 264) Folly says, “A cuckoo for conscience.”

    A cumbersome cur in company is hated for his miscarriage.

  • A curlew lean or a curlew fat
  • carries twelve pence on her back. Line.
  • A curst dog must be tied short. C.

    A curtain lecture.
    Part of the title of a volume printed in 1637. See Handb. of E. Engl. Lit. Art. WOMEN. “Such an one as a wife rends her husband, when she chides him in bed.”—RAY. Jerrold’s Caudle Lectures have the same import. Caudle is merely the corruption of cordial, a mixture variously compounded, and frequently taken in bed.

    A cur will bite before he bark. C.

    A customary railer is the devil’s bagpipe, which the world danceth after.

    A custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance.
    Perhaps this is no more than a citation from Shakespeare.

    A cutpurse is a sure trade, for he hath ready money when his work is done.

    A dancer was never a good scholar, because he guides his feet (like the peacock) better than a pen. W.

    A danger foreseen is half avoided.

    A dark horse.
    A reticent and mysterious person.

    A day after the fair, like Tom Long the carrier. CL.
    John Heywood’s Works, 1562, cap. 8; Tho. Heywood’s If you know not me, &c., 1605: Tarlton’s Jests, 1638 (Old Eng. Jest Books, ii. 243). The second part seems an after-growth. The first one is still applied to any one too late.

    A day in harvest.
    In the sense of a grudge. Simon Lord Lovat, writing in 1736 to his father-in-law John Campbell of Mamore, says: “—you know I owe that cowardly Menzies a day in harvest if I can and I neither forget nor forgive him.”

    A day to come shows longer than a year that’s gone.

    A dead bee maketh no honey. B. OF M. R.

    A dead dog cannot bite.
    Damon and Pithias, 1571, Hazlitt’s Dodsley, iv.

  • A deadly disease,
  • neither physician nor physic can ease. B. OF M. R.
  • A dead woman will have four to carry her forth.

    A debauched son of a noble family is a foul stream from a clear spring.

    A deed well done, heart it whemeth.
    How the Goode Wif thaught hir Doughter, in my Rem. of the E. P. Poetr. of Engl. i.

    A deluge of words and a drop of sense.

    A devil’s sack.
    Ellis’s Original Letters, 3rd S., ii, 131. A phrase used in the sense of a marplot or a sieve.

    A diamond is valuable, though it lie on a dunghill.

    A diligent scholar, and the master’s paid. H.

    A disease known is half cured.

    A dish for a king.
    Killigrew’s Parson’s Wedding, p. 663 (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, xiv, 451). This play was written during the Commonwealth.

    A dish of dottrels. CL.

    A dishonest woman cannot be kept in, and an honest one will not.

    A dog hath a day. HE.
    The Essex folks add: “and a cat has two Sundays.” The following is from New Custome, 1573:
    “Well, if it chaunce that a dogge hath a daye.”

    A dog is made fat in two meals. New Forest.

    A dogmatical tone, a pragmatical pate.

    A dog of an old dog, a colt of a young horse.
    The Gallegos say, “A calf of a young cow, and a colt of an old mare.”

    A dog of wax.
    A phrase, perhaps proverbial, employed in a somewhat uncertain interjectional sense by G. Wilkins (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, ix. 485).

    A dog’s life, hunger and ease.

    A dog’s nose and a maid’s knees are always cold.

    A dog will bark ere he bite. HE.
    Camden gives an inferior version: a dog will bite before he bark.

    A dog will not cry if you beat him with a bone.

    A Dover shark and a Deal savage.

    A dram of the bottle.
    This is the seaman’s phrase for a draught of brandy, wine or strong waters.—R.

    A drink is shorter than a tale.

    A drowning man will catch at a rush. F.

    A drunkard’s purse is a bottle. H.

    A drunken man never takes harm.
    This is still received as a true aphorism: “but there is an oulde Prouerbe, and now confirmed true, a Druncken man neuer takes harme.”—The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinarie, &c., 1604, repr. 1841, p. 26.

    A drunken night makes a cloudy morning.

    A Drury Lane vestal.

    A dry cough is the trumpeter of death.

    A dry summer never begs its bread. Cornw.
    Or, ne’er made a dear peck.

    A duck will not always dabble in the same gutter.

    A dull ass near home needs no spur.