Home  »  English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases  »  A man may be to A small spark

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

A man may be to A small spark

A man may be an artist, though he have not his tools about him.

A man may bear till his back break. CL.
If people find him patient, they’ll be sure to load him.—RAY.

A man may be good in the camp, yet bad in the church.

A man may be strong, and yet not mow well.

A man may be young in years, yet old in hours.

A man may bring his horse to the water, but he will choose whether he will drink.
A man maie well bring a horse to water, but he can not make him drinke without he will.—HEYWOOD, 1562. Philosopher’s Banqvet (Certayne conceyts and Ieasts), 1614. It is, I should think, falsely ascribed there to Q. Elizabeth. “On ne fait boire à l’asne quand il ne veut. Fr. And, On a beau mener le bœuf a l’eau s’il n’a soif. Fr.

A man may buy gold too dear. HE.

A man may come soon enough to an ill bargain. CL.

A man may come to market though he don’t buy oysters.

A man may have a just esteem for himself without being proud.

A man may hold his tongue in an ill time.
Amyclas silentium perdidit. It is a known story, that the Amycleans having been often frightened and disquieted with vain reports of the enemy’s coming, made a law that no man should bring or tell any such news. Whereupon it happened, that, when the enemies did come indeed, they were surprised and taken. There is a time to speak as well as to be silent.—RAY. See Mery Tales and Quick Answeres, ed. Berthelet, No. 35.

A man may know by the market-folks how the market rules. CL.

A man may live upon little, but he cannot live upon nothing.

A man may lose his goods for want of demanding them. R.
Optima nomina non appellando flunt mala.—RAY. This is a quasi-legal maxim.

A man may love his house well, though he ride not on the ridge. HE.
A man may love his children and relations well, and yet not cocker them, or be foolishly fond and indulgent to them.—RAY.

  • A man may not wive,
  • and also thrive,
  • and all in a year.
  • Towneley Mysteries, p. 86.

    A man may provoke his own dog to bite him.
    New Help to Disc., 1721, p. 134.

    A man may say even his Pater-noster out of time.

    A man must go old to the court, and young to a cloister, that would go thence to heaven.

    A man must plough with such oxen as he hath.

    A man must sell his ware at the rates of the market.

    A man need not look in your mouth to see how old you are.
    Facies tua computat annos.—R.

    A man never surfeits of too much honesty.

    A man of courage never wants weapons.

  • A man of gladness
  • seldom falls into madness.
  • A man of many trades begs his bread on Sundays.

    A man of strange kidney.

  • A man of words, and not of deeds,
  • is like a garden full of weeds.
  • Halliwell (Nurs. Rh. of Engl. 6th edit., 71) has a tag, which seems to have been added afterwards:—
  • For when the weeds begin to grow,
  • Then doth the garden overflow.
  • The couplet itself occurs in Harl. MS. 1927.

    A man or a mouse.
    Appius and Virginia, 1575, Dodsley, xii. 356. i.e., one of two things, and a chance which.

    A man’s country is where he does well. CL.
    Ilia mihi patria est, ubi pascor, non ubi nascor.—Leonine Verse.

    A man’s folly ought to be his greatest secret.

    A man’s gift makes room for him.

    A man shall as soon break his neck as his fast. HE.

    A man should blame or commend, as he finds.
    Pecock’s Repressor, p. 48. He calls it “the olde wijs proverbe.”

    A man’s house is his castle. CL.
    This is a kind of law proverb; Jura publica favent privato domui. The Portuguese say, Cada hum em sua casa e rey.—RAY. The saying seems to be quoted in The Merry Devil of Edmonton, 1608 (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, x. 258–9); but the old copies read: “My horse, my castell——.”

    A man’s load is his coracle.
    “Llwyth gwr ei gorwg”—Welsh saying. W. Barnes, Notes on Ancient Britain, 1858, p. 23.

    A man surprised is half beaten.

    A man’s wealth is his enemy.

    A man that keeps riches, and enjoys them not, is like an ass that carries gold and eats thistles.

    A man that will fight may find a cudgel in every hedge. CL.

    A man under no restraint is a bear without a ring.

    A man were better be half blind than have both his eyes out.
    Mas vale tuerto que ciego. Span.—RAY.

    A man will not lose a hog for a half pennyworth of tar. C.
    A hog was a Lincolnshire provincialism for a sheep.

    A man with a running head never wants wherewith to trouble himself.

    A man without money is a bow without an arrow.

  • A man without reason
  • is a beast in season.
  • A March wisher [whisker—F.]
  • is never a good fisher.
  • A mare’s shoe and a horse’s shoe are both alike.

    A mariner must have his eye upon rocks and sands, as well as upon the north star.

    A married man turns his staff into a stake. H.

    A match, quoth John, when he kissed his dame.

  • A match, quoth Hatch,
  • when he got his wife by the breech.
  • A May flood
  • never did good. CL.
  • A merchant’s finger.
    “A Player is like to a Marchants finger, that stands sometime for a thousand, sometime for a cypher.”—Gosson’s Playes confuted in five Actions, about 1580, dedic.

    A merchant’s happiness hangs upon chance, winds, and waves.

    A merchant that gains not, loseth. H.

    A mere scholar is a mere ass. CL.

    A merry companion is music in a journey.

    A merry companion on the road is as good as a nag.
    Compagno allegro per cammino, te serve per roncino. Ital.—RAY.

  • A Michaelmas rot
  • comes ne’er in the pot.
  • A mill-house story.
    A piece of dubious gossip. The saying looks back to the time, when the goodwife or her daughter was obliged to take the corn to the next mill to be ground, and when visitors to the miller for this purpose had to wait their turn.

    A miss is as good as a mile.
    “An hair’s breadth, fixed by a divine finger shall prove as effectual a separation from danger as a mile’s distance.”

    A misty morning may have a fine day.

    A Mitcham whisper.
    A loud shout. Surrey.

    A mole wants no lanthorn.

    A moneyless man goes fast through the market.

    A moonshine banquet.
    A Barmecide feast. See Gascoigne’s Poems, edit. Hazlitt, i. 481.

    A morning sun, a wine-bred child, and a Latin-bred woman, seldom end well. H.

    A morsel eaten gains no friend.
    Bocado comido no gana amigo. Span.—R.

    A mote may choke a man. CL.

    A mountain and a river are good neighbours. H.

    A mouse in time may bite in two a cable. H.

    A muffled cat is no good mouser.
    A gloved cat can catch no mice.—B. of M. R., 1629.
    Gatta guantata non piglia mai sorice. Ital. A gloved cat, &c. The Portuguese say, Gato meador nunca bom murador: A mewing cat, &c.—RAY.

    A myrtle among thorns is a myrtle still.

    A new moon soon seen is long thought of.

    A nine days’ wonder.
    Title of a tract printed in 1600. See Handbook of E. E. Lit., art. KEMPE.

    A noble house-keeper needs no doors.

    A noble plant suits not a stubborn ground. H.

    A nod for a wise man, and a rod for a fool.
    Equivalent to verbum sapienti, or, as we usually say, verbum sap.

    A nod from a lord is a breakfast for a fool.

    A nod of an honest man is enough.

    A Norfolk dumpling.
    A Shrove Tvesday Banqvet, 1641.

    A northern air / brings weather fair. D.

    A northern bar / brings drought from far.
    A bar is a mist or fog.

    A nose of wax.
    A tool, anything readily turnable to a purpose. Sir John Bramston, in his Autobiography, p. 103, speaks of the judges “makeinge a nose of wax of the law,” during the Civil War.

    A Pancridge [Pancras] parson.
    Who married couples and asked no questions. Field’s A Woman’s a Weathercock, 1612, repr. p. 31. Pancridge was a form commonly used within living memory. In Totenham Court, by T. Nabbes, 1638, sign. K 4, there is a reference to this:
    Keeper.Why then to Pancras: each with his lov’d consort;
    And make it Holiday at Totenham Court.

    A Paternoster while.
    In a very short time. Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner, i. 74 (in a letter of 1448.)

  • A pear must be eaten to the day:
  • if you don’t eat it then, throw it away.
  • This is only true of soft-fleshed fruit.

    A pear year, a dear year.

    A pebble and a diamond are alike to a blind man.

  • A peck of March dust, and a shower in May
  • makes the corn green, and the fields gay.
  • A penny boy.
    A hireling, a fellow ready to run errands for any one. “To turne the Cat in the panne, and to be a hirelyng, or a penny boy for any particuler person, to have clientes in matters of Parliament, is token of too much vilitie.”—Acc. of the Quarrel between Hall and Mallerie in 1575–6, repr. of ed. 1580, in Misc. Ant. Angl., 1816, p. 94.

    A penny for your thought. HE.
    This is also part of the title of a poem licensed on the 4th February, 1631–2. See Arber’s Transcript, iv. 237.

    A penny more buys the whistle.

    A penny purse.
    A mean person. Paston Letters, iii. 83. In a letter of 1473.

    A penny saved is a penny got.
    Spectator, No. 2.

    A pennyworth of love is worth a pound of law.

    A penny well spent is sometimes better than a penny ill spared.
    Walker’s Parœm., 1672, p. 32.

    A pennyworth of ease is worth a penny.

    A per se. CHAUCER.
    This phrase is equivalent to paragon, and signifies a person whose qualifications are complete. It is, of course, of occurrence in our old writers. In A Bulk of Godlie Psalmes and Spirituall Sangis, 1578, it is spelt, oddly enough, A per C, as if the author (or printer) had not been quite clear as to the purport of the expression. In the early Hornbooks capital A precedes a b c, and stands per se or by itself.

    A petitioner at court that spares his purse angles without a bait.

    A pick-a-pack. FLORIO.
    Corrupted into pick-a-back. In the old ballad of the Coaches’ Overthrow (circa 1610) we find pick-pack in the same sense (Collier’s Roxb. Ball. 294). In the Dialect of Leeds, 1862, p. 237, appears a closer approximation to the old form, viz., A-pickpack.

  • This Man of Men is Mettle to the Back,
  • Knows how to carry Gold a-Pick-a-Pack.
  • Vade Mecum for Malt-worms, 1720, p. 11.
  • A pickthank, a picklock, both are alike evil:
  • the difference is, this trots, that ambles to the devil.
  • See Peck’s Desider. Curiosa, ed. 1779, p. 398.

    A piece of a kid is worth two of a cat. HE.

    A pig of my own sow. HE.

  • “Old Strowd.Hast thou any money about thee, Tom?
  • Y. Str.An hundred angels and a better penny,
  • Pigs of your own sow, father.”
  • Day’s Blind Beggar of Bednal Green, 1659.
  • A pig of the worse pannier. HE.

    A pigeon’s pair.
    Where people have two children, one of either sex.

    A pin a day is a groat a year.

    A pissing while.
    See Gammer Gurton’s Needle, act 4, sc. 1, and the Editor’s note. It is a saying used by Shakespeare, Jonson, &c. It stands for a very short time, as not even a p—g while.

    A place at court is a continual bribe.

    A plaster is but small amends for a broken head.

    A Plymouth cloak.
    That is, a cane, or staff; whereof this is the occasion: Many a man of good extraction, coming home from far voyages, may chance to land here, and, being out of sorts, is unable, for the present time and place, to recruit himself with clothes. Here (if not friendly provided) they make the next wood their draper’s shop, where a staff cut out serves them for a covering. For we use, when we walk in cuerpo, to carry a staff in our hands, but none when in a cloak. When this proverb was introduced, great coats were not worn.—RAY. The phrase occurs in Massinger’s New Way to Pay Old Debts, 1633, i., 1.

    A point next the wrist.

    A poor beauty finds more lovers than husbands. H.

    A poor dog that is not worth the whistling. C.
    Private Correspondence of Jane Lady Cornwallis—Sir T. Meautis to Lady Bacon (April, 1626). “’Tis an ill dog, &c.”

    A poor dry thing, let it go! NEW FOREST.
    Sour grapes.

    A poor man wants some things, a covetous man all things.

    A poor man’s cow dies, a rich man’s child. H.

    A poor man’s debt makes a great noise.

    A poor man’s table is soon spread.

    A poor spirit is poorer than a poor purse.

    A poor wedding is a prologue to misery.

  • A Pope’s Bull,
  • a dead man’s skull,
  • and a crooked trull,
  • are not all worth a fleece of wool.
  • Countrym. N. Commonw. 1647. “Do not well agree.”—Clarke’s Parœmiologia, 1639, p. 32.

    A pot that belongs to many, is ill stirred and worse boiled.

    A pound of care will not pay an ounce of debt. C.
    In Porter’s Two Angrie Women of Abingdon, 1599, edit. Dyce, p. 49, it is reversed—An ounce, &c. Cento carre di pensieri non pageranno un’ oncia di debito. Ital. Pesadumbres no pagan deudas. Span.—RAY.

    A pretty fellow to make an axle tree for a oven. Cheshire.

    A pretty kettle of fish!

    A pretty pig makes an ugly old sow.

    A prince wants a million, a beggar but a groat.

    A princely mind will undo a private family.

    A proud eye, an open purse, and a light wife, breeds mischief to the first, misery to the second, and horns to the third.

    A proud heart and a beggar’s purse were never loving companions.
    Countrym. N. C. 1647.

    A proud horse that will not bear his own provender. HE.

    A proud look makes foul work in a fine face.

    A proud man hath many crosses.

    A proud mind and a beggar’s purse goeth together. C.

    A proud mind and a poor purse are ill met.

    A puff of wind and popular praise weigh alike.
    A paraphrase of the well-known aura popularis.

  • A pullet in the pen,
  • is worth an hundred in the fen.
  • This seems to be a varia lectio of A bird in the hand, &c.

    A purse without money is but a piece of leather.

    A quartan ague kills old men, and heals young.

    A quean hath ever a cloak for the rain.
    Davies Sc. of Folly (1611), p. 117.

    A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder.

    A ragged colt may make a good horse.
    ——of a ragged colt there cometh a good horse.—HEYWOOD.
    The Irish have it, a ragetty colt, &c.
    An unhappy boy may make a good man. It is used sometimes to signify, that children which seem less handsome when young, do afterwards grow into shape and comeliness.—RAY.

  • A rainbow in the morn,
  • put your hook in the corn;
  • a rainbow at eve,
  • put your head in the sheave. Cornw.
  • This, in one form or another, is a belief diffused over the whole country. Forby, in his Vocabulary of East Anglia, 416, has—
  • If the rainbow comes at night,
  • The rain has gone quite.
  • A rascal grown rich has lost all his kindred.

    A ready carriage to the rope.
    Marriage of Wit and Wisdom (circa 1570), p. 20.

    A ready way to lose your friend is to lend him money.

    A reconciled friend is a double enemy.

  • A red beard and a black head,
  • catch him with a good trick, and take him dead.
  • A red gay May best in any year:
  • February full of snow is to the ground most dear:
  • a whistling March (that makes the Plough Man blithe):
  • and moisty April that fits him for the scythe. W.
  • A red-headed man will make a good stallion.

    A regular Sherborne.
    A gossip. In Polperro, near West Loo, Cornwall, there was long no local newspaper or means of obtaining news, except the Sherborne Mercury, published weekly in folio, and the messengers, who distributed the papers, riding on their saddlebags on horseback, were said “to ride Sherborne.” See Couch’s History of Polperro, 1871, p. 123–4.

    A resty horse must have a sharp spur. R. 1670.

    A rich friend is a treasure.

    A rich man’s purse hangs him oftentimes. CL.

    A rich rogue; two shirts and a rag.

    A right easterly wind / is very unkind.

    A right Englishman knows not when a thing is well.

    A rogue in grain / is a rogue amain.

    A rogue’s wardrobe is harbour for a louse.

    A Roland for an Oliver.
    Walker’s Parœm. 1672, p. 29. That is, Quid pro quo, to be even with one. A Rowland for an Oliver is the first title of a Reply to Edward Oliver’s Sermon before Sir Humphrey Edwin, 4o, 1699. Je lui baillerai Guy contre Robert. Fr. Render pane per focácci. Ital.

    A rolling stone will gather no moss. CL.

  • The Proverb says, and who’d a Proverb cross,
  • That Stones, when rolling, gather little moss.
  • Vade Mecum for Malt-Worms, 1720, p. 6 (Part 2).
  • Saxum volutum non obducitur musco. [Greek]. Pietra mossa non fa muschio. Ital. Or, Pietra che rotola non piglia ruggine. La pierre souvent remuée n’amasse pas volontiers mousse. Fr. To which is parallel that of Quintus Fabius. Planta quæ sæpius transfertur non coalescit. A plant often removed cannot thrive.—R.

    A rope and butter; if one slip, t’other will hold.

    A rotten cane abides no handling.

    A rouk-town’s seldom a good housewife at home.
    This is a Yorkshire proverb. A rouk-town is a gossiping housewife, who loves to go from house to house.—RAY.

    A Royston horse and a Cambridge master of arts will give way to nobody. FULLER (1662).
    Fuller (the historian) prints, evidently by an error, Boresten, and in Fuller’s Gnomologia, 1732, it is converted into Burston. See N. and Q., 1st S. vi. 303, and 2nd S. xi. 351.

    A rugged stone grows smooth from hand to hand. H.

    A running horse, an open grave. B. OF M. R.

  • A Saturday moon,
  • if it comes once in seven years, comes too soon.
  • Forty’s Vocab. of East Anglia, 416.

  • A Saturday’s change brings the boat to the door,
  • but a Sunday’s change brings it upon the ’mid-floor. D.
  • A Saturday’s moon / always comes too soon.

    A scald head is soon broken. HE.
    In a MS. of 15th century quoted in Retrosp. Review, 3rd S., ii. 309, occurs a different version: A scallyd mannys hed ys good to be broke.

    A scald horse for a scabbed squire. HE.
    New Custome, 1573. “Dignum patellâ operculum.”
    —R. Camden (Remaines, ed. 1614, p. 303) reverses the order of the phrase.

    A scalded cat fears cold water.

    A Scarborough warning. HE. and C.
    No warning at all, but a sudden surprise when a mischief is felt before it is suspected. This proverb takes its original from Thomas Stafford, who, in the reign of Queen Mary, anno 1557, with a small company, seized on Scarborough Castle (utterly destitute of provision for resistance) before the townsmen had the least notice of his approach. However, within six days, by the industry of the Earl of Westmoreland, he was taken, brought to London, beheaded, &c.—RAY. See John Chamberlain’s Letters, p. 74 (28 May, 1600). Tusser’s Husbandry, ed. 1604, sign. B ii.

    A sceptre is one thing, and a ladle another. H.

  • Alia res sceptrum,
  • Alia plectrum.—R.
  • A scholar may be gulled thrice; a soldier but once.

    A Scilly / ling is a dish for a king. Cornw.

    A scoff is the reward of bashfulness.

    A Scot on Scot’s bank.
    This may have suggested to the author of Rob Roy the famous passage: “my foot is on my native heath, and my name is Macgregor.”

    A Scotish man and a Newcastle grindstone travel all the world over. Northumberland.
    The Scots are great travellers into foreign parts; most for maintenance, many for accomplishments. And Newcastle grindstones, being the best of their kind, must needs be carried far and near.—R.

    A Scotish mist may wet an Englishman to the skin. CL.
    “We care not for a Scottish mist, though it wet vs to the skin.”—Pappe with an Hatchet (1589), p. 2. The same may be said, however, of a Cornish mist.

    A Scotish warming-pan.
    The story is well known of the gentleman travelling in Scotland who desiring to have his bed warmed, the servant maid doffs her clothes, and lays herself down in it a while. In Scotland, they had neither bellows, warming-pans, nor houses of office in Ray’s day.

    A seaman if he carries a mill stone will have a quail out of it.

    A Sedgely curse.
    Musarum Deliciæ, 1656, repr. 1817, p. 28. Comp. Nares’ Glossary, 1859, p. 777.

    A servant and a cock should be kept but a year.

    A servant is known by his master’s absence.

    A sharp stomach makes short devotion.

    A ship and a woman are ever repairing. H.

    A ship and a woman want always trimming.
    New Help to Dis. 1721.

    A ship of salt for you!
    Carew’s Survay of Cornwall, 1602; i.e., Begone, or be off.

    A Shireman. Essex.
    Said of anyone who shows by his dialect that he belongs to another country or rather not to East Anglia.

    A shive of my own loaf.

    A shoemaker’s son is a prince born.
    Deloney’s Gentle Craft, 1598, ed. 1627.

    A short cut.
    Said satirically of anyone expecting to save distance. No hay atajo sin toabajo.—Span.

    A short horse soon curried.
    Damon and Pithias, 1571, Dodsley’s O. P. i. 200, edit. 1825.

  • A shower in March,
  • another in May,
  • the third in April:
  • the fourth about the Lammas tide,
  • when corn begins to fill:
  • is well worth a plough of gold,
  • and all that longs theretill.
  • —Rum’s Little Dodeon, 1606, sign. C 2.

    A shrew is better than a sheep.
    Taylor’s Pastorall, 1621, Workes, 133. Compare, It is better to marry, &c.

    A shrew profitable may serve a man reasonable. C.

    A sick man is soon beaten, and a scald head is soon broken.
    Returne of M. Smythes Envoy (1540), in Hazlitt’s Fugitive Tracts, 1st Series.

    A silver key can open an iron lock.

    A silver new nothing to hang on your arm.
    A trifle given to a child or a mistress.

    A six weeks’ bird.
    i.e., A novice, a greenhorn. See account of the quarrel between Hall and Mallerie (1575–6), printed in 1580, and repr. in Misc. Antiq. Anglic., 1816.

    A skin-flint.
    The antiquity of certain proverbs is among the most striking singularities in the annals of the human mind. Abdalmalek, one of the Khaliffs of the race of Ommiades, was surnamed, by way of sarcasm, Raschal Hegiarah, that is, “the skinner of a flint”; and to this day we call an avaricious man a skin-flint.—Universal Magazine, 1796, quoted by Brady (Var. of Lit. 1826).

    A slanderer that is raised is evil to fell.
    How the Goode Wife, &c., in Hazlitt’s Pop. Poetry, i.

    A sleepy master makes his servant a lout. H.

    A sleeveless errand.
    The expression sleeveless is equally applied by early writers to a rhyme; but the original sense was doubtless connected with a coat. Dryden is said to have used the phrase in reference to Lord Buckhurst’s embassy to France, whither Charles II. sent him to get rid of him, as Nell Gwynne was then living with him as his mistress. Beloe (Aulus Gellius, ii. 85) is disposed to trace the idea to the partial or limited use of sleeves among the Romans.
    In John Heywood’s Workes, 1566, I find the following couplet:—

  • “And one morning timely he tooke in hande
  • To make to my house a sleeveless errande.”
  • The word is used by Bishop Hall in his Satires:
  • “Worse than the logogryphes of later times,
  • Or hundreth riddles shak’d to sleeveless rhymes.”
  • B. iv. Sat. 1.
  • In Whimsies: or a New Cast of Characters, 12mo, Lond. 1631, p. 83, speaking of “a Launderer,” the author says: “She is a notable, witty, tatling titmouse, and can make twentie sleevelesse errands in hope of a good turne.” See further in Halliwell’s Dictionary, p. 755.

    A slight gift, small thanks.

    A sluggard takes an hundred steps because he would not take one in due time.

    A slut is good enough to make a sloven porridge. CL.

    A small house has a wide throat. Lanc.

    A small hurt in the eye is a great one.

    A small matter hurts one that is sore.

    A small pack becomes a little pedlar. CL.
    “A litle Pedler, a litle Packe. Mea. It is good to spend according to our Reech. A petit mercir, petit panier.”—W.

    A small score will serve to pay a short reckoning.
    Countrym. New Commonw. 1647.

    A small sore wants not a great plaster.

    A small spark makes a great fire.