Home  »  English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases  »  You catch birds to You would spy

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

You catch birds to You would spy

You catch birds by laying salt on their tails. CL.
i.e., If you can. I once set out, I recollect, from Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, with a handful of salt on this sapient errand. My host had imposed successfully on a child’s credulity.

You come of good blood, and so does a black-pudding.

You cry hem! where there is no echo.

You cry out before you are hurt.
Anguilles de Melun, qui crient avant qu’on lea escorche. Cotgr.

You dance in a net, and think nobody sees you.

You dare as well take a bear by the tooth.

You dare as well take a dead man by the toe. CL.

You drink out of the broad end of the funnel, and hold the little one to me.

You drink vinegar when you have wine at your elbow.

You eat above the tongue, like a calf.

You eat and eat, but you do not drink to fill you.
That much drinking takes off the edge of the appetite, we see by experience in great drinkers, who for the most part do (as we say) but pingle at their meat, and eat little. Hippocrates observed, that [Greek]. A good hearty draught takes away hunger after long fasting sooner by far than eating would do. The reason whereof I conceive is, because that acid humour, which, by vellicating the membranes of the stomach, causes a sense of hunger, is by copious injection of drink very much diluted, and its acidity taken off. Dio ti guarda da mangiatore che non beve. Ital.—R.

You find fault with a fat goose.

You found it where the fireman found the tongs.

You gather a rod for your own back.
Tel porte le bâton dont à son regret le bat on. Fr. [Greek].—Hesiod. [Greek]. In tuum ipsius caput lunam deducis.—R.

You gazed at the moon and fell in the gutter.

You get as good as you bring.
The Italians say: Qual asino da in parete, tal riceve.

You give me Coloquintida (colocynth) for Herb-John. F.

You give me roast, and beat me with the spit. WALKER (1672).

You give notable counsel: but he’s a fool that takes it.

You give the wolf the wether to keep.
Ha dato la pecora in guardia al lupo. Ital. Ovem lupo commisisti.—R.

You go to a goat to buy wool.

You had as good eat your nails.

You had better be drunk than drowned. E. Anglia.
“It is better to exceed in wine now and then than to be constantly drinking largely of weak liquors.”—Forby.

You had your name for nothing.

You halt before you’re lame.

You harp on the string that giveth no melody. HE.*

You have a barn for all grain.

You have a handsome head of hair; pray give me a tester.
When spendthrifts come to borrow money, they commonly usher in their errand with some frivolous discourse in commendation of the person they would borrow of, or some of his parts or qualities; the same may be said of beggars.—R.

You have a head, and so has a pin.

You have a little wit, and it doth you good sometimes.

You have a tangled skein of it to wind of.

You have a wet eel by the tail. WALKER (1672).
“A slipper holde the taile is of an ele.”—Skelton’s Garland of Lawrell, 1523 (Works, 1843, i. 382).

You have always a ready mouth for a ripe cherry.

You have crept up his sleeve.

You have daily to do with the devil and pretend to be frightened at a mouse.

You have done your day’s work; you may unyoke.

You have eaten some Hull cheese.
i.e., are drunk. Hull is famous for strong ale.—R.

You have found what was never lost.

You have good manners, but never carry them about you.

You have got the measure of his foot.

You have lost your own stomach and found a dog’s.

You have made a hand of it like a foot.

You have made a long harvest for a little corn. HE.*

You have no goats, and yet you sell kids.

You have no more sheep to shear. Somerset.

You have no need to borrow confidence.

You have taken a bite out of your own arm.

You have wit enough to drown ships in.

You keep Easter when I keep Lent.

You know good manners, but you use but few.

You know not what ladle your dish may come under.

You know not where a blessing may light.

You lay it on with a trowel.

You licked not your lips since you lied last.

You look as if you were crow-trodden.

You look as though you would make the crow a pudding.
Or, go to fight the blacks, i.e., die. Andare a parlare a Pelato. Ital.

You look for hot water under the ice.

You look like a runner, quoth the devil to the crab.

You love to make much of nought [yourself].

You make a muck-hill on my trencher, quoth the bride.
You carve me a great heap. I suppose some bride at first, thinking to speak elegantly and finely, might use that expression; and so it was taken up in drollery; or else it is only a droll, made to abuse country brides affecting fine language.

You make his nose warp.

You make me claw where it itcheth not. HE.*

You make the better side the worse. Somersetshire.

You may as soon / make a cloak for the moon. F.

You may as well sip up the Severn and swallow Malvern.
Or do any other impossibility.

You may as well tell me the moon is made of green cheese.

You may as well try to break up St. Beuno’s chest.
Said of any difficult enterprise; this is a Welsh proverb. See Pennant’s Tours in Wales, 1810, ii. 399. This chest was made of a solid piece of oak, and secured with three locks. Miss Costello’s North Wales, 1845, p. 155.

You may be a wise man, though you cannot make a watch.

You may be godly, but you’ll never be cleanly.

You may beat a horse till he be sad, and a cow till she be mad.

You may beat the de’il into your wife, but you’ll never bang him out again.

You may catch a hare with a tabor as soon. HE.
Perhaps this proverb arose from the satirical drawing of a hare playing on a tabor. It has been engraved from an early MS. as an illustration to some modern work. Heywood’s words are:

  • “And yet shall we catche a hare with a taber,
  • As soone as catche ought of them, and rather—”
  • You may change Norman for a worse horse.

    You may dance on the ropes without reading Euclid.

    You may either wink or nod at a blind horse.

    You may follow him long ere a shilling drop from him.

    You may gape long enough, ere a bird fall into your mouth. CL.

    You may go and shake your ears.
    Spoken to one who has lost his money.—R.

    You may if you list; but do if you dare.

    You may keep wool till it is dirt, and flax till it is silk.

    You may know by a handful the whole sack.

    You may know by a penny how a shilling spends.

    You may know the horse by the harness. R. (1670).

    You may love your neighbour, and yet not hold his stirrup.

    You may make as good music on a wheelbarrow.

    You may tell an idle fellow if you but see him at dinner.

    You may truss up all his wit in an eggshell.

    You may trust him with untold gold. WALKER (1672).

    You may wink and choose.

    You measure every one’s corn by your own bushel.
    Tu misuri gli altri col tuo possetto. Ital.—R.

    You mend as the fletcher mends his bolt. HE.*

    You might as well try to bore a hole through Beacon-Hill.
    In Yorkshire; this has been accomplished many years ago; see N. and Q., 1st S., xi. p. 223.

    You might be a constable for your wit.
    Constables, from Dogberry downward, have not been famous in this respect. One of Glapthorne’s plays is called Wit in a Constable.

    You might have gone farther and fared worse. HE.

    You might ride to Brentford on it.
    Said contemptuously of a knife with a blunt, turned edge, in which a similitude is seen (by the imaginative) to the back of a raw-boned hack.

    You must ask your neighbours if you shall live in peace.

    You must be content sometimes with rough roads.

  • You must do as they do at Hoo:
  • what you can’t do in one day, you must do in two. East Anglia.
  • You must drink another yard of pudding first. E. Anglia.
    “You must grow older.”—Forby.

    You must drink as much after an egg as after an ox.

    You must go into the country to hear what news at London.

    You must go to Old Weston. Huntingdonshire.
    See N. and Q., 1st S., iii. 449.

    You must hunt squirrels and make no noise. E. Anglia.
    “If you wish to succeed in an inquiry, you must go quietly about it.”—Forby.

    You must kiss the hare’s foot or the cook.
    Spoken to one that comes so late that he hath lost his dinner or supper. Why the hare’s foot must be kissed, I know not; why the cook should be kissed there is some reason, to get some victuals of her.—R. Health to the Gentlemanly Profession of Seruing-men, by J. M., 1598, repr. 112. Llamar a uno debaxo de la mesa. Span.

    You must look for grass on the top of the oak tree.
    Because the grass seldom springs well before the oak begins to put forth, as might have been observed the last year [1669?].—R.

    You must look where it is not, as well as where it is.

    You must lose a fly to catch a trout. H.

    You must not let your mousetrap smell of cheese.

    You must sell as markets go.

    You must spoil before you spin.

    You must take the fat with the lean.

    You must take the will for the deed.

    You need not be so crusty; you are not so hard-baked.

    You need not doubt; you are no doctor.

    You need not get a golden pen to write upon dirt.

    You never speak but your mouth opens.

    You put it together with a hot needle and burnt thread.

    You ride as if you went to fetch a midwife.

    You ride on a horse that was foaled of an acorn.
    i.e., the gallows.—R.

    You rose on your right side. HE.*
    It is said of one who gets up ill-tempered that he got out of bed the wrong side.

    You run, like Teague, before your errand.

    You run to work in haste, as if nine men held you. HE.

    You saddle to-day and ride out to-morrow.

    You say true: will you swallow my knife?

    You scatter meal and gather ashes.

    You see a break where the hedge is whole.

    You see no green cheese but your teeth must water. HE.

    You see what we must all come to, if we live.

    You seek a needle in a bottle of hay. CL.

    You set saffron and there came up wolfsbane.

    You shall have as much favour at Billingsgate for a box on the ear.

    You shall have that which the cat left in the malt-heap. CL.

    You shall have the basket.
    Said to the journeyman who is envied for pleasing his master.—R.

    You shall have the whetstone.

    You shall ride an inch behind the tail.

    You shew bread in one hand and a stone in the other.

    You sift night and day, and get nothing but bran.

    You sit upon thorns.

    You smile and bite.

    You speak as if you would creep into my mouth. HE.

    You speak in clusters; you were got in nutting.
    Falla com sete pedras na ma. Port.—R.

    You tell how many holes be in a scummer. CL.

    You tell your money over a gridiron.

    You to the cabbage and I to the beef.

    You two are finger and thumb.

    You want the thing you have. B. OF M. R.

    You want to taste the broth as soon as the meat is in.

    You wash out ink with ink.
    They say, however, that the bookbinders sometimes wash or boil out oil with oil; which seems not less extraordinary.

    You were better give the wool than the sheep. R.
    Meglio e dar la lana che la pecora. Ital.—R.

    You were born at Hogs-Norton. Oxfordshire.
    This is a village properly called Hoch-Norton, whose inhabitants (it seems formerly) were so rustical in their behaviour, that boorish and clownish people are said to be born there. But whatever the people were, the name was enough to occasion such a proverb.—R. But in the version of Don Quixote by J. Philips, folio, 1687, where the proverbs are Anglicised, we have: “I was neither born at Hoggs-Norton nor at Taunton Dean, that I should be such a clown.” In the Interlude of Youth (circa 1554), we have an amplified form, where Youth says scoffingly to Humility:

  • “Were thou born in Trumpington,
  • And brought up at Hoggesnorton?”
  • To be born in Trumpington was probably equivalent to saying one was a fool. Trumpington is in Cambridgeshire.

    You were bred in Brazen-nose College.
    A mere play on the name to signify a person of assurance.

    You will have the red cap. Somersetshire.
    Said to a marriage-maker.—R.

    You will neither dance nor hold the candle.

    You will thieve in all haste. HE.*

    You would be over the stile ere you come at it. HE.

    You would fain leap over the stile before you come at the hedge.
    Gascoigne’s Works, by Hazlitt, i. 215.

    You would spy faults if your eyes were out.
    “It is your vice to spy into abuses,” as Shakespeare puts it.