Reference > Quotations > W.C. Hazlitt, comp. > English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases
W.C. Hazlitt, comp.  English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases.  1907.
At marriages  to  Better lost
At marriages and burials, friends and kinsfolk be known. B. OF M. R.  1803
At Michaelmas time, or a little before,
half an apple goes to the core;
at Christmas time, or a little after,
a crab in the hedge, and thanks to the grafter.
At my tongue’s end,
  Harvey’s New Letter of Notable Contents, 1593, repr. 14. Another form is, On the tip of one’s tongue.
At Nevermass.
  i.e., never. Interlude of Thersites, about 1550, ed. 1848, p. 85.
At New Year’s day, a cock’s stride;
at Candlemas, an hour wide. D.
  Alluding to the gradual lengthening of the day.
At New-Year’s tide,
the days lengthen a cock’s stride. North.
At one’s fingers’ ends.  1809
At open doors dogs come in.  1810
At sixes and sevens.
  Nares (Glossary, 1859, in v.) derives the expression, which is found in several old writers, from the game of backgammon, in which it is bad play to leave single men exposed to six and seven. Moor (Suffolk Words, p. 353) thinks this a “very fair” reason: I think it a very far-fetched one.
At St. Mathee shut up the bee.  1812
At the door of the fold, words; within the fold, an account.  1813
At the end I might put my winning in my eye and see never the worse. HE.  1814
At the end of the work you may judge of the workman.  1815
At the first hand buy, / at the third let lie.  1816
At the game’s end we shall see who gains. H.  1817
At the Westgate came Thornton in,
with a hop, a halfpenny, and a lambskin.
  “A Newcastle distich relating to Roger Thornton, a wealthy merchant, and a great benefactor to that town.”—Halliwell. The earliest allusion to the saying seems to be in the Thrie Tales of the Thrie Priests of Peblis, 1603, but written about or before 1492, where some curious details, perhaps biographical, are given. The proverb is misquoted in Killigrew’s Parson’s Wedding, 1664, p. 107.
Audi, vide, tace,
si tu vis vivere in pace.
  Gesta Romanorum, No. 45, ed. 1838.
Autumnal agues are long or mortal. H.  1820
Away goes the devil when he finds the door shut against him.  1821
Away the mare, quoth Walis.
  Doctour Double Ale (Hazlitt’s Pop. Poetry, iii. 317). In the Frere and the Boye (ibid. p. 62), it is said of the Boy—
        “Of no man he had no care,
But sung, hey howe, away the mare.”
This, from allusions in Skelton’s Elynour Rumming and Melismata, 1611, appears to have been a favourite air.
Away went Pilgarlick.
  In 1619 appeared a tract by J. T. of Westminster, doubtless John Taylor, called The Hunting of the Pox: A pleasant Discourse betweene the Authour and Pild-Garlike, which I describe from the Heber copy, but which I have not yet seen. I conclude Pild Garlick to stand here for a victim of the disease; but from an extract below the term seems to have subsequently acquired a secondary and less definite meaning.
  “There was one Master Rule rost a cooke that owed me almost a hundred pounds, who no sooner heard of this strict command against the selling of meat on Sundayes, but hee hanged a padlooke on the door, and away went Pilgarlicke.” Lamentable Complaints of Hop the Brewer, &c., 1641, sign. A 3 back.
Away with it, quoth Washington.
  This is the title of a broadside published in 1660, and Pepys mentions twice about that date a Purser named Washington. John Washington, grandfather of the first American President, and of the family of Washington seated at Sulgrave, co. Northampton, near Weedon, seems to be the person here referred to. There was another branch, however, residing at Washington Hall, co. Durham. There is extant a manuscript document of 42 Elizabeth by Robert Washington and Elizabeth his wife to Robert Spenser, executor of Sir John Spenser, for £20 of current English money, sealed with the Washington arms, argent, two bars gules, in chief three mullets of the same. The phrase appears to be referred to in Witts Recreations, 1640, repr. 217.
Awe makes Dun draw. CL.  1825
Aye be merry as be can,
for love ne’er delights in a sorrowful man.
Bacchus hath drowned more men than Neptune. HE.  1827
Bachelors’ wives and maids’ children be well taught.  1828
Back with that leg.  1829
Backare, quoth Mortimer to his sow.
  Heywood’s Prov. 1562; Ralph Royster Doister, 1566; Wager’s Repentance of Mary Magdalene, 1566. The word Backare has been adopted by Shakespeare (Taming of the Shrew, ii. 1). The meaning of the phrase seems to be, to back out of anything.
        “Shall I consume myselfe to restore him now?
Nay, backare (quoth Mortimer to his sow).”—Heywood.
        “Backare, quoth Mortimer to his sowe,
The bore shall backe first (quoth she), I make a vowe.”—Ibid. Epigr.
  Compare Goodyer’s pig, John Gray’s bird, Pedley’s mare. Kettle’s mare, Jackson’s hens, Jackson’s pips, Bunny’s bear, Teague’s cocks, Wood’s dog, and many more birds and beasts, which appear proverbially with their respective owners, who are probably merely so many John Does and Richard Roes. But just as our law realized its fictions in supposed individuals, so the clown found it much more telling and definite to say, “As lazy as Ludlam’s dog, who leant against a wall to bark,” than to say, “As lazy as a dog who leans,” &c.—Notes and Queries, March 2, 1878.
Backbiting oftener proceeds from pride than malice.  1831
Backwards and forwards, like Boscastle fair. Cornw.
  Notes and Queries, 3rd S., v. 275. They also say: All play and no play, like Boscastle fair, which begins at 12 o’clock, and ends at noon.
Bad guides may soon mislead. CL.  1833
Bad is a bad servant, but ’tis worse being without him.  1834
Bad luck often brings good luck.  1835
Bad priests bring the devil into the church.  1836
Bad words find bad acceptance.  1837
Bad words make a woman worse.  1838
Bakerly knee’d.
  The Passionate Morrice, 1593, repr. 82.
Banbury ale, a half-yard pot,
the devil a tinker dare stand to’t.
  Wit Restor’d, 1658. A catch or ballad of “Banbury Ale” is in Ravenscroft’s Pammelia, 1609.
Banbury veal, cheese and cakes.
  Banbury cakes are still famous; Banbury cheese has not a very good character, although Southey in a letter of 1793 brackets it with Oxford brawn. The town used to be celebrated also for its varied sectarianism, which is mentioned in Braithwaite’s Barnabæ Itinerarium, 1638, and Wild’s Iter Boreale, 1660.
  Harvey, in his Letter Book, 1573–80, 4o, 1884, p. 91, uses the expression “more fine than any Banbury cheese.”
Barberry incense.
  A chastisement.
  “Mans.  When, Maud, with a pestilence! what, mak’st thou no haste?
  Of barberry incense belike thou wouldest taste!”—Appius and Virginia, 1575 (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, iv. 119).
Bare walls make giddy housewives.
  i.e., Idle housewives, they have nothing whereabout to busy themselves, and shew their good housewifery. We speak this in excuse of the good woman, who doth, like St. Paul’s widow, [Greek], gad abroad a little too much, or that is blamed for not giving the entertainment that is expected, or not behaving herself as other matrons do. She hath nothing to work upon at home; she is disconsolate, and therefore seeketh to divert herself abroad: she is inclined to be virtuous, but discomposed through poverty. Parallel to this, I take to be that French proverb, Vuides chambres font les dames folles, which yet Mr. Cotgrave thus renders: Empty chambers make women play the wanton; in a different sense.—R.
Bare words buy no barley.  1844
Barefooted men must not go among thorns.  1845
Barking dogs bite not the sorest.
  “A Pleasant Conceyted Comedie of George a Greene, &c.,” 1599, sign. E 3. A more modern form of the saying is, “Barking dogs seldom bite.”
Barking dogs do not most bite.
  Interlude of Thersites, about 1550, edit. 1848, p. 87.
Barley straw’s good fodder when the cow gives water.  1848
Barnaby Bright:
the longest day and the shortest night.
  St. Barnabas Day (June 11); this corresponds to June 21 of our computation. See Notes and Queries, 2nd S., vi. 522.
Barney Cassel [Barnard Castle], the last place that God made. North.  1850
Baron Park is fruitful and fat,
  Howfield is better than that;
Copt Hall is best of them all,
  Yet Hubbledown may wear the crown.
  Norden’s Description of Essex, edit. Ellis, p. 8.
Barton under Needwood,
  Dunstall in the Dale:
Sitenhill for a pretty girl,
  and Burton for good ale.
  Higson’s MSS. Coll. 148.
Base terms are bellows to a slackening fire.  1853
Bate me an ace, quoth Bolton.
  Sir Thomas More, a play, circa 1590, p. 18; Damon and Pithias, 1571, Hazlitt’s Dodsley, iv.; Hey for Honesty, &c., 1651, p. 15. In Heywood’s Fayre Mayde of the Exchange, 1607, Moll Derry says, “Bate an ace of that.” The common story is, that John Heywood presented to Queen Elizabeth his collection of proverbs, stating that every proverb was there, whereupon the Queen inquired if he had Bate me an ace, quoth Bolton. He found that he had not. But in Cotton MS. Julius, F. x. (quoted by Warton, H. E. P. 1824, iii. 376), this identical anecdote is given to Heywood and the old Marquis of Winchester.
  The sense of the proverb seems to be simply,—Do not expect me to believe all that. An American correspondent writes: “Bate me an ace,” seems to be plainly: abate for me a trifle. Aside from Dryden’s use of ace: “I’ll not wag an ace farther,” ‘abate for me one’ would not be unnatural remonstrance at a boast about numbers. ‘I shot two hundred buffalo,’ says A. ‘Won’t you take one off that?’ answers B.”
Bawds and attorneys, like andirons, the one holds the sticks, the other their clients, till they consume. Howell.  1855
Bayard bites on the bridle.
  A C. Mery Talys, 1525, No. xxi. Compare Towneley Mysteries, p. 25, and Tottels Misc. 1557, p. 120, repr. 1867. In the first quoted passage the meaning is satirical.
  Gower (Confessio Amantis, ed. Pauli, i. 334) has the expression “to chew upon the bridle,” in the sense in which it is intended in the C. Mery Talys, where a horse is pulled up sharp, as we should say, and chafes at the bit—
        “Better it is to flete than sinke,
Better is upon the bridal chewe,
Than if he fel and overthrew
The hors and sticked in the mire.”
Be a good husband, and you will get a penny to spend,
a penny to lend, and a penny for a friend.
Be as be may, be is no banning. HE. AND DS.
  Davies, however (Scourge of Folly, 1611, p. 141), puts it differently: “Be as he may, no banning is.”
Be bold, but not too bold.  1859
Be content; the sea hath fish enough.  1860
Be fair-conditioned, and eat bread with your pudding.  1861
Be good and refrain not to be good.  1862
Be he white or be he black,
he carries tenpence on his back.
  Said of the curlew, a very shy bird, but excellent eating.
Be it for better, be it for worse,
do you after him that beareth the purse. O.
  But in Deloney’s Thomas of Reading, printed before 1600, there is the other version:
        “Be it better, or be it worse,
Please you the man that beares the purse.
Be it weal or be it woe,
beans blow before May doth go.
Be just to all, but trust not all.  1866
Be merry and wise. HE.
  John Heywood, and Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister (1566), princip.
Be more for worship than for pride.
  How the Goode Wif, &c. in Hazlitt’s Pop. Poetry, i.
Be not a baker if your head be of butter. H.
  New Help to Discourse, ed. 1721, p. 134.
Be not idle, and you shall not be longing. H.  1870
Be not too hasty to outbid another.  1871
Be of good cheer, man, and let the world pass.
  Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister (1566).
Be sure of hay till the end of May.  1873
Be swift to hear and slow to speak,
late to wrath, and loth to shete.
  Reliquiæ Antiquæ, i. 92 (from a MS. of the 15th cent.)
Be the day never so long,
at length cometh evensong. WALKER (1672).
Beads about the neck, and the devil in the heart.  1876
Bean-belly Leicestershire.
  “So called from the great plenty of that grain growing therein. Yea, those of the neighbouring counties used to say merrily, Shake a Leicestershire man by the collar, and you shall hear the beans rattle in his belly. But those yeomen smile at what is said to rattle in their bellies, when they know good silver ringeth in their pockets.”—R. In a poem on the characteristics of Counties in the Reliquiæ Antiquæ, ii. 41, the peculiarity of Leicestershire has not been overlooked:—
        “Notynghamshire full of hogges;
Derbyshire, full of dogges;
Leycestershire, full of benys:
Staffordshire, full of quenys—”
Bear the name:
carry the game.
Bear wealth, poverty will bear itself.  1879
Bear with evil and expect good.  1880
Beat the dog before the lion. H.  1881
Beauty draws more than five yokes of oxen.
  New Help to Discourse, ed. 1721, p. 134.
Beauty is but a blossom. WALKER (1672).  1883
Beauty is but skin-deep.  1884
Beauty is no inheritance.  1885
Beauty is potent, but money is omnipotent. WALKER (1672).
        Amour fait beaucoup,
Mais argent fait tout. Fr.
Beauty is the subject of a blemish.  1887
Beauty may have fair leaves but bitter fruit.  1888
Beauty provoketh thieves sooner than gold.  1889
Beauty will buy no beef.  1890
Beauty without bounty avails nought.  1891
Beccles for a puritan, Bungay for the poor,
Halesworth for a drunkard, and Bilborough for a whore. Suffolk.
Bedworth beggars.  1893
Beer a bumble,
’twill kill you,
afore ’twill make ye tumble.
Bees that have honey in their mouths have stings in their tails.  1895
Before one can say Jack Robinson.
  Compare Halliwell’s Archaic Dictionary, 1860, v. Jack Robinson. The “old play” there cited is rather questionable.
Before St. Chad
every goose lays, both good and bad.
Before the cat can lick her ear.
  Nay, you were not quite out of heating e’re the cat could lick her ear.—Ovidius Exulaus, 1673, p. 50.
Before the Normans into England came,
Bentley was my seat, and Tollemache was my name.
  Higson’s MSS. Coll. No. 72. Bentley in Suffolk, near Ipswich. The Tollemache family is still sented in the same neighbourhood—at Helmingham Hall, near Ipswich, and at Peckferton Castle, Cheshire. A branch of the same house enjoys the Earldom of Dysart. See Mr. Maidment’s Book of Scotish Pasquils, 1869, p. 243 et seq., for an edifying account of the early doings of these Tollemaches, some of whom have been notorious for their meanness and profligacy.
  As to the saying itself, it is perhaps unnecessary to observe that it is of no great antiquity; and, moreover, its truth is more than dubious. The Tollemaches, as may be supposed, do not occur in Doomsday Book as owners of Bentley, and the name is evidently not Saxon. Suckling, in his History of Suffolk, 1846–8, does not take in the Tollemaches.
Before you make a friend, eat a bushel of salt with him. E.  1900
Beggars breed, and rich men feed. CL.
  New Help to Discourse, 1721, 134. The insinuation may be that the luxury among the upper classes sometimes proves the cause of the extinction of a family.
Beggar’s bush, Briton’s Row:
Fox Fold, Garton Ho.
  Higson’s MSS. Coll. No. 50.
Beggars can never be bankrupts.  1903
Beggars fear no rebellion.  1904
Beggars mounted run their horses to death.  1905
Beggars should be no choosers. HE.
  “The French say, Borrowers must be no choosers.”—R. See Fletcher’s Scornful Lady, 1616 (Dyce’s B. and F. iii. 102).
Begin at home. CL.
  Compare the more modern phrase, Charity begins, &c. Clarke, however, has both forms.
Behind before, before behind, a horse is in danger to be pricked.  1908
Behind doors.
  “He begot behind doors” seems to have been a phrase understood of a child irregularly born. See Aubrey’s Letters, &c., 1813, ii. 341, where the expression is applied to Erasmus.
Being on sea, sail; being on land, settle. H.  1910
Believe well, and have well. HE.
  This is simply the Latin, Crede quod habes, et habes.
Bell, book, and candle.  1912
Bells call others, but themselves enter not into the church. H.  1913
Below the salt.
  Spoken of a person who sits at the lower end of the table at a dinner. The Innholders’ Company possesses a fine silver salt cellar, which is placed on their table at banquets to separate, the court from the Livery, etc., where it is more than a court dinner.
Benefits bind. Draxe.  1915
Benefits, like flowers, please most when they are fresh.  1916
Best dealing with an enemy, when you take him at his weakest.  1917
Best is best cheap, if you hit not the nail.  1918
Best shane (soon) as syne (late). Irish.  1919
Best to bend while it is a twig.
        Udum et molle lutum es, nunc, nunc properandus et acri
    Fingendus sine fine rotâ. Pers.
Quæ præbet latas arbor spatiantibus umbras,
    Quo posita est primùm tempore virga fuit.
Tunc poterat manibus summâ tellure revelli,
    Nunc stat in immensum viribus acta suis. Ovid.
  Quare tunc formandi mores (inquit Erasmus) cùm mollis adhuc ætas; tunc optimis assuescendum cùm ad quidvis cereum est ingenium. Ce qui poulain prend en jeunesse, il le continue en vieillesse. Fr.
        The tricks a colt getteth at his first backing
Will whilst he continueth never be lacking. Cotgr.—R.
Bestow on me what you will, so it be none of your secrets.  1921
Betimes in the fishmarket and late in the butchery. B. OF M. R.  1922
Better a bad excuse than none at all. C.
  “Better (they say) a badde scuse than none.”—Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister, edit. 1847, p. 80.
Better a bare foot than none. H.  1924
Better a beast sold than bought.  1925
Better a clout than a hole out.  1926
Better a fair pair of heels than a halter.  1927
Better a finger off than wagging.  1928
Better a good word than a battle.  1929
Better a laying hen nor [than] a lym crown.  1930
Better a lean jade than an empty halter.
  We have many proverbs to this import: Better some of the pudding than none of the pie, &c.—R.
Better a lean peace than a fat victory.  1932
Better a little fire to warm us than a great one to burn.  1933
Better a little well kept than a great deal forgotten. Latimer, 1549.  1934
Better a louse in the pot than no flesh at all. C.
  The Scotch proverb saith, a mouse, which is better sense; for a mouse is flesh, and edible.—R.
Better a master be feared than despised.  1936
Better a mischief than an inconvenience.
  That is, better a present mischief that is soon over, than a constant grief and disturbance. Not much unlike to that, Better eye out than always aching. The French have a proverb, in sense contrary to this: Il faut laisser son enfant morveux plûtost que luy arracher le nez. Better endure some small inconvenience than remove it with a great mischief.—R.
Better a portion in a wife than with a wife.  1938
Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.  1939
Better abridge petty charges than stoop to petty gettings.  1940
Better an egg in peace than an ox in war.  1941
Better an empty house than an ill tenant.  1942
Better are meals many, than one too merry. HE.  1943
Better are small fish than an empty dish.  1944
Better be a cuckold and not know it, than be none and everybody say so.  1945
Better be alone than in bad company.  1946
Better be an old man’s darling,
than a young man’s warling. HE. AND C.
  “Mas vale viejo que me houre, que galan que me assombre. Port.”—R.
  In all the modern collections, for warling they read snarling. “Wives are young men’s mistresses, and old men’s nurses.”—BACON. Clark (Parœm., 1639, p. 37) has worlding. The saying is in Barry’s Ram Alley, 1611 (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, x. 303).
Better be envied than pitied. HE.
  This is a saying in most languages, although it hath little of the nature of a proverb in it. [Greek]. Herodot. in Thalia. [Greek]. Pindar. Piu tosto invidia che compassione. Ital.—R.
Better be half hanged than ill wed.  1949
Better be ill spoken of by one before all, than by all before one.  1950
Better be John Tomson’s man than Ringan Dinn’s or John Knox’s.
  i.e., better be complaisant to your wife’s humours than be scolded or beaten by her. The last names are phonetic. Comp. John Tomson’s man.
Better be lucky born than a rich man’s son.  1952
Better be poor and live than rich and perish.  1953
Better be the head of a pike than the tail of a sturgeon.  1954
Better be the head of an ass than the tail of a horse.
  This proverb varies, and there are several other forms of it.
Better be the head of the yeomanry than the tail of the gentry.
  “Il vaut mieux etre le premier de sa race que le dernier. Fr.”—R. The Italians and other nations have the same idea embodied in adages.
Better be unmannerly than troublesome.  1957
Better be up to the ankles than over head and ears.  1958
Better believe it than go where it was done to prove it.
  Veglio piu tosto crederlo, che andar a cercalo. Ital.—R.
Better belly burst than good drink lost. R. 1670.  1960
Better bend the neck than bruise the forehead.  1961
Better bid the cooks nor [than] the mediciners.
  The modern phrase is: Better pay the butcher than the doctor.
Better buy than borrow.  1963
Better children weep than old men. HE.  1964
Better cut the shoe than pinch the foot.  1965
Better die a beggar than live a beggar.  1966
Better direct well than work hard.  1967
Better do it than wish it done.  1968
Better eye out than alway ache. HE.  1969
Better eye sore than all blind, quoth Hendyng.
  Proverbs of Hendyng (Rel. Antiq. i. 110).
Better fare hard with good men than feast with bad.  1971
Better fed than taught. C.  1972
Better fill a glutton’s belly than his eye.
  Les yeux plus grands que le pance. Fr. Piu tosto si satolla il ventre che l’ occhio. Ital.—R.
Better give a shilling than lend half a crown.  1974
Better give an apple than eat it, quoth Hendyng.
  P. of H. (Rel. Antiq. i. 111). Betere is appel y-[char.]eve then y-ete.
Better go about than fall in the ditch.
  Mas vale rodear que no ahogar.—Span.
Better go away longing than loathing.  1977
Better God than gold.  1978
Better good afar off than ill at hand.  1979
Better half a loaf than no bread. C.  1980
Better half an egg than an empty shell.  1981
Better hand loose than in an ill tethering.  1982
Better have an old man to humour than a young rake to break your heart.  1983
Better have it than hear of it.  1984
Better have one plough going than two cradles.  1985
Better hazard once than be always in fear.  1986
Better hold out nor [than] put out.  1987
Better it is to suffer, and fortune to abide,
than hastily to climb, and suddenly to slide.
  Caxton’s ed. of Lydgate’s Stans Puer ad Mensam, ad finem.
Better keep now than seek anon.  1989
Better known than trusted.  1990
Better late ripe and bear, than early blossom and blast.  1991
Better late than never. C.
  Il vaut mieux tard que jamais. Fr.—R. “Yet because the proverbe ys, ‘beter late than never,’ I holde yt better to speak of yt here then not at all.”—Thynne’s Animadversions, edit. Furnivall, p. 71.
Better leave than lack. C.  1993
Better loping than lifting. Irish.
  “Loping,” is “being in high spirits”; “Lifting,” is “removing a coffin.”—Mr. Hardman in Notes and Queries.
Better lose a jest than a friend.  1995
Better lost than found.  1996


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