Reference > Quotations > W.C. Hazlitt, comp. > English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases
W.C. Hazlitt, comp.  English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases.  1907.
As old as  to  At length
As old as a serpent.  1609
As old as Cale-hill (Kent). CL.  1610
As old as Charing-Cross.  1611
As old as Glastonbury Tower.
  The torre, i.e., the Tower, so called from the Latin turris, stands upon a round hill in the midst of a level, and may be seen far off. It seemed to me to have been the steeple of a church that had formerly stood upon that hill, though now scarcely any vestiges of it remain.—R. 1670.
As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.
  A saying used when a person’s age is asked, and he does not care to give a direct answer.
As old as Panton Gates (or Gate).
  Perhaps i.q. Pandon gate at Newcastle-on-Tyne.
As old as Paul’s (or Paul’s steeple).
  Different are the dates of the age thereof, because it had [three] births or beginnings; one when it was originally co-founded by King Ethelbert, with the body of the church, anno 610; another when burnt with lightning [in 1561, and then after the fire of 1666.]—R.
As old as Pendle-hill.  1616
As old as the hills.
  They used to say in Toledo: “en le tiempo del Rey Wamba.” Wamba appears to have reigned in the 7th c.
As old as the itch.  1618
As pert as a frog upon a washing-block.  1619
As pert as a pearmonger.
  Pert, here and in the following sentence, signifies not pert, but sharp, alert, and is in general use in many districts in this sense. The proverb is a mere piece of alliteration, without any special significance.
As pink as a prawn.  1621
As plain as a juggem ear.
  i.e., a quagmire.
As plain as a pack-staff. CL.
  We say pike-staff vulgarly at present; but pack-staff I suspect to have been the original, and to be the true reading. Some say pack-saddle.
As plain as Dunstable by-way. HE.
  Quoted in a ballad printed about 1570. See Ancient Ballads and Broadsides, 1867, p. 1. Clarke (Parœm., 1639, p. 243) has—
        “In the Dunstable highway
To Needham and beggary.”
But it is there quoted differently. The meaning seems to be ironical, as Dunstable by-way was probably by no means plain. Latimer (Sermons, 1549, repr. Arber, p. 56) says: “—Howbeit ther were some good walkers among them, that walked in the kynges highe waye ordinarilye, vprightlye, playne Dunstable waye.” “Wherein I judge him the more too be esteemed, bicause hee vseth no going about the bushe, but treades Dunstable waye in all his trauell.”—Gosson’s Ephemerides of Phialo, 1586. Epist. Dedic. to Sydney. The author of A Journey through England in the Year 1752 (privately printed, 1869, 8vo, p. 75) testifies to the bad state of the roads in that part of the country nearly two centuries later. But in Whatley’s England’s Gazetteer, 1751, the high road here is said to be “broad, well-beaten, and plain.”
As plain as the nose on a man’s face.  1625
As pleased as Punch.
  A curious phrase, seeing that Punch is generally associated with domestic strife or even tragedy.
As plenty as blackberries.
  Henry IV. Part 1, ii. 4.
As plump as a partridge.  1628
As poor as Job.
  Armin’s History of the Two Maids of Moreclacke, 1609, sign. A. “This similitude runs through most languages. In the University of Cambridge the young scholars are wont to call chiding jobing.”—R. “We came to a baker’s house in an obscure street, and from rooms well furnished to lie in a very bad bed in a garret, to one dish of meat, and that not the best ordered, no money, for we were as poor as Job.”—Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe, by Nicolas, 1830, p. 57.
As proud as a peacock.
  Towneley Mysteries, p. 99. “Fly pride, says the peacock.”—Shakespeare.
As proud as an apothecary.  1631
As proud as old Cole’s dog, which took the wall of a dung-cart, and got crushed by the wheel.  1632
As proud come behind as go before. C.
  Gammer Gurton’s Needle, act v. sc. ult. A man may be humble that is in high estate; and people of mean condition be as proud as the highest.—R.
As queer as Dick’s hatband, made of a pea-straw, that went nine times round, and would not meet at last.
  Miss Baker’s North. Gloss., 1854, p. 79. The writer says: “This singular phrase, slightly varying in form and application, appears to be widely circulated, and has travelled even to the United States, for it has found a place amongst Bartlett’s Americanisms. Wilbraham [Cheshire Glossary, 1836] gives, As fine as Dick’s Hatband, and Hartshorne [Salopia Antiqua], As curst as Dick’s Hatband.”
As quiet as a mouse.  1635
As ready as the king has an egg in his pouch.  1636
As red as a cherry.
  Hazlitt’s Popular Poetry, iii., 243.
As red as Roger’s nose, who was christened with pump water.  1638
As rich as a new-shorn sheep. HE.  1639
As rich as Damer. Tipperary.
  See “Lamb and Hazlitt,” 1900, pp. 1–7 for some farther particulars of the Damers, originally associated with the Hazlitts, and ancestors of the Earls of Portarlington. John Damer, of Antrim, migrated in the time of George I. to Tipperary, established himself in some business, and acquired wealth. In the same way, at Venice, the Ziani family became renowned at an early date for their opulence, and it was a saying: Such an one has L’haver de Ziani. See Hazlitt’s Venetian Republic, 1900, ii. 216.—infra.
As right as a ram’s horn.
  Skelton’s Why come ye not to Court (circa 1520); Dyce’s Skelton, ii. 29.
As right as my leg.
  Lady Alimony, 1659 (written about 1610), in Hazlitt’s Dodsley, xiv. 292. It is also part of the title of a ballad licensed on the 12 Feb. 1638–9. See Arber’s Transcript, iv. 429. As right as my leg occurs in the old ballad of the Coaches’ Overthrow (circa 1620), apud Collier’s Roxb. Ball. 205.
As rough as a tinker’s budget.  1643
As round as a Pontypool waiter.  1644
As round as an adder asleep in the sunshine.  1645
As safe as a crow in the gutter.  1646
As safe as a mouse in a malt heap. CL.  1647
As safe as a mouse in a mill.
  Davenport’s New Trick to Cheat the Divell, 1639, sign. E verso.
As safe as a thief in a mill.
  Day’s Ile of Gvls, 1606, sign. C 3 verso.
As sapless as a kix.
  The Women’s Petition against Coffee, 1674, p. 3.
As scabbed as a cuckoo.  1651
As sharp as a thorn.  1652
As sharp as a razor.  1653
As sharp as if he lived on Tewkesbury mustard.
  Higson’s MSS. Coll. Comp. As thick, &c. infra.
As sharp as vinegar.
  Aceto acrius.—R.
As shortly as a horse will lick his ear. HE.
  See supra.
As sib as a sieve to a riddle.
  Three Tales of three Priests of Peblis, 1603, l. 471.
As sick as a cat
with eating a rat.
  The cat, like the owl and the hawk, does not appear to have acquired the faculty of retaining the fur of the mouse or rat, till the fluffy parts have been assimilated, and vomits it along with some of the half-digested food.
As sick as a cushion.  1659
As sick as a horse.  1660
As sleepy as an October wasp.  1661
As slender in the middle as a cow in the waist.  1662
As slippery as an eel.  1663
As small as herbs to the pot.
  Morland’s Account of the Evangelical Churches of Piedmont, 1658, p. 366. Day’s Ile of Gvls, 1606, repr. 74.
As smooth as a carpet.  1665
As snug as a bug in a rug.  1666
As snug as a pig in pea-straw.
  Davenport’s New Trick to Cheat the Divell, 1639, sign. E verso.
As soft as silk.  1668
As softly as foot can fall.
  Ray quotes passages from Quintilian and Terence, which have not the slightest relevancy. Walker’s Parœm., 1672, p. 33.
As soon as you have drunk, you turn your back upon the spring.  1670
As soon drive a top over a tiled house. HE.  1671
As soon goes the young sheep to the pot as the old.
  Porter’s Two Angrie Women of Abington, 1599, ed. Dyce, p. 42.
As soon goeth the young lamb’s skin to the market as the old ewe’s. HE.
  Tragi-Comedy of Calisto and Melibœa (circa 1520), in Hazlitt’s Dodsley, i. Aussitôt meurt veau comme vauche. Fr. Cosi tosto muore il capretto come capra. Ital. Tau prests se va el cordero como el carnero.—Span.
As sound as a roach.  1674
As sound as a trout.  1675
As sound as an apple.
  Ancient romance of Gaufrey, cited by Wright (Domestic Manners, 1862, p. 279).
As sour as verjuice [or vargies]. Leeds.  1677
As spiteful as an old maid.  1678
As spruce as an onion.  1679
As stale as custom.
  Sir Thomas More, a play (circa 1590), ed. Dyce, p. 32.
        “Age cannot wither, nor custom stale
His infinite variety.”—Shakespeare.
As stale as sea-beef.
  Nash’s Christs Teares over Jerusalem, 1591, Epistle to the Reader.
As still as a stone.
  Towneley Mysteries, p. 33.
As stout as a miller’s waistcoat, that takes a thief by the neck every day.  1683
As straight as a yard of pump water. Berkshire.
  Spoken of a thin damsel.
As straight as an arrow.  1685
As straight as the backbone of a herring.  1686
As strong as mustard.  1687
As sure as a coat on one’s back.  1688
As sure as a juggler’s box.  1689
As sure as a house in Pomfret. Yorkshire.  1690
As sure as a louse in bosom. Cheshire.  1691
As sure as a mouse tied with a thread. HE.  1692
As sure as Burton’s Bank. Irish.  1693
As sure as check.
  Or Exchequer pay. This was a proverb in Queen Elizabeth’s time; the credit of the Exchequer beginning in, and determining with her reign, saith Dr. Fuller.—R. It occurs in Greene’s Epistle to the Reader before his Farewell to Folly, 1591.
As sure as cleck.
  Taylor’s Navy of Land ships, 1627. Perhaps cleck should be check.
As sure as God’s in Gloucester or Gloucestershire.
  Allusively to the number of religious houses formerly in this shire. Ray tells us that there are “more and richer mitred abbeys than in any two shires of England besides.”
        “He hitcht ’pon spire of magick steeple;
And truly had not some ran quick
And succour’d him just in the nick,
He had broke his neck and life lost there,
As sure (poor wretch) as God’s in Gloster.”
Cataplus, a Mock Poem, 1672, p. 6.    
As sure as if it had been sealed with butter. HE.  1697
As surly as a butcher’s dog.  1698
As sweet as honey.  1699
As Sylvester said, fair and softly.  1700
As tall as a Maypole.  1701
As tender as a chicken.  1702
As tender as a parson’s leman. HE.  1703
As tender as Parnell, that broke her finger in a posset-curd.  1704
As the beggar knows his dish.
  Pilkington’s Burnyng of Paules Church in London, 1563, sign. G 5.
As the best wine makes the sharpest vinegar, so the deepest love turns to the deadliest hatred.  1706
As the blind man catcheth the hare.
  Hamlet, 1603.
As the blind man knows the cuckoo.
  i.e., by his voice. See Dramatic Table-Talk, i. 165.
As the blind man shot the crow.  1709
As the crow flies.
  Spoken of distances irrespective of the terrestrial or human means of covering them.
As the day lengthens, the cold strengthens.
  The meaning seems to be, that after midnight the cold increases toward sunrise. Crese di, crese ’l peddo, dice il pescatore. Ital. See Chambers’ Book of Days, i. 19.
As the drunkard goes,
is known by his nose. W.
  True, because it is full of Cuppe-rose.—W.
As the fool thinks,
so the bell clinks. CL.
  Clarke gives this other version—
        As the fool sings,
So he thinks the bell rings.
But the original form of the saying is in Lingua, 1607 (Hazlitt’s Dodsley, ix. 408): “As the fool thinketh, so the bell clinketh.”
As the Friday, so the Sunday:
as the Sunday, so the week.
As the goodman saith, so say we;
but as the good wife saith, so it must be.
As the man said to him on the tree top, Make no more haste when you come down than when you went up.
  This is borrowed from Mery Tales and Quicke Answeres, ed. Berthelet, No. 30 (Old English Jest-Books, i. 44).
As the market goes, wives must sell.  1717
As the old cock croweth, so the young followeth. C.
  Or, so the young learns. Chi di gallina nasce convien che razole. Ital. Some have it, The young pig grunts like the old sow.—R.
As the sow fills the draff sours. Engl. and Scot.  1719
As the weather is the first twelve days of January so will it be for the next twelve months.  1720
As the wind blows, seek your shelter.  1721
As the wind blows, you must set your sail.  1722
As the year is, your pot must seeth. H.  1723
As they brew, so let them bake.
  “Some have it, So let them drink; and it seems to be better sense so. Tute hoc intristi, tibi omne exedendum est.—Terent. Phorm. Ut sementem feceris ita metes. Cic. de Orat. lib. 2.”—R. This is one of a numerous family of sayings, varying verbally, but similar in purport and force.
As they sow, so let them reap.  1725
As thick as inkle-weavers.
  Inkle-weavers, like other persons, following special trades, kept themselves apart to prevent the discovery of their mystery, and so naturally grew very clanny to each other. Inkle is a sort of tape.
As thick as Tewkesbury mustard.
  “Dol Tearsheet.  They say Poins has a good wit.
  Fal.  He a good wit? Hang him, baboon! his wit is as thick as Tewkesbury mustard….”—Henry IV. Part 2, Act 2.
As thick as thieves.  1728
As thin as a Banbury cheese.
  In a satirical sense. See N. and Q., 1st S., xi. 427, and comp. Banbury Veal, &c.
  Heywood ways—
        “I neuer saw Banbury cheese thicke enough;
But I haue oft seene Essex cheese quick enough.”
  5th Hundr. No. 24 (ed. 1562).
As thrang as Thrap’s wife as hanged hersell i’ t’ dishclout.
  Teesdale Glossary, 1847, p. 134. Thrang—busy.
As throng as Knott Mill Fair. Manchester.  1731
As thrunk as Eccles wakes.
  This saying is current in Lancashire, but more especially in the vicinity of Manchester, from which Eccles is only four miles and a half distant. Thrunk = thronged. I do not know why Mr. Halliwell (Arch. Dict. in v.) draws a distinction between the Lancashire and Cheshire uses of thrunk.
As thrunk as three in a bed. Cheshire.  1733
As tough as whit-leather.  1734
As true as a turtle.  1735
As true as steel.
  Gammer Gurton’s Needle, act iii. sc. 2; Interlude of Youth (1554), edit. 1849, p. 37.
As true as the dial to the sun.  1737
As true as the sea burns.
  Warmstrey’s Englands Wound and Cure, 1628 (Hazlitt’s Fug. Tracts, 2nd S.)
As true steel as Ripon rowels.
  It is said of trusty persons, men of metal, faithful in their employments. Ripon, in this county (York), is a town famous for the best spurs of England, whose rowels may be enforced to strike through a shilling, and will break sooner than bow.—R. But comp. Faiths and Folklore, 1905, p. 518.
As valiant as an Essex lion [i.e., a calf].  1740
As wanton as a calf with two dams.  1741
As warm as a mouse in a churn.  1742
As warm as wool. CL.  1743
As wary as a blind horse.  1744
As water in a smith’s forge, that serves rather to kindle than quench. CL.  1745
As we make our bed, so we must lie in it.
  Som manreder, saa ligger man.—Dan.
As weak as a wassail.
  Carr’s Dialect of Craven, 1828, ii. 241. “A comparison most probably borrowed from one who has partaken too copiously of the wassail bowl.
As weak as water.  1748
As welcome as a storm.  1749
As welcome as flowers in May.  1750
As welcome as snow in hay-harvest.  1751
As welcome as sour ale in summer.
  Dunton’s Life and Errors, 1705.
As welcome as the eighteen trumpeters.
  See Notes and Queries, 2nd S., viii. 484.
As welcome as water in a leaking ship.  1754
As welcome as water in one’s shoes.  1755
As well as a beggar knows his dish.
  Fynes Moryson’s Itinerary, 1617, quoted in Retr. Rev. xi. 328.
As well as Bernard knew his shield.
  “But Master Lacy, another Rome runner here, which knoweth my said proctor there [at Rome], as he saith, as well as Bernard knew his shield.”—Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner, iii, xix.
As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.  1758
As well taught as my Lord Mayor’s horse,
when his good Lord is at the sermon at the Cross.
  Acc. of the Quarr. betw. Hall and Mallerie (1575–6), repr. of ed. 1580 in Misc. Antiq. Angl. 107. Paul’s Cross, here referred to, is said to have been in existence before the reign of Henry III.; it was finally demolished in 1643.
As well worth it as a thief is worth a rope.  1760
As white as the driven snow.
  The more usual expression was, of old, As white as whale’s bone (Squyr of Low Degre, &c.), where the bone or tooth of the walrus is to be understood, or “As white as bear’s teeth (Heywood’s Second Part of Queen Elizabeth’s Troubles, 1606, repr. 76.”).
As whole as a trout.
  Old English Jest Books, iii. 40.
As wild as a buck.  1763
As wilful as a pig that will neither lead nor drive.  1764
As wily as a fox.  1765
As wise as a man of Gotham.
  Or, as Rowlands expresses the same idea in his Paire of Spy Knaves (1619), As wise as John of Goteham’s calfe. See Old Engl. Jest Books, iii., Princip. and Add. Notes.
  “It passes for the periphrasis of a fool, and a hundred fopperies are feigned and fathered on the town’s-folk of Gotham, a village in this county. Here two things may be observed:—
  “1. Men in all ages have made themselves merry with singling out some place, and fixing the staple of stupidity and stolidity there. So the Phrygians in Asia, the Abderitæ in Thrace, and Bœotians in Greece, were notorious for dulmen and blockheads.
  “2. These places, thus slighted and scoffed at, afforded some as witty and wise persons us the world produced. So Democritus was an Abderite, Plutarch a Bœotian, &c. Hence Juvenal [x. 50] well concludes—
        ‘Summos posse viros et magna exempla daturos.
Vervecum in patria crassoque sub aëre nasci.’
  “As for Gotham, it doth breed as wise people as any which causelessly laugh at their simplicity. Sure I am, Mr. William de Gotham, fifth Master of Michael House in Cambridge, 1336, and twice Chancellor of the University, was as grave a governor as that age did afford. Sapientum octavus. Hor.”—R. On the other hand, any other provincial town might have been selected, with about equal justice and propriety, as all such places are principally remarkable for their ignorance and barbarism.
As wise as a woodcock.
  Hyckescorner (circa 1520), Hazlitt’s Dodsley; Ingelend’s interlude of the Disobedient Child, about 1563, edit. 1848, p. 81; Appius and Virginia, 1575, Dodsley, xii. 348.
As wise as her mother’s apron-string. UDALL (1542.)  1768
As wise as the Mayor of Banbury, who would prove that Henry III. was before Henry II. Howell.  1769
As wise as the women of Maugret. Limerick.
  See N. and Q., 2nd S. vi. 208.
As wise as Tom a thrum.
  Skelton’s Colyn Clout (Works, ed. Dyce, i. 126), and note upon the phrase (ibid. ii. 189–90).
As wise as Waltham’s calf, that ran nine miles to suck a bull.
  In the Knight of the Burning Pestle, 1613, in which there is a large intermixture (as the authors intended) of burlesque and satire, there is an apparent reference to this well-worn saying, where, in act ii. sc. 1, Humphrey says—
                “And thus it is agreed:
Your daughter rides upon a brown bay steed,
I on a sorrel, which I bought of Brian,
The honest host of the Red roaring Lion,
In Waltham situate—”
  Comp. Essex lions and Waltham calves. There used to be a saying in Berkshire relevant to a sleeveless errand, “He went all that way to suck a bull a-dry.”
As wise as wisp. CL.
  So far Heywood [Woorkes, 1562, part 2, cap. 3). Or a woodcock, some of the later collections add.
As witty as a haddock.
  Hyckescorner, ubi supra.
As ye have brewed, so shall ye drink.
  Sir Eger, his Gryme, and Sir Gray-steel, i. 2384 (Hazlitt’s Pop. Poetry of Scotland, ii. 197).
As yellow as a guinea.  1776
As yellow as a kite’s claw. New Forest.  1777
As you make your bed, so you must lie on it.  1778
As your wedding-ring wears,
you’ll wear off your cares.
  This is slightly different from Ray’s version. I do not think the saying is confined to Somersetshire, as he seems to have supposed.
Ask a kite for a feather, and she’ll say she has but just enough to fly with.  1780
Ask but enough, and you may lower the price as you list.
  Oportet iniquum petas, ut æquum feras.—Lat.
Ask much to have a little. H.  1782
Ask my fellow whether I be a thief. HE.
  Walker’s Parœm., 1672, p. 18. “In the North they say, Ask my mother if my father be a thief. Demanda al hosto s’ egl’ ha buon vino. Ital.”—R.
Ask the mother if the child be like his father.  1784
Ask the seller if his ware be bad.  1785
Ask thy purse what thou shouldest buy.  1786
Assail who will, the valiant attends. H.  1787
Asses die and wolves bury them.  1788
Asses that bray most eat least.  1789
Astrology is true, but the astrologers cannot find it. H.  1790
At a great bargain make a pause.  1791
At a round table there’s no dispute of place.
        “Ronde Table uste le debat,
Chascun estant aupres du Plat.”
  Of which Wodroephe gives an English version—
        “A round table yeelds no debate,
Where each one may haue hand in plate.”
  The practice of employing round tables at dinner is frequently followed for the reason that it saves questions of precedence.
At Candlemas cold comes to us.  1793
At court every one for himself.  1794
At dinner my man appears. H.  1795
At ease he is that seldom thinketh.
  How the Goode Wif thaught hir Doughter (Hazlitt’s Pop. Poetry, i.)
At every dog’s bark seem not to awake. HE.  1797
At Great Glen
there are more great dogs than honest men.
At Latter-Lammas (or never-mass).
  Ad Græcas Kalendas, i.e., never. See Selections from Gent. Mag. ii.
  At Tibs Eve is synonymous. “[Greek]. Cum mult pariunt.—Herodot.”—R.
At leisure, as flax groweth. CL.  1800
At length the fox is brought to the furrier. H.  1801
At length the fox turns monk. H.  1802


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