Including Tricks, Catches, Puns, Riddles, Alliterative Phrases, and Expressions That Play on Words
A crow fought with a crow, a crow conquered a crow. (YorubaWest African). The Yorubas amuse themselves by repeating as many times as possible, without taking breath, sentences such as the foregoing, containing a recurrence of similar soundsa good gymnastic for the tongue. At the end of each repetition of the sentence a bystander cries one, two, etc., and he who repeats the sentence oftenest without a falter is victor.Richard F. Burton. This phrase is suggestive of the three old English charms for the hiccough, which were to be repeated three times in one breath for a complete cure:
When a twister twisting would twist him a twist,
For twisting a twist three twists he will twist;
But if one of the twists untwists from the twist,
The twist untwisting untwists the twist.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked;
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where is the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Robert Rowley rolled a round roll round,
A round roll Robert Rowley rolled round;
Where rolled the round roll Robert Rowley rolled round?
A flea, a fly, and a flitch of bacon. (English). Humorously declared to be a Yorkshiremans arms, because a Yorkshireman will suck anyones blood like a flea, drink out of anyones cup like a fly, and is good for nothing till hes hung, like a flitch of bacon.
As pert as a pearmonger. (English). A mere alliteration without any special significance. As bold as brass, As brown as a berry. As busy as Batty. As cold as a cucumber. As cunning as a crowdera fiddler. As drunk as a drum. As dull as a Dutchman. As fine as a fiddle. As hard as a horn. As kind as a kite. As thick as thieves. As true as a turtle. As weak as water. (English).
By Tree, Pol, and Pen, you shall know the Cornish men. (English). John Ray explains the meaning of this old saying as follows: These three names are the dictionary of such surnames as are originally Cornish, and though nouns in sense, I may fitly term them prepositions. Tree signifieth townhence Tre-fry, Tre-lawney, Tree-vanion, etc.; Pol signifieth a headhence Pol-wheel; and Pen signifieth a tophence Pen-tire, Pen-rose, Pen-kevil, etc. Francis Grose informs us in his Provincial Glossary that some people add a fourth ambiguous word, making the proverb read: By Tree, Pol, Pen, and Car, you shall know the Cornish men, Car signifying a rock, hence a Car-mine, Car-zeu, etc.
Christmas today and May-day tomorrow. (Gaelic). This is the result of an ingenious calculation showing that if Christmas day falls on Monday May-day will be Tuesday. It is generally but not absolutely correct.Alexander Nicolson.
Five seize, twice sixteen tear, all the rest the flavour share. (Bengalese). The five fingers grasp the food, twice sixteen teeth divide and masticate it, and the tongue tastes itwhile the whole body is refreshed and strengthened by it. The proverb is frequently used in referring to different members of a householdeach responsible for his own work, yet each dependent on all the others.
Five score of men, money, and pins; six score of all other things. (English). Sometimes rendered: Five scores a hundred of men, money, and pins; six scores a hundred of all other things. The people of Norway and Iceland, according to the Thesaurus of Hickes, had a method of computation special to themselves, which consisted in the addition of the words tolfraedr, tolfraed, or tolfraet (whence our twelve), which made ten signify twelve, a hundred equivalent to a hundred and twenty, a thousand represent a thousand and two hundred, and so on in proportion. This arose from the circumstance of these two nations having two decades or tens; a lesser, common to other nations, consisting of ten units, and a greater, comprising twelve (tolf) units. Thus the addition of the word tolfraedr or tolfraer converted the hundred into not ten times ten but ten times twelvethat is a hundred and twenty. This tolfraedic mode of reckoning by the greater decades, maintains Hickes, is still retained by us in reckoning certain articles by the number twelve, which the Swedes call dusin, the French douzaine, and ourselves a dozen; and in mercantile circles, he adds, as to the number, weight, and measure of several things, our hundred represents the greater tolfraedic hundred which is composed of ten times twelve. Thence, doubtless, was derived the current mode of reckoning by six score to the hundred.John Brand in Popular Antiquities.
Fortune favours fools. (English). An alliteration. Some folks will have it that fortune favours fools; as if Providence had no kindness for the wise and bestowed all her benefits on the ignorant; or as if a man could not be fortunate without being reckoned an idiot or a silly illiterate fellow in their rash conjectures, as well as ridiculous reflections.Oswald Dykes.
Tis gross error held in schools
That fortune always favours fools.
But since their good opinion therein so cools,
That they say as oft: God sendeth fortune to fools;
In whom it is, in him is everything; in whom it is not, what hath he? He who hath acquired it, what lacketh he? In whom it is not, what hath he acquired? (Palestinian Hebrew). The reference is to wisdom.
It has a trunk, but it is not an elephant; it eats men and cattle, but it is not a tiger; whatever it eats, it eats on the spot. It vanishes with a blast of music. It is born from water. (Assamese). A riddle referring to a mosquito.
Lift me up and Ill tell you more, lay me down as I was before. (Scotch). This phrase is used as a practical joke on people who are given too much curiosity. The first part of the phrase is cut, scratched, or painted on the upper side of a large stone where it may be easily seen and read. When the stone is lifted there is nothing to be found under it, but the curious investigator soon discovers the last part of the phrase inscribed on the reverse side of the stone, and he quickly drops it back in its place.
One became two, friends became enemies, the crow became a dove. (Kashmiri). An old mans description of himselfOne man has become two in that he is obliged to lean on a staff; friends have become enemies in that his teeth, that served him well in youth, are gone; and the crow has become a dove in that his black hair has turned to gray.
Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, whom had they for a father? (Modern Greek). Alexander Negris says that this question, once asked one who was passing an examination, threw him into great perplexity. It is generally used when a person shows unusual stupidity or inability to comprehend some simple proposition. It is similar to the old English question asked childrenWho was the father of Zebedees children?
The crab of the wood is sauce very good for the crab of the sea, but the wood of the crab is sauce for a drab that will not her husband obey. (English). The crab of the wood is a land crab; the wood of the crab is the wood of the crab-apple tree; and a drab is a slatternly woman.
The father is not yet born, but the son has taken his stand behind. (Behar). A riddle proverb referring to smoke. The saying is used when one has been waiting many days for some event or benefit. As a father is born before a son, so fire is kindled before the smoke appears; but when ones expectations have been fixed for a long time the natural order seems to be reversedthe son comes before the father and the smoke before the fire. The father was still in the pod, the son went to a wedding party. The son is not yet born, but a beat of the drum proclaims the event beforehand. Before the cudgel and his forehead have met, he cries out O father! O father! The trees in the orchard have not yet been planted, but the woodworms have settled down beforehand. (Behar). The jack fruit is yet on the tree, but the oil has been already applied to the lipsto prevent its sticking. (Urdu). We have no son and yet are giving him a name. (Spanish, Telugu). While the cotton crop was still in the field, he said Three cubits for Poli and six for methree cubits of cloth for Poli, a feminine name representing a cousin. Tying beads round an unborn child. (Telugu). Soon enough to cry Chuck when its oot o the shell. (Scotch). Dont reckon your eggs before they are laid. (Italian). To celebrate the triumph before the victory. (Latin). Do not reckon your chickens before they are hatched. Count not four except you have them in a wallet. (English). Chickens are slow in coming from unlaid eggs. (German).
Two are better than three; woe to the one which goes but never returns. (Hebrew). It is better to be strong and able to walk without the aid of a staff. Woe is it for ones youth to pass, for it never returns.
Ware and Wades-mill are worth all London. (English). The proverb seems to refer to the town of Ware and part of a village called Wades-mill, two miles north, whereas the reference is probably to ware as merchandise. This I assure you, is a masterpiece of the vulgar wits of this country, wherewith they endeavour to amuse travellers, as if Ware, a thoroughfare market, and Wades-mill, part of a village lying two miles north thereof, were so prodigiously rich as to countervail the wealth of London. The fallacy lieth in the homonymy of Ware, here not taken for that town so named, but appellatively for all vendible commodities. It is rather a riddle than a proverb.John Ray.
When hempe is spun, England is undone. (English). The word hemp is formed of the letters H-E-M-P-E, the initials of Henry, Edward, Mary, Philip, and Elizabeth, and supposed to threaten that after the reigns of those princes England would be losti.e., conquered. Fuller remarks that, to keep this saying in countenance, it may pretend to some truth, for, on the death of Elizabeth, and accession of King James I the kingdom, by its junction with Scotland, took the title of Great Britain, by royal proclamation, and thereby the name of England was in one sense lost. Some interpreted this distich more literally, supposing it meant that, when all the hemp in England was expended, there would be an end of our naval force, which would indeed be fact, if no more could be procured.Francis Grose.
When the way is long you shorten it with your feet, not with a hatchet. (OjiWest Africa). This proverb contains a pun in the original and may be read in the two ways: When the way is long you cut it off with your feet, not with a hatchet, and When the way is long you pass over or through it with your feet, not with a hatchet.
Which is the fairest view of Scotland? (Scotch). Answerthe road that leads out of it, or the road that leads to England. This old proverbial riddle is sometimes quoted by Scotchmen as a reflection on the poverty of their own land, and sometimes used as a sneer at other Scotchmen who have left their homes to find employment in England. Another proverb often quoted in Scotland is, England is fat feeding ground for North Country cattle. I am to carry you to old Father Crackenthrops, and then you are within a spit and a stride of Scotland, as the saying is. But mayhaps you may think twice of going thither for all that; for Old England is fat feeding ground for north country cattle.Sir Waller Scott. In all my travels I never met with any one Scotchman but that was a man of sense. I believe everybody of that country that has any, leaves it as fast as he can.Francis Lockier.
You cannot spell Yarmouth steeple right. (English). John Ray declares that the saying is also applied to Chesterfield Spire in Derbyshire. This is a play on the word right. Yarmouth spire is awry or crooked, and cannot be set right or straight by spelling. Some who choose to go further afield for a meaning consider the word spell as a verb, signifying to conjure with spells, and make the meaning to be, You cannot, by any spell, set Yarmouth spire straight or upright.Francis Grose.