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D.E. Marvin, comp. Curiosities in Proverbs. 1916.

Contemptuous Proverbs

Including Sneering, Jeering, Scoffing, and Taunting Expressions and Sarcastic Phrases

A fool: unable to make out the front from the hind part of an elephant. (Behar).
“Said of a fool who cannot make ‘head or tail’ of anything—like the villager who, it is said, on seeing an elephant for the first time, exclaimed: ‘It has tails on both ends.’”—John Christian.

After Abbádán no village remains. (Arabian).
A derisive expression applied to people who laud their native town no matter how lowly and obscure it is. Abbádán was said to be a place in the district of Sowád on the eastern bank of the Tigris.

A great man that with his turban cocked! (Bengalese).
Applied to an insignificant person who boasts of his great ability.

A great merchant—eighteen robberies on his premises! (Bengalese).
A scoff at anyone who boasts of wealth and position but who is known to be poor and lowly.

A great wedding—lac-paper on both legs! (Bengalese).
Spoken jeeringly when one makes “a great ado about nothing,” or displays his ornaments, or, although in humble circumstances, has a pretentious marriage procession.

A huge baboon with a big belly, yet declines jumping across to Lanká! (Bengalese).
Lanká is the Sanskrit name of Ceylon or its capital.
The reference is to the monkeys who helped Ráma in his fabled invasion of the island.
The proverb is applied to a braggart or one who, because of his appearance of physical strength, gives promise of ability, but who shrinks from a small enterprise.

A hundred of the goldsmith’s are not equal to one of the blacksmith’s. (Behar).
A hundred strokes of the diminutive hammer of the goldsmith does not equal in its results one stroke of the blacksmith’s sledge.
The proverb is used in scoffing at the feeble efforts of one who attempts great things and fails.

An unexpected thing has happened; the head Bhakat has been found fault with, whom shall I make Medhi? (Assamese).
The proverb is of course ironical. Next to the Gosain, the Bhakat is the most powerful person at the Sastra; of less importance is the Medhi, who, being the agent of the Gosain in the village, has particular honours paid to him at the village feasts.

A pair, a wonderful pair: one has ears that have been cut off, and the other is a thief. (Assamese).
An ironical proverb. In olden times the punishment for stealing in India was the loss of both ears.

A red packsaddle on a lazy ox. (Bengalese).
A sarcastic phrase applied to a coarse person who seeks recognition from others by fine apparel and display.
“A man is not always known by his looks nor is the sea measured with a bushel.” (Chinese). “Everyone sees his smart coat, no one sees his shrunken belly.” “Fine linen often conceals a foul skin.” (Danish). “Fine clothes often hide a base descent.” “Fine dressing is usually a foul house swept before the door.” “Foppish dressing tells the world the outside is the best of the puppet.” “It is not the gay coat that makes the gentleman.” “No fine clothes can hide the clown.” (English).

A retailer of ginger getting tidings of his ship. (Bengalese).
A jeer at a man of limited means who talks about his large undertakings.
“Great boast and little roast make unsavoury mouths.” “None more apt to boast than those who have least worth.” (English).

As bashful as a hog. (Modern Greek).

A servant and a dog are alike. (Bengalese).
Spoken by a servant who has an inconsiderate master.

As fierce as a lion of Cotswold. (English).
The lion of Cotswold is understood to be a sheep.
The expression is used in referring to a coward.
Sometimes it is said: “As fierce as a lion with a white face,” or “As violent as an Essex lion.” In Scotland the phrase, “As bold as a Lammermoor lion,” is used. The reference in each case is to a calf.

As happy as a parson’s wife during her husband’s life. (English).
An ironical expression used in the early part of the seventeenth century.

Ask the tapster if his ale be gude. (Scotch).
An ill-natured retort to one who questions another’s integrity by asking him for information regarding his character or possessions. There are several similar English sayings: “Ask the seller if his ware be bad.” “Ask my companion whether I be a thief.” “Ask my mother if my father be a thief.” The Italians say: “Ask the host if he has good wine.”

As learn’t as a scholar o’ Buckhaven College. (Scotch).
See Proverbs that are Founded on Historic Incidents, Legends, Folk-Tales, etc: “To fence in the cuckoo.”
By the scholar is meant a Buckhaven fisherman. There is no such institution as Buckhaven College. It is common in many lands for people to select a locality or town within their borders for taunting purposes and it is not surprising that the Scotch should make merry over some place with which they were familiar. There is no particular reason why Buckhaven should be regarded as containing more ignorant people than any other town. Asia had its Phrygia, France its Abdera, Greece its Bœotia, Hindustan its Bohilkhund, Germany its Swabia, and Galilee its Nazareth. England also had its Nottingham, particularly Gotham located therein, that was supposed to be the place where fools lived.

  • “A little smith of Nottingham
  • Who doth the work that no man can.”
  • To say that a man was “as wise as a man of Gotham” has long been equivalent to calling him a fool, though the Gothamites are no more foolish than others, and the absurd stories told about them are without the slightest foundation.
    “If a man of Naresh (in Babylonia) has kissed thee, count thy teeth.” (Hebrew). “Children of Badn.” (Hindustani).

    A squaw’s tongue runs faster than the wind’s legs. (American Indian).
    “One tongue is enough for a woman.” “One tongue is enough for two women.” (English). “The tongue of women is their sword, and they take care not to let it rust.” (Chinese).

    Bring change for this. (Persian).
    This is a reply to one who asks the loan of money, and is spoken as a rupee is held before his face.

    Cleaned in a mortar. (Hindustani).
    An ironical expression to indicate that the person has many faults.

    Cutting grass for a dead cow. (Bengalese).
    Applied derisively to one who labours for those who do not pay their servants.

    Eagles catch nae fleas. (Scotch).
    Applied to people who excuse themselves from meeting small obligations on the ground that large and important affairs consume all the time at their command.
    The saying is found in many languages, but probably came from the Latin motto: “Aquila non capit muscas.”

    Father’s and grandfather’s names forgotten, he is the grandson of Hida the weaver. (Bengalese).
    Tauntingly applied to one who boasts of ancestors who are of no great consequence.

    For beauty a camel, for singing an ass. (Telugu).

    For the love of my beau I did not observe whether he had a beard. (Modern Greek).
    An expression of repugnance for one whose presence is disagreeable.

    Give him some rue, lest he be bewitched. (Modern Greek).
    Used ironically and applied to people who are always anticipating some evil, and who, because of this are timid and irresolute and act as though they were bewitched.
    In olden times rue was thought to possess magical power, particularly in protecting against the influence of witches. Aristotle accounted for the superstition by declaring that Greeks were not in the habit of sitting at the table with strangers, and that when by accident or otherwise they did so, they at once became nervous and excited and ate so rapidly that the food was not properly digested and caused flatulency, indigestion, nightmare, and similar ailments, which indicated the presence of evil powers and led them to the conclusion that they were bewitched. Finding that rue was an antidote they adopted it as a charm.
    In England the plant was thought to have a special influence on the eyes, enabling any person who had it in his possession to see witches. Sometimes it was placed over the door to keep witches out.
    According to Milton, Adam’s eyes were cleansed by its use.

  • “To nobler sights
  • Michael, from Adam’s eyes the film removed
  • Which that false fruit, which promised clearer sight
  • Had bred, then purged with Euphrasie and Rue
  • The visual nerve, for he had much to see.”
  • So potent, and even sacred, was the plant thought to be that the priests of old England made brushes of it with which they sprinkled holy water. For this reason rue was called the “Herb of Grace.”
    On the continent it was twined with crane’s-bill and willow in making magic wreaths.

    God had seen him through a sieve-hole. (Modern Greek).
    This is a taunting proverb applied to people who have had great expectations that have come to nothing.

    Gude reason and part of cause. (Scotch).
    “An ironical approbation of some foolish saying, action, or design.”—James Kelly.

    Hareship in the Highlands, the hens in the corn, if the cock goes in, it will never be shorn. (Scotch).
    An ironical exclamation over a small loss.
    “Her’ship, a Scottish word which may be said to be now obsolete; because fortunately the practice of ‘plundering by armed force,’ which is its meaning, does not require to be commonly spoken of.”—Sir Walter Scott.

    He has taken root even in the rock. (Bengalese).
    Applied sarcastically to anyone who has succeeded in securing a gift either as a present or as alms from one who has the reputation of being miserly.

    He cannot be contented in a basket, and when he sleeps he does not eat. (Modern Greek).
    Used in referring to anyone who has been praised when praise is not deserved.

    Hell neither dee nor do weel. (Scotch).
    Sarcastically applied to one in ill health who is constantly fault-finding and fretful.

    He’s a hardy man to draw a sword at a haggis. (Scotch).
    A taunting phrase applied to boasters.
    A haggis is a pudding peculiar to Scotland. “Popular opinion holds firmly to the idea of national dishes or at least insists upon associating certain viands with certain nationalities. It is thus we speak of English roast beef, Scotch haggis, Irish stew, and, if we dare venture to name it, Welsh ‘rabbit.’”—Frederick W. Hackwood.
    The force of the proverb may be seen by the following quotation.
    “There was never a more extraordinary feast than that described in Noctes Ambrosianæ in which occurs the ‘deluge of haggis.’ The dishes, brought in all together, were as miscellaneous a collection as could be well imagined—a hot roasted round of beef, a couple of boiled ducks, a trencher of tripe à la Meg Dods, a haggis, a pickled salmon, Welsh rabbits, oysters raw, stewed, scalloped, and pickled, ‘Rizzards,’ ‘Finzeans’ (sun-dried haddock and smoke-dried haddock), and red herrings. This was supposed to be ‘a bonny wee neat bit sooper for three’; and if appetite for the encounter could have been generated by excitement it was soon forthcoming; for, alarming to relate, as soon as the shepherd had all too rashly ‘stuck’ the haggis, it overflowed the table! Then there was a stir and bustle and consternation, a mad rush for towels, and a calling of all hands to the rescue. Presently the messy tide overflowed the carpet and a greater demand was made on the napery for the construction of a dam across the floor. Indeed, ere the festivity could be resumed, a period of perturbation and disturbance had to be endured, till the wretched haggis had ‘subsided.’ When eventually the precious company had escaped being ‘drooned in haggis,’ a fate far ‘waur than Clarence’s dream,’ confidence was restored and the festivity at last proceeded with soberness and harmony.”—Frederick W. Hackwood in Good Cheer.

    He wouldna lend his gully, no, to the deil to stick himsel’. (Scotch).
    Applied to mean men who refuse to part with their money for any cause. The meaning is similar to the sarcastic Italian saying: “He would not lend the devil a knife to cut his throat.”

    His calves are gone to grass. (English).
    Used as a jeer at men with slender legs.

    His mother a radish, his father a turnip—it is a noble birth. (Osmanli).
    “His mother an onion, his father a garlic clove, he himself a cinder clout.” (Osmanli).

    How hath the oppressed ceased: the golden city ceased. (Hebrew).
    See Isa. xiv:4.
    A taunting proverb once quoted by a prophet against the king of Babylon. It is a short reflection against some ruler. If any particular ruler was intended it was Balshazzar.
    How is it that the king of Babylon, who oppresses his subjects and exacts heavy tribute from dependent provinces, has discontinued his exactions? Why has Babylon, that was called “the Golden City” because of the gold that was poured into it through tribute money, ceased to enrich herself in that way?

    If e’er you mak a lucky puddin’ I’ll eat the prick. (Scotch).
    I am as likely to eat a hole as you are to be lucky.

    If he is very straight he is still like a sickle. (Behar).
    He is a thoroughly dishonest man; he is crooked even when he is at his best.

    If my dog were as ill-bred as you, the first thing I should do would be to hang him. (Gaelic).

    If ye dinna haud him he’ll do’t a’. (Scotch).
    Applied tauntingly to lazy people.
    If you do not restrain him in some way he will certainly over-exert himself.

    I’ll break your jaws with your own stone and your own roller! (Bengalese).
    A threat spoken in sarcasm and applied to one who, being ungrateful for benefits received, seeks to injure his benefactor.

    It rains on the opposite side. (Modern Greek).
    Used in taunting one who pretends that he does not understand what is said or done.

    It is the same whether you strike with the sharp edge or the blunt side. (Assamese).
    You are of so little consequence and so weak that you cannot injure me.

    Lang beards heartless, painted hoods witless, gay coats graceless, mak’ England thriftless. (Scotch).
    See Local and National Characteristics and Prejudices in Proverbs: “Lang beards,” etc.
    A taunting proverb used during the reign of Edward III when the English and Scotch were at war with each other.
    “In this yere (1327), whiche at this daye was the second yere of Kyng Davyd fore said, the sonne of Robert le Bruze, the kyng of Scottes, marryed upon the forenamed Jane, sister unto the kynge of Englande. But it was not long of the Scottes, in despite of the Englishe menne, call her Jane Makepeace. And also to their more derision thei made diverse truffes, roundes, and songs. Of the which one is specially remembered as follows:

  • ‘Lond beerdis hartless,
  • Paynted hoodes coytless,
  • Gay cottes gracelis,
  • Maketh Englande thryfteles.’
  • Which rhyme, as saieth Grydo, was made by the Scottes, principally for the deformyte of clothyng that at those days was vsed by Englysshe menne.—Robert Fabyan.

    Like the cunning rat flying when it sees the cat. (Bengalese).
    Applied sarcastically to a fool by those who are employed to repair some mischief he has done, and who has been lauded for his caution and prudence.

    Nae equal to you but our dog Sorkie, and he’s dead, so ye’re marrowless. (Scotch).
    A taunting expression applied to boasters.

    Nightingales like the camel. (Osmanli).
    Applied to one whose voice is unpleasant.

    Our daughter-in-law has found out the little corner behind the door. (Modern Greek).
    Used in referring to some one who claims that he has made a great discovery, whereas the matter has been well known.

    Pigs may whistle, but they hae an ill mouth for ’t. (Scotch).
    Applied to people who take responsibilities and attempt to do things far beyond their ability.

    Relaxed in frame, but firm of tongue. (Bengalese).
    A sarcastic reference to boasters.

    Tak your meal wi’ ye an’ your brose will be thicker. (Scotch).
    A sarcastic saying given as advice to anyone who accepts an invitation to a meal where the well-known habits of the host indicate that he will not have sufficient food to eat.
    You would better eat heartily before you go, then your dish of oatmeal and boiling water will be all the thicker.

    The blind man’s quarters are at the turner’s. (Behar).
    The blind man finds employment in turning the turner’s lathe, hence the proverb used sarcastically of the place frequented by anyone.

    The bore flows up the river, therefore seize the potter and bring him before me. (Bengalese).
    Applied to those who blame others falsely and attribute the misdeeds of one person to another.

    The doctor has ringworm on his nose. (Assamese).
    “Physician, heal thyself.”

    The excellent dog bites his master. (Osmanli).

    The fly has eaten iron. (Modern Greek).
    The weakling thinks that he can do an impossible thing.

    The Jews are welcome to Saturday. (Persian).
    A taunt arising from a belief among Moslems that Saturday is an unlucky day.

    The jingle of his brass pots is in the air, while the royal youth knocks down the birds. (Bengalese).
    A jeer at people who with inadequate means seek to imitate the practices and dress of the great and wealthy.
    The brass worker acts as though he were indulging in the pleasures of the chase.

    The kiss of love wounds the tip of the nose. (Assamese).
    Literally: “The kiss of love breaks asunder the cartilage.” Used in referring to dissimulated love.

    The mean man’s ox has fallen. (Hindustani).
    Used in deriding a man who has given an exaggerated account of losses that are in fact trivial.

    Them that likes na water brose will scunner at cauld steerie. (Scotch).
    Brose is made of oatmeal and water. Cauld steerie is cold sour milk and meal. Scunner—i.e., to loathe or be disgusted.
    A taunting phrase used when people complain of their food.

    The nails grow at sight of the barber! (Bengalese).
    As if one, seeing a barber pass, suddenly thinks of his nails which need attention and, stopping him, insists on immediate service regardless of the barber’s other engagements.
    The saying is sarcastically applied to people who impatiently demand attention, no matter how much they inconvenience others.

    The science of the camel is selling of silk; verily it suits his hand and foot. (Osmanli).
    A scoff at the attempt of a clumsy person to perform a task that requires skill.

    The snake is not poisonous, it only hisses. (Assamese).
    The fellow is not dangerous, he only boasts.

    The son of a tailor; he will sew as long as he lives. (Behar).
    He has low-class habits and will never rise above them.

    Think of fine rice in a coarse and torn bag! (Bengalese).
    Used in sarcasm when a mean man is extolled for the exercise of virtue or praised for some small service.

    This is the right thing, and the other is the wick of the candle. (Spanish).
    Applied to a blunderer as a taunt when he mistakes one thing for another.

    Unable to fly, in vain the bird flaps its wings. (Bengalese).
    Used in derision when anyone attempts to do that which is beyond his strength.

    We know what flower it is, there is no need of a declaration. (Osmanli).
    We know the man’s character, there is no need of your telling us about him.

    Ye’re the wit o’ the townhead, that called the haddock’s head a thing. (Scotch).
    A sneer at one who is talking foolishly.

    You are always best when asleep. (English).

    You are not I and I am no cur. (Gaelic).

    You are so cunning that you know not what weather it is when it rains. (English).

    You were not within when (common) sense was distributed. (Gaelic).

    You will have in store whatever you have not eaten. (Persian).
    A phrase frequently quoted to misers in olden times, but sometimes used seriously in advising spendthrifts to cultivate habits of thrift and economy.