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

Retorting Proverbs

A chariot moves not on a single wheel. (Sanskrit).
A response to people who exercise poor judgment or act with evil intent and then charge their mishaps and failures to fate.

A lack and a lack, says one—make two score and ten, says another. (Bengalese).
A reproving rejoinder to a blusterer who belittles a great undertaking and asserts that it can be accomplished with little labour and expense.

Ask the sick man if he wishes for a bed. (Turkish).
For similar retorts see Contemptuous Proverbs: “Ask the tapster if his ale is gude.”

As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth. (English).
Used in answering the question, “How old are you?” when one does not care to tell his age.

Drive a nail to me also. (Modern Greek).
A reply to the boasting remarks of a conceited person, who compares himself to others who are greatly his superiors in intelligence and rank.

Eat your melons, what business have you with the melon bed? (Persian).
Take what is offered to you and ask no questions.
Used in answering one who makes many inquiries as to the source from which he is to receive pay for services.

Enough, sir, enough, I already see your army. (Hindustani).
Spoken in derision to one who boasts.

Explain thy meaning and give not the author’s name. (Spanish).
To one who insinuates that he has information that he is not permitted to give because it was communicated to him in confidence.

For the truth seven twists are not required. (Telugu).
A response to one who tries to cover a falsehood or misdeed by lengthy explanations.

Gar wood’s ill to grow, chuckie stanes are ill to chow. (Scotch).
Forced woods are hard to grow; pebbles are hard to chew.
A response to one who threatens force if his wishes are not complied with.

Give me your eyes and go about to beg. (Hindustani).
A response to a person who makes unreasonable demands.

Go wash your mouth. (Hindustani).
Used as a reply when one does not intend to grant a favour.

Hout your dogs and bark yoursel’. (Scotch).
Explained by James Kelly as, “A sharp return to those that say ‘Hout’ to us, which is a word of contempt; in Latin, apage!”

I am not a camel that you should wound me in two places of my neck. (Persian).
Quoted by a man who refuses to be put to any expenditure of time or money for the benefit of another who has injured him.

If they ask you for cabbages, my father has a field full of peas. (Spanish).
A proverbial reproach to a person who has given an irrelevant answer to a question.

I have eaten children all my life and they now call me witch. (Bengalese).
Witches are said to eat children and make ointment out of their fat.
The rejoinder of one who has been charged with a fault or evil practice that he has indulged all his life without censure.

“I’m but beginning yet,” quo’ the wife when she run wud. (Scotch).
A reply to those who ask whether one is through speaking or acting.

I pricked nae louse since I darned your hose, an then I might hae pricked a thousand. (Scotch).
Said to have been originally the reply of a tailor to one who called him a prick louse.
Commenting on the proverb, Alexander Hislop asks whether it “is not meant as a reply to one who may have been under the evil influence of another and who, having shaken himself free of it, can say honestly that since he has done so he has been perfectly free, however much he may have been under it before.”

I would hae something to look at on Sunday. (Scotch).
A reply when asked “Of what use would it be to you to get married?”

Kiss your luckie, she lives in Leith. (Scotch).
Luckie is a word used in referring to a woman, particularly an old or married woman.
An intentionally irrelevant reply.

  • “Gin ony sour mou’d girning bucky
  • Ca’ me conceity, keckling chucky,
  • That we, like nags whase necks are yenky,
  • Hae used our teeth,
  • I’ll answer fine—Gae kiss your lucky,
  • She dwalls i’ Leith.”
  • Allan Ramsay.
  • Knead meal and make a cake. (Modern Greek).
    A rejoinder to one who pretends that he cannot do that which is clearly within his ability.

    Krishna’s name from a raven’s mouth! (Bengalese).
    An exclamation of surprise when an ignorant or foolish man makes a sensible remark.
    It is said that minas and parrots are frequently taught by the Bengalese to pronounce the name Krishna.

    Like the wabster stealing through the world. (Scotch).
    A facetious reply to the question: “How are you getting on?”
    The saying reflects, as do many proverbial retorts, on the honesty and honour of weavers. Why the weaver should become the scapegoat of proverb makers is not known. In Spain it is said: “A hundred tailors, a hundred millers, and a hundred weavers are three hundred thieves”; and in Germany men quote the maxim: “Millers, tailors, and weavers are not hanged or the trades would soon be extinct.” In India weavers are frequently mentioned in the precepts of everyday life and always with contempt or ridicule. John Christian, commenting on the Behar proverb, “The goat of a weaver, and given to viciousness!”—or butting, says: “The quiet, humble, forbearing weaver, the butt of all and the typical fool of Indian society, is the most inoffensive of human beings; therefore, from a parity of reasoning, helped by imagination, his goat, of all creatures in the world, ought to be the most inoffensive! Then, goats are not usually vicious, and much less the goat of a weaver.”
    See Proverbs Founded on Historic Incidents, etc.: “The weaver lost his way in a linseed field.”

    Mair in a mair dish. (Scotch).
    More in a larger dish.
    An answer of one who has eaten all the food that has been given to him and who has been asked whether he will have some more.

    Mix eggs and butter and make gravy for sharpening. (Modern Greek).
    A response to one who has refused to grant a favour.
    A soldier once asked a country woman for some refreshment. Not wishing to supply his need, she pleaded as an excuse that she had nothing to give, whereupon the soldier told her to mix eggs and butter and make gravy for sharpening, and give it to him. The reply of the soldier is said to have given rise to the saying.

    One must wash even a dog’s feet to gain a support. (Bengalese).
    The retort of one who has been taunted with engaging in some mean or ignoble employment. It is sometimes used as an excuse for obsequiousness.

    Say aye “No” and ye’ll ne’er be married. (Scotch).
    A jocular response to one who has declined to accept a favour.

    Seek your sa’ where you got your ail, and beg your barm where you buy your ale. (Scotch).
    Seek your salve where you got your hurt, and beg your yeast where you buy your ale.
    “The surly reply of a person who has been shunned for some trivial or mistaken reason by one who is compelled by circumstances to apply to him for information or assistance.”—Alexander Hislop.
    This retort seems to be an enlargement of the Scotch saying, “Seek your salve where you get your sore,” which James Kelly claims to be used with the same import as the phrase, “Tak a hair o’ the dog that bit you,” or “Sober yourself by taking another glass.”

    Send your gentle blude to the market and see what it will buy. (Scotch).
    A retort to one who boasts of his ancestors.

    Sweet words are in your mouth, but in your heart a razor’s edge. (Bengalese).
    A response to a hypocrite who speaks fair words to one whom he has slandered.

    That’s the way to marry me if ere you should hap to do it. (Scotch).
    A reply to one who has been too familiar.

    The geese is a’ on the green, and the gan’er on the gerse. (Scotch).
    A phrase used in refusing one who asks a gift.

    The sky was kicked away by the kite. (Telugu).
    An answer to an impertinent question.

    They wist as weel that didna speir. (Scotch).
    An answer to an impertinent question equivalent to “You would know as well had you not asked.”

    Very weel; thanks to you that speers. (Scotch).
    I am very well—thank you for inquiring about my health.

    Wash your face with the water of a stagnant pool. (Hindustani).
    Used contemptuously in refusing to grant a request.

    Weel enough, but nothing too wanton. (Scotch).
    An answer to one who inquires about another’s health.

    What puts that in your head that didna put the sturdy wi’t? (Scotch).
    Sturdy—i.e., a disease in cattle. Giddy.
    A question of surprise to one who has spoken of something about which he was supposed to be in ignorance. Sometimes used when one has made a foolish remark.

    Whom do I exceed in plaguing dogs? (Persian).
    A retort by one who has been accused of treating others with disdain, tormenting and oppressing them—equivalent to saying: “Those whom I injure are not men but dogs, who are treated with greater severity by others than they are by me.”

    Wonder at your auld shoon when you hae gotten your new. (Scotch).
    A reply to those who express surprise at your behaviour. It’s time enough to wonder at the condition of your old shoes when you get a new pair.

    Ye’re come o’ blude, and sae’s a pudding. (Scotch).
    A retort to one who boasts of his ancestry.

    Ye’re early with your orders, as the bride said at the church door. (Irish).

    You a lady, I a lady, who is to put the sow out of doors? (Gallican).
    A satire on pride used in response to anyone who objects to engaging in some lowly employment because of his social position.
    “You a gentleman and I a gentleman, who will milk the cow?” (Turkish). “If I am master and thou art master, who shall drive the asses?” (Arabian). “I am a queen and you are a queen so who is to fetch the water?” (Hindustani).

    You cackle often but never lay an egg. (English).

    You have broken my head and now you bring a plaster. (Spanish).

    You may catch a hare with a tabor as soon. (English).
    See Curious Proverbial Similes:” Like a sow playing on a trump.”
    Hazlitt suggests that this retort may have arisen from the satirical drawing of a hare playing on a tabor.
    “It is astonishing what may be effected by constant exertion and continually tormenting even the most timid and most untractable animals; for no one would readily believe that a hare could have been sufficiently emboldened to face a large concourse of spectators without expressing its alarm, and beat upon a tambourine in their presence; yet such a performance was put in practice not many years back, and exhibited at Sadler’s Wells; and, if I mistake not, in several other places in and about the metropolis. Neither is this whimsical spectacle a recent invention. A hare that beat the tabor is mentioned by Jonson in his comedy of Bartholomew Fayre acted at the commencement of the seventeenth century; and a representation of the feat itself, taken from a drawing on a manuscript upwards of four hundred years old, in the Harleian Collection, is given below.”—Joseph Strutt in Sports and Pastimes.
    Following the above statement, Mr. Strutt gives a copy of the picture to which reference was made.
    “The poor man that gives but his bare fee, or perhaps pleads in formâ pauperis, he hunteth for hares with a tabor, and gropeth in the darke to find a needle in a bottle of hay.”—Robert Greene.

  • “Environed about us, quoth he, which showeth
  • The nearer to the church, the farther from God.
  • Most part of them dwell within a thousand rod;
  • And yet shall we catch a hare with a tabor?
  • As soon as catch aught of them, and rather.”
  • John Heywood.
  • The saying is also quoted by William Langland in the fourteenth century.

    You would spy faults if your eyes were out. (English).
    A rebuke to one who speaks ill of his neighbour.