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

Rhyming Proverbs


A good wife and health are man’s best wealth.
“A good wife and good name hath no mate in goods nor fame.” “The best and worst thing to man for his life, is good or ill choosing his good or ill wife.” “Saith Solomon the Wise, ‘A good wife’s a great prize.’” “A little house well filled, a little land well tilled, a little wife well willed, are great riches.” “A good wife and health are man’s best wealth.” “A good yeoman makes a good woman.” (English).
The following excuse is sometimes quoted by men who have made a poor marriage: “But wives must be had, be they good or bad.”

A man of gladness seldom falls into madness.

A pullet in the pen is worth a hundred in the fen.
Fen—i.e., the mud or mire.
This proverb is found under many forms in all parts of the world. It is often quoted: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

As a man lives, so shall he die; as a tree falls, so shall it lie.
Eccles. xi:3.
“He that lives wickedly can hardly die honestly.” (English). “As the life is, so is the end.” (Latin).

Cheese, it is a peevish elf; it digests all things but itself.
This English proverb, borrowed, from the Latin, is one of many sayings relating to cheese. Among them are the following: “After cheese comes nothing.” “Toasted cheese hath no master.” “Make good cheese if you make little.” “As demure as if butter would melt in his mouth, and yet cheese will not choke him.” (English). “Cheese and bread make the cheeks red.” “Cheese is gold in the morning, silver at noon, lead at night.” (German). “A windy year, an apple year; a rainy Easter, a cheese year.” (French). “Cheese from the ewe, milk from the goat, butter from the cow.” (Spanish).
Among the precepts of the Salerno school of health was this one regarding the use of cheese: “Cheese is wholesome when it is given with a sparing hand.”
Suffolk cheese has often been the subject of humour: “Hunger,” it is said, “will break through anything except Suffolk cheese.”

  • “Cheese such as men in Suffolk make,
  • But wish’d it Stilton for his sake.”
  • Alexander Pope.
  • The familiar English saying: “Every Jack must have his Jill,” is rendered thus by the Creoles of Mauritius: “There is no cheese but that can find brown bread.”
  • “He was of old Pythagoras’ opinion
  • That green cheese was most wholesome with an onion;
  • Coarse meslin bread, and for his daily swig,
  • Milk, buttermilk and water, why and whig.”
  • John Taylor.
  • “If all the world were apple pie,
  • And all the seas were ink,
  • And all the trees were bread and cheese,
  • My stars! What should we think?”
  • Bishop John Still.
  • The Welshman’s love of cheese has become almost a proverb.
    “I will rather trust a Fleming with my butter, Parson Hugh, the Welshman with my cheese, an Irishman with my aqua-vitæ bottle, or a thief to walk my ambling gelding, than my wife with herself.”—Shakespeare: Merry Wives of Windsor.It was customary in olden times to tell children in sport that the moon was made of cream or green cheese.
  • “Have ye not heard tell, all covet, all lose?
  • Ah, sir! I see ye may see no green cheese
  • But your teeth must water—a good cockney coke!
  • Though ye love not to bury the pig in the poke.”
  • John Heywood.
  • An old direction for making cheese has taken the form of a proverb, and it was said: “If you will have good cheese, and have old, you must turn him seven times before he is cold.”
    Among the French who observed how little of the royal revenues entered the sovereign’s coffers, it was common to say: “A king’s cheese goes half away in parings.”

    Children and chicken, must ever be picking.
    “Children pick up words as pigeons peas”—sometimes the saying was lengthened by adding: “And utter them again as God shall please.” (English). “Women, priests, and poultry are never satisfied.” (Italian). “The hen lives by pickings as the lion by prey.” (Danish).

    Eat at pleasure, drink by measure.
    This proverb was adopted from the French saying: “Eat bread at pleasure, drink wine by measure.”

    Find a sluggard without a scuse, and find a hare without a muse.
    Every sluggard has his excuse, and every hare a hole in a wall or hedge through which he can escape his pursuers.

  • “Take a hare without a muse
  • And a knave without excuse,
  • And hang them.”
  • James Howell.
  • Four farthings and a thimble make a tailor’s pocket jingle.

    He gives twice that gives in a trice.
    This proverb is found in nearly every language. “The best generosity is that which is quick.” (Arabian). “He gives a benefit twice who gives quickly to a poor man.” (Latin). “He who gives quickly gives doubly.” (German). “To give quickly is the best charity.” (Hindoo). “To give quickly is a great virtue.” (Hindustani). “He doubles his gift that gives in time.” (Scotch).

    Hobi-de-hoy, neither man nor boy.
    That is, a boy that has almost reached the age of manhood, equivalent to the expression: “Neither hay nor grass.” Sometimes the saying is rendered: “Hober-de-hoy half a man and half a boy.”
    Thomas Tusser declared that the third age of seven years (that is the age between 15–21) was to be kept “under Sir Hobbard de Hoy.”
    No satisfactory explanation of the meaning of hobi-de-hoy has yet been given. The claim that has been advanced—that it came from combining the old English word hob (a clown) and the Welsh word holden (a tomboy)—is fanciful.
    Children sometimes apply the name of hobi-de-hoy to a large top that has become unmanageable.

    I wot well how the world wags, he is most loved that has the most bags.
    “Money is the sinew of love as well as of war.” (English).

    Little boats must keep the shore, larger ships may venture more.

    Little knocks rive great blocks.

    Nothing is man’s truly but that he comes by duly.

    She that’s fair, and fair would be, must wash herself with fumitory.

    Singers and ringers are little home bringers.

    Some go to law for the wagging of a straw.

    The aler’s as bad as the staler.
    Aler—i.e., conceal.
    “The receiver is as bad as the thief.” (English).

    The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel the dog, rule all England under the hog.
    “A gentleman named Collingbourne wrote the following couplet respecting Catesby, Radcliff, and Lovel giving their advice to Richard III, whose crest, it will be remembered, was a white boar:

  • ‘The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel our dog,
  • Rule all England under a hog.’
  • He was executed on Tower Hill for writing the foregoing lines. After ‘having been hanged,’ it is recorded: ‘He was cut down immediately and his entrials were then extracted and thrown into the fire, and all this was so speedily performed that,’ Stow says, ‘When the executioners pulled out his heart he spoke and said, “Jesus, Jesus.”’”—William Andrews.

    “Tongue breaketh bone and herself hath none,” quoth Hendyng.
    The last two words are often omitted.
    “The tongue is boneless but it breaks bones.” (Modern Greek, Turkish). “The tongue breaketh bone though itself have none.” (French). “The tongue is boneless, yet in speaking is very wicked.” (Marathi). “A boneless tongue may say anything.” (Tamil). “The tongue has no bone: as it knows (resolves or chooses), it speaks; as it knows, it makes things turn.” (Osmanli).

    Well begun is half done.
    This phrase is said to have come from the Greek saying that “The half is better than the whole.” (Hesiod). Similar expressions are found in nearly all languages. “Half is more than the whole.” (Latin). “A good beginning is half a battle.” “Well done, soon done.” “Well done, twice done.” (English). “A man prepared has half fought the battle.” “To begin matters is to have them half finished.” “To be lucky at the beginning is everything.” (Spanish). “It is a small thing to run; we must start at the right moment.” “A happy beginning is half the work.” (French). “Boldly attempted is half won.” (German). “The hardest step is that over the threshold.” “The difficult thing is to get foot in the stirrup.” (Italian).

  • “A prouerbe I haue herde saie,
  • That who that well his worke beginneth,
  • The rather a good ende he winneth.”
  • John Gower.
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play.
    Found not only in English but in German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, and in many other languages.
    “What wots the mouse, the cat’s out of the house.” “Well knows the mouse that the cat’s out o’ the house.” “A blate cat maks a proud mouse.” (Scotch). “Where the cat is not, the mice are awake.” (French). “When the cat is not in the house, the mice dance.” (Italian). “When the cat sleeps the mice play.” “When the cat’s away, it is jubilee with the mice.” (Dutch). “The cat is absent, and the mice dance.” (Modern Greek), “Were the cat at home, it were worse for you.” (Welsh, Irish). “There is a thick mist, so sing as you please.” “Lamps out, the turban vanishes”—that is, when the ruler dies or is deposed, the people commit crime. (Hindustani). “When the King is away, the Queen is free to act as she likes.” (Behar). “One said to a wife: ‘O Poli, Poli, how long will you enjoy yourself?’ ‘’Till my mother-in-law comes back from the Pariah quarter,’ she replied.” (Telugu).

    Whoso heweth over-high, the chips will fall in his eye.

    Women’s jars breed men’s wars.

    You must do as they do at the Hoo; what you can’t do in one day, you must do in two.


    Better rugh and sonsy than bare and dansy.
    Better be rough with plenty than genteel with poverty.

    Better skaith saved than mends made.
    Better not injure another than be compelled to make amends to him afterwards.

    Birk will burn be it burn drawn, sauch will sab if it were simmer sawn.
    Wood will burn though it be drawn through water, willow will droop though it be planted in summer. Nature will always be true to itself.

    Bode a robe and wear it, bode a pock and bear it.
    Want a robe and wear it, want a bag and carry it.
    “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal. vi:7, 8).

    Condition makes, condition breaks.
    The conditions to a contract continue binding unless both parties agree to break them.

    Eat meat an’s never fed; wear claes an’s never cled.
    Applied to people who continually complain of their food and clothing.

    Fair and honest John o’ the Bank, has aye the right gully by the shank.
    Used in compliment to one who has been fair and honest in some business transaction.
    “John o’ the Bank was John Richardson, tenant of Blackadder Bank farm, in the Parish of Edrom, Berwickshire, at the end of the last (seventeenth) century. He was a witty, jovial fellow, fond of a dance. When striking a bargain he was wont to commend his own truthfulness and honesty by saying that ‘he was fair and honest John o’ the Bank.’”—George Henderson.

    God send us a’ to dae weel, and then have hap to meet wi seil.
    God grant that we may all do well and afterwards chance to meet salvation.

    Greed is envy’s auldest blither; scraggy wark they mak’ thegither.

    Hae you gear, or hae you nane, tine heart and a’ is gane.
    Have you wealth or have you none; if you lose heart all is gone.

    He that hasna purse to fine, may hae flesh to pine.
    ‘“It will be nonsense to fine me,’ said Andrew doubtily, ‘that hasna a grey groat to pay a fine wi’—it’s all taking the breeks aff a Hielandman!’ ‘If ye hae nae purse to fine, ye hae flesh to pine,’ replied the Bailie, ‘and I will look weel to ye getting your deserts the tae way or the tither.’—Sir Walter Scott: Rob Roy.
    ‘“Why, what would you do, my lord, with the poor young fellow?’ said a noble Marquis present. ‘The Lord Keeper has got all his estates—he has not a cross to bless himself with.’
    On which the ancient Lord Turntippet replied: ‘If he hasna gear to fine, he has skins to pine, and that was our way before the Revolution.”—Sir Walter Scott: The Bride of Lammermoor.

    He that sits upon a stane is twice fain.
    He that sits upon a stone is first glad because of the rest that he obtains, and then glad to rise and go on his way because the stone is hard.

    Hips and haws are very good meat, but bread and butter is better to eat.
    Hips—i.e., the fruit of the dogrose or wild brier. Haws—i.e., the fruit of the hawthorn.

  • “Where thou shalt eat of the hips and haws,
  • And the roots that are so sweet.”
  • Francis J. Child.
  • House gaes mad when women gad.

  • “The wife that expects to have a good name,
  • Is always at home as if she were lame;
  • And the maid that is honest, her chiefest delight
  • Is still to be doing from morning to night.”
  • Old English Rhyme.
  • Hunger me and I’ll harry thee.
    A servant’s proverb. If you do not deal justly with me I will give you trouble with unfaithful work and dishonest practices.

    If he be nae a sauter, he’s gude shoe clouter.
    Even though he may not be a good shoemaker, he may be a good cobbler.

    If Skidaw hath a cap, Scruffel wots full weel o’ that.
    Skidaw and Scruffel are the names of two hills, one in Scotland and the other in England. So near are they to each other that when a fog rests on one, rain is expected to fall on the other.
    “When Scotland, in the last century, felt its allegiance to England doubtful, and when the French sent an expedition to the Land of Cakes, a local proverb was revived to show the identity of interests which affected both nations:

  • ‘If Skidaw hath a cap,
  • Scruffel wots full well of that.’”
  • Isaac Disraeli.
  • If the laird slight the leddy, sae will the stable laddie.

    If ye be hasty, ye’ll never be lasty.

    It’s ower late to lout when the head’s got a clout.
    “It’s nae time to stoop when the head’s aff.” (Scotch). “After death the doctor.” “It’s too late to spare when the bottom is bare.” “It is too late to grieve when the chance has past.” “When the horse is starved you bring him oats.” “You come a day after the fair.” “You plead after sentence is given.” (English). “After the carriage is broken many offer themselves to show the road.” (Turkish). “After the vintage, baskets.” “To stop the hole after the mischief is done.” (Spanish). “It is too late for the bird to scream when it is caught.” (French). “It is too late to come with water when the house is burned down.” (Spanish, Italian). “When the head is broken, the helmet is put on.” (Italian). “It is too late to throw water on the cinders when the house is burned down.” (Danish). “It is too late to cover the well when the child is drowned.” (German, Danish). “When the calf is stolen, the peasant mends the stall.” “When the wine runs to waste in the cellar, he mends the cask.” (German). “The gladiator having entered the lists is seeking advice.” (Latin). “When the calf is drowned, they cover the well.” (Dutch). “When the corn is eaten, the silly body builds the dyke.” (Gaelic).
    There is a story among the Telugus that a certain man refused to give his son, who was in great need, a single cocoanut; but when the young man died of thirst he presented one to the corpse, whereupon the people formed this proverb: “Alas! My son, drink the water of all the cocoanuts,” which came into general use as an equivalent to the saying, common to many lands, that “It’s too late to lock the stable door when the steed is stolen.”

    I will put a nick in my stick.
    “A sort of tally generally used by bakers of the olden time in settling with their customers. Each family had its corn nick-stick and for each loaf as delivered a notch was made on the stick.

  • Have you not seen a baker’s maid
  • Between two equal panniers sway’d?
  • Her tallies useless lie and idle,
  • If placed exactly in the middle.”
  • Sir Walter Scott.
  • Knowledge is most excellent to win the lands that’s gone and spent.
    This proverb was probably taken from the old book inscription:

  • “John Merton aught this book,
  • God give grace therein to look;
  • Not only to look, but to understand,
  • For learning is better than houses and lands,
  • For when houses and land all is spent
  • Then learning is most excellent.”
  • Like draws aye to like, like an auld horse to a fell dyke.
    “‘Like will to like,’ as the scabbed squire said to the mangy knight, when they both met over a dish of buttered fish.” (English). “‘Like will be like,’ as the devil said to the coal burner.” (German).

    Muckle crack, fills nae sack.
    “Talk does not cook rice.” (Chinese). “Talk is but talk; but ’tis money that buys land.” (English). “Talking is easier than doing, and promising than performing.” (German).

    Put your hand in the creel, tak’ oot an adder or an eel.
    “In buying horses and taking a wife, shut your eyes and commend yourself to God.” (Italian).

    The aik, the ash, the elm tree; they are hanging a’ three.
    In olden times the mutilation of an oak, ash, or elm tree was a criminal offence punishable by death.

    True blue will never stain, but dirty red will dye again.

    Twa gudes seldom meet—what’s gude for the plant is ill for the peat.

    Waly, waly! bairns are bonny; ane’s enough and twa’s ower mony.
    “Pity those who have them, pity more those who haven’t.” (Gaelic).

    When I did weel, I heard it never; when I did ill, I heard it ever.
    This is a servant’s complaint.

    When the man’s fire and the wife’s tow, the deil comes in and blaws’t in lowe.

    When the pea’s in bloom the mussel’s toom.
    When the pea is in bloom the mussel is out of season.


    A clean mouth and an honest hand will take a man through any land. (German).

    A cucumber to the Roman was sent, he did not want it because it was bent. (Bulgarian).

    A frog never bites, a Brahman never fights. (Telugu).
    A taunt applied to a coward.

    After honour and state follow envy and hate. (Dutch).

    All pretty maids, or small or plump, are poisonous pests; an enemy kills by hiding, these by smiles and jests. (Hindustani).

    A plaster house, a horse at grass, a friend in words, are all mere glass. (Dutch).

    A woman’s in pain, a woman’s in woe, a woman is ill when she likes to be so. (Italian).
    “Woman complains, woman mourns, woman is ill, when she chooses.” “Women laugh when they can and weep when they will.” (English. French). “A woman’s tears and a dog’s limping are not real.” (Spanish). “A woman’s tears are a fountain of craft.” (Italian). “The laughter, the tears, and the song of a woman are equally deceptive.” (Latin, English). “Who is the man that was never fooled by a woman?” (German). “Deceit, weeping, spinning, God hath give to women kindly, while they may live.” “When a handsome woman laughs, you may be sure her purse weeps.” (English). “Of women, Miris, the parrot, and the crow, the minds of these four you cannot know.” (Assamese).

    Beauty will sit and weep, fortune will sit and eat. (Tamil).

    Better the child cry than the mother sigh. (Danish).

    Better where birds sing than where irons ring. (Dutch).

    By going gains the mill, and not by standing still. (Portuguese, Spanish).
    “The mill gets by going.” (English).

    Early to rise and late to bed, lifts again the debtor’s head. (German).
    Long working hours may enable a debtor to increase his income for a time and so put him in a position to pay his debts, but they may also weaken his physical or mental powers so that he cannot earn the money that is required to meet his obligations. “Overdoing is doing nothing to the purpose.” “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” (English). “He who does too much often does little.” (Italian). “He that exceeds the commission must answer for it at his own cost.” (German).
    See Wit and Humour in Proverbs: “Early rising is the first thing that puts a man to the door.”

    Fresh pork and new wine kill a man before his time. (Spanish).
    Sometimes rendered: “Fresh pork and new wine send a Christian to the churchyard.”

    Good is wisdom to possess, and better still is cleverness. (Bulgarian).

    Herring in the land, the doctor at a stand. (Dutch).

    He that will not when he may, when he will shall have nay. (French).
    Found in many forms:

  • “Hyt ys sayd al day, for thys skyl,
  • ‘He that wyl nat whan he may,
  • He shall nat, when he wyl.’”
  • Robert Mannyng.
  • He that would jest must take a jest, else to let it alone were best. (Dutch).

    He who fain would marry, in choice should not tarry. (German).

    He who forces love where none is found, remains a fool the whole year round. (German).

    He who is always drinking and stuffing, will in time become a ragamuffin. (German).
    “The full cup makes an empty purse, and a fat dish makes a lean bag. He that draws the wine out of the vessel, draws thy money out of thy hand. He that puts the meat into the dish, puts thy money into his own pocket.”—Michael Jermin.
    This proverb may have been suggested by Solomon’s warning found in Prov. xxiii:20, 21.

    He who is born to misfortune stumbles as he goes, and though he fall on his back will fracture his nose. (German).

    He who would the daughter win, with the mother must begin. (German, English).

    Idleness is hunger’s mother and of theft it is full brother. (Dutch).
    “A sluggard lies not still more lazily than poverty travelleth hard and hasteth to come unto him; he sleepeth not more securely than want speedily arms itself to surprise and spoil him; and then in derision says, Sleep on, when there is nothing to sleep upon.”—Michael Jermin. Commenting on Prov. vi:11.
    “Slothfulness is but a waking sleep and sleep is but a drowsy slothfulness; and, as sleep is the bed of slothfulness, so slothfulness is the bed of sleep. It is natural for sleep to cause slothfulness and it is natural for slothfulness to cause sleep…. Not only the slothful soul which doeth nothing (shall suffer hunger), but the soul which, though the body be idle, yet worketh with his wit how to cozen, how to cheat, for such working is worse than idleness, even that soul, though he get never so much, yet shall not be filled, shall not be fed with it, but still shall be in misery, still shall suffer hunger.”—Michael Jermin. Commenting on Prov. xix:16.

    If loaves of bread came down as hail, the gypsies’ hunger would not fail. (Bulgarian).

    If you pay what you owe, what you’re worth you’ll know. (Spanish).

    If you want to be dead, wash your head and go to bed. (Spanish).

    In the garden more grows than the garden shows. (Spanish).

    Make a bond with Satan too, while the bridge is under you. (Bulgarian).

    Neither above nor below the ground, can Paradise or hell be found. (Bulgarian).

    She is not his mate but his fate. (Telugu).

    Someone died, someone cried. (Tamil).

    That from your life the sourness may depart, you must have sweetness come into your heart. (Bulgarian).

    The oil of the cow without and within, if that won’t heal the Gael, there’s no cure for him. (Gaelic).
    The oil of the cow is understood to include not only neat’s-foot oil, but milk, cream, and butter.

    What will last a twelvemonth round, to that my utmost wish I bound. (Bengalese).
    Used to admonish those who impatiently desire immediate possession of that which comes after long effort.

    You may laugh if you’re a slave, you are dumb within the grave. (Bulgarian).