Thursday, 1 May 2014

Rustic Proverbs Current in Ulster (1854)

The Philosophy of Proverbs is a wide and interesting subject, but it is one with which I do not intend to trouble you at present. My object is to illustrate three curious points in a single Essay, though there are many others collateral which are also of great interest.

1. A proverb or proverbial phrase shows a certain poverty of language in the individual; he accordingly uses a particular expression with a general application which his hearers perfectly understand. He cannot tell you that "perseverance overcomes the most formidable obstacles," but he says "a constant dthrap wares a hole in a stone." His vocabulary hardly furnishes him with terms to say "attach the blame to the culpable individual," he therefore says "put the saddle on the right horse." When desirous to express -- "the circumstance does not affect your interests," -- he says -- "it takes no butther aff your bread."

2. While each expression is thus a condensation of philosophy, or epitome of experience, the mode of expression seems to show the birth-place of the speaker. Few forms of expression show the peculiarities of dialect in bolder relief than those which are so currently used; and your readers will easily verify, from their recollection or daily intercourse, every expression used here. The Ulsterman is an Irishman, of course; but the dialect of Ulster is not that of Ireland. The latter is more limited in its characteristics, and a little varied; the former has a large amount of specific difference.

3. Side by side with these, I place the same proverbial expressions as used in England or Scotland, or occasionally in both; so as to exhibit a sort of 'comparative anatomy' of the subject. One occasionally sees a Latin, an Italian, or a Spanish proverb, quoted in illustration of an English one; and the accurate observer must admit that neither dress nor manner affords a more interesting or curious illustration of the peculiarities of any people.

It would be easy to classify proverbs, and to show those, for instance, that are of Hibernic, or even of Ulster, origin; at present the selection is made mainly with reference to such as exist on the other side of the channel. Even of these, but a few are taken by way of specimen; it is, as an eminent geologist would say, "a new walk in an old field."

1. "Purty people an' ragget people's often gettin plucks." -- Ulster. "A fair woman and a slash'd gown find always some nail in the way." -- Eng.

2. "A soople mother makes a lazy chile." -- Ulster. "An olcit [nimble] mother maks a sweir [reluctant] dochter." -- Old Scotch. "A licht heeled mither maks a leaden heel'd dochter." -- Mod. Scotch. "a heavy heel'd daughter." -- Eng.

3. "Hunger begins at the cows' stakes." -- Ulster. "A famine begins at the horse's manger." -- Eng. "After a famine in the stall, comes a famine in the hall." -- Somerset version.

4. "Them 'at hides can fine." -- Ulster. "They that feal [hide] can find." -- Eng.

5. "Ye sit yer time like many a good goose." -- Ulster. (This is spoken in derision of a person who sits long in a house which he visits.) "Ye hae sitten yer time, as mony gude hen's done." -- Scot.

5. "Inches disn't break squares in a load o' whins." -- Ulster. (In matters of a trifling character, minute discrepancies are of no consequence whatever.) "An inch breaks no squares in a burn [burden] of thorns." -- Eng.

6. "Niver put out yer han' fardther nor ye can draw it back again." -- Ulster. (Never make an an attempt from which you may not retreat creditably.) "Ne'er put your han' far'er out than your sleeve will reach." -- Scot.

7. "Butther to butther's no kitchen." -- Ulster. ("Kitchen" is condiment, or that which is used to modify and season the more substantial articles of food. The proverb is applied when two men dance together, when two women kiss, &c.)

8. "Nivver powr watther on a drownded mouse." -- Ulster. (Do not injure those who are already oppressed.) "Pour not water on a drowned mouse." -- Eng.

9. "Them 'at gets the name o' risin' early may lie all day." -- Ulster. (In any quality for which a man is celebrated an occasional deficiency will not affect his reputation.) "If one's name be up he may lie in bed." -- Eng.

10 "Let ivvery her'n' hing by its own tail." -- Ulster. (Let every man depend upon himself. In the cottages, dried herrings are suspended by a rod passed through their tails.) "Every herring must hang by its own gill." -- Eng. "Let ilka herrin hing by its ain head." -- Scot.

11. "Jist as day broke butther broke." -- Ulster. (This is applied when events coincide in time. Butter is said to "break" when it first shows itself in the process of churning.) "As day brake bitter brake." -- Scot.

12. "A slice aff a cut loaf's niwer miss'd." -- Ulster. "A whang aff a new cut kebbuck [cheese] is ne'er miss'd." -- Scot. "'Tis safe taking a shive of a cut loaf." -- Eng.
Demetrius. --What man! more water glideth by the mill
Than wots the miller of; and easy it is
Of a cut loaf to steal a shive we know.
                            SHAKSP. -- Tit. Andron.
13. "We have dogs' days, hunger an' aise, through the whole of the blue month." -- Ulster. (The "blue month" is the period which elapses between the scarcity of the old potatoes and the ripeness of the new; usually the month of July.) "A dog's life, hunger and ease." -- Scot.

14. "I may as well be hang'd for an oul' sheep as a young lamb." -- Ulster. (Since I am to be punish'd, the fault may as well be a great as a small one.) "As weel be hang'd for a wether as a lamb." -- Scot. In the south of England it is quoted as in Ulster.

15. "The shoemaker's wife an' the smith's mare af'en goes barefooted." -- Ulster. "The souter's wife is warst shod." -- Scot. "Who goes worse shod than the shoemaker's wife and the smith's mare?" -- Eng.

16. "It's a long loanin' [field lane or "boreen"] that has no turn." -- Ulster. "Its a long run that never turns." -- Eng.

17. "Han'some is that han'some dis." -- Ulster. "He is handsome that handsome doth." -- Eng.

18. "Betther is the end of a faste nor the beginnin' of a quarle." -- Ulster. "Better come at the latter end of a feast than the beginning of a fray." -- Eng. -- Scot.

19. "Whin rogues disagrees, honest men gits their own." -- Ulster. "When thieves cast out, honest folk come to their ain." -- Scot. "When thieves reckons, leall men comes to their geir." -- Old Scotch. "When thieves fall out, true men come by their goods." -- Eng.

20. "Ye look for the ladle when the pot's in the fire." -- Ulster. (You take precautions when the catastrophe has occurred.) "Ye rin for the spurtle [potstick] when the pat's rinnin' ower." -- Scot.

21. "Kissin' goes by favour." -- Ulster. (The modern meaning is, influence is more availing than merit. There is, however, a pun in the proverb; "favour" meaning the countenance or features. Thus, "ill-favoured" means ill-looking, to "favour" one's uncle is to resemble him, and several examples of this use of the term occur in Shakspeare. -- Prov. xxxi. 30, "Favour is deceitful and beauty is vain.")

22. "Don't kick till ye'r spurr'd." -- Ulster. "If you be not ga'd (gall'd) ye need na fling." -- Scot.
Let the gall'd jade wince, our withers are unwrung.
                                               SHAKSP. -- Hamlet.
23. "You have a good many nicks in your horn." -- Ulster. (The age of an ox is shown by the rings at the base of the horn; and the expression is jocularly applied to persons.) "We ken your eild by the runkles o' your horn." -- Scot.

24. "There' never a gant [yawn] but there's a want, of mate, money, or sleep." -- Ulster. "Ganting bodes wanting ane o' things three, sleep, meat, or gude companie." -- Scot.

25. "Hit a dog with a bone, an' he'll not gowl." -- Ulster. (In doing an unkindness, confer some benefit, and you prevent growling.) "Fell a dog wi' a bane, an' he'll no yowl." -- Scot.

26. "Look a thing till ye fine it, an' then ye'll not loss yer labour." -- Ulster. "Seek till you find, and you'll not lose your labour." -- Eng.

27. "You can kill the two birds with one stone." -- Ulster. "Kill two birds with one shaft." -- Eng. "Kill twa flies wi' ain flap." -- Scot.

28. "Them 'at likes the dunghill sees no motes in it." -- Ulster. "They who lo'e the midden see nae mots in't." -- Scot.

29. "Every day braw makes Sunday a daw." (If the best clothes be worn during the week, a less respectable appearance is made on Sunday.) "Alike ilka day makes a clout on Sunday." -- Scot.

30. "Let the tail go with the hide." -- Ulster. "Let the horns gang wi the hide." -- Scot.

31. "Great cry an' little wul, as the Deil said when he pluckt the pig." -- Ulster. "Muckle din and little woo,' quo the Deil when he clippit the sow." -- Scot.


The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 2, 1854.

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