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17 Old Proverbs We Should Use More Often

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getty images / istock

1. MANY A LITTLE MAKES A MICKLE

Mickle, an Old English word meaning “much" or "a lot,” went out of fashion in the 16th century (except in Scotland, where it held on), but it has such a nice ring to it. It’s sometimes spelled “muckle.” Later versions of this phrase like, “many a muckle makes a mickle” and “many a mickle makes a muckle,” don’t really make sense, but are very fun to say.

2. THE MOTHER OF MISCHIEF IS NO BIGGER THAN A MIDGE’S WING

A midge is a small, gnat-like flying insect.

3. NEAR IS MY KIRTLE BUT NEARER IS MY SMOCK

A fine way to say “look after your closest interests.” A kirtle is a woman’s gown or outer petticoat. A smock is a woman’s undergarment.

4. A PECK OF MARCH DUST IS WORTH A KING’S RANSOM

A peck is unit of dry goods equal to about 8 quarts (or 9 litres). If it’s dry enough in the month of March to get that much dust, things are going well, weather-wise.

5. BETTER WED OVER THE MIXEN THAN OVER THE MOOR

In other words, it’s better to marry a nearby neighbor than a stranger from far away. A mixen is a household dung-heap/compost pile.

6. IF YOU’RE BORN TO BE HANGED THEN YOU’LL NEVER BE DROWNED

This is a way to qualify someone else’s good luck. Also good for the situation where someone is gloating over escaping a near disaster.

7. BRAG IS A GOOD DOG, BUT HOLDFAST IS BETTER

Silent, patient, and reserved is usually the best way to go.

8. NE’ER CAST A CLOUT TILL MAY BE OUT

Clout is an old term for a piece of cloth or a rag. No matter how tattered it may be, don’t get rid of it until you are sure the cold weather has passed.

9. LET THE COBBLER STICK TO HIS LAST

Here, last means a metal or wooden model on which shoes are shaped by the shoemaker, or cobbler. In other words, stick to what you know.

10. HE THAT FOLLOWS FREITS, FREITS WILL FOLLOW HIM

Freit is an old Scots term for omens or superstitions. Those who go around looking for them, will bring the results on themselves.

11. FOOLS AND BAIRNS SHOULD NEVER SEE HALF-DONE WORK

Bairn is a word for “child” still used in Northern dialects. This proverb says that it’s a mistake (i.e., something only those who are not too bright do) to judge a work before it is finished.

12. WHEN ALL FRUIT FALLS, WELCOME HAWS

Haws are the edible but not very delicious berries that grow on hawthorn bushes. This proverb was commonly deployed in gossip about someone selecting an old or undesirable mate, but is useful for any “take what you can get” situation.

13. WHEN THE FURZE IS IN BLOOM, MY LOVE’S IN TUNE

Furze is a common name for an evergreen shrub that basically blooms all year. So a promise to link your love to the furze bloom is a good one. It also goes by the common name gorse, explaining a related proverb, “When the gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion.”

14. JOUK AND LET THE JAW GO BY

Jouk is a Scots verb for turning or bending the body to escape a blow. A jaw is the surge of a wave. So, when there’s trouble, duck out of the way and let it roll on past.

15. THOSE WHO PLAY AT BOWLS MUST LOOK OUT FOR RUBBERS

Bowls here refers to the old game of lawn bowling. Rubbers are obstacles or uneven areas on the ground. So, if you’re going to embark on something, be aware of the things that can cause you trouble.

16. A POSTERN DOOR MAKES A THIEF

A postern door is a back door. If there’s an opportunity to steal, someone is bound to take advantage of it.

17. THE BEST LAID SCHEMES O’ MICE AN’ MEN, GANG AFT AGLEY

This one is better known in the version, “The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry,” but that’s not how it originally went. The phrase, courtesy of a 1786 poem by Robert Burns, first was rendered with the Scots ending, which somehow sounds more like things going all cockeyed and not as planned.

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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