CLOSE
getty images / istock
getty images / istock

17 Old Proverbs We Should Use More Often

getty images / istock
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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
iStock
iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
language
Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
iStock
iStock

According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios