Monday, April 04, 2016

Sybil's Unhappy Mosquito

I read Sybil's post about turns of phrase with great delight and I shall definitely adopt the mosquito in a mannequin factory as a replacement for 'madder than a wet hen' which tends to be my standard simile.

There are lots of good Scots sayings: Folly's a bonnie dog, but a bad one (it's tempting to do silly things but you pay for it later): He draws in his horns like a snail at a child's finger:He can't hold (oat) meal in his mouth and whistle (someone trying to do two things that are inimical): Fools and bairns (children) should never see work half-done: I kent his faither ( I knew his father - a put-down, along the lines of 'a prophet is not without honour except in his own country'). This last is very typically Scots; 'Don't get above yourself,' is the first Scottish commandment.

One of the things that always interests me is how a phrase like that becomes an established saying – though perhaps this is an example, with Sybil posting it, me reading it and picking it up, then quoting it to others.  But in the days before the Internet (yes, there was actually a time like that) how did sayings gain currency?

Some, I suspect, appear in every language – the ones that simply state an obvious truth, like 'You can't have the penny and the bun.'  There are endless variants of that and if you have a good one, do share it!

Some catch on because they're colourful, like 'You can't take the breeks (pants) off a Highlander' (traditionally you don't wear anything under a kilt); 'I wouldn't call the Queen my cousin' (said when you're very proud of yourself).

But who said them first? And I'd love to know how in the old days they then managed to become part of the language.

My own two favourites are ones my grandmother used to use. They're not in common use now, sadly, and given that  she, as they say, 'had the Gaelic' I suspect that may be the derivation of the first one at least.  'Never said, "Collie, will you lick?"' is said mournfully when someone has eaten a tasty treat without sharing; 'Fine ham and haddie (haddock)' would be accompanied by an elegant sniff of disapproval when my grandmother felt that someone was telling an unlikely story.

It's good to know, though, that people like Sybil's judge are making sure that even as the old sayings die out, there are new and vivid ones to take their place.

2 comments:

Mary Jane Hopper said...

Now that you mention it, I have often wondered who was the first to say many of the expressions/sayings from my past.

Sybil Johnson said...

What a lot of interesting sayings. I do wonder who/what started a lot of them.