March is just around the corner and I think of wind, kites and maybe a little spring. I also think of my mother who is a true believer of folklore, old wives tales and superstitions.

“In like a lion, out like a lamb” has echoed in my childhood home since I can remember. It always seemed a straightforward enough proverb: when March starts, it’s still winter, and by the end of the month spring has begun. True, in many climates the weather hasn’t quite reached the lamb stage by the end of the month—it’s more like a moody cat, but we get the idea.

I have mostly assumed my mother learned these from her mother or the Farmer’s Almanac, which is as sacred as the Bible in her home. However, I have also seen the phrase referred to as an 18th-century saying, and Wikipedia refers to it as “an old Pennsylvania” saying.

The holy grail itself, the Farmer’s Almanac, had this to say about this idiom:

This Claude Shafer cartoon illustrates that the month of March proverbially “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shafer_cartoon_about_the_month_of_March.jpg

I dug further into March-isms. At this time of year, Leo is the rising sign. by April it is Aries. Those in the Christian religion arenas have pointed out that Jesus arrived as the sacrificial lamb, but will return as the Lion of Judah, which, weather-wise, means a false spring. 

One of the earliest citations is in Thomas Fuller’s 1732 compendium, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British. The book includes several other excellent March proverbs, which don’t seem to have had the same lasting power:

So many mists in March you see / So many frosts in May will be.

A Peck of March-Dust, and a Shower in May / Makes the Corn green, and the Fields gay.

March many-Weathers rain’d and blow’d / But March grass never did good.

Every language has its own collection of wise sayings. They offer advice about how to live and also transfer some underlying ideas, principles and values of a given culture or society. The following idioms may be familiar, or not:

A penny for your thoughts – A way of asking what someone is thinking.

Add insult to injury – To further a loss with mockery or indignity; to worsen an unfavorable situation.

Bob’s your uncle – Everything is all right, and something will be done, sorted or successful.

All talk and no trousers – Someone who is all talk and no trouser talks and thumps his chest a lot about doing big, important things, but doesn’t actually take any action.

If you look closely at the literal meaning of idioms, you will realize they are often hilarious. It is estimated that there are at least twenty-five thousand idiomatic expressions in the English language alone.

Melody K. Smith

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