Home About Us EJournal EBooks Bibliographies Bible Proverbs Quotations Games Proverbium Paremia line Twitter

Christmas comes but once a year.

Click here to see/listen to the equivalent proverb in:
rss 2.0
Send the proverb of the day to a friend
Daily Quote :
Realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.
--Get Details
( Marston, William Moulton | Want )

De Proverbio - Electronic Journal of International Proverb Studies. Proverbs, Quotations, Sayings, Wellerisms.



As far as I know, the earliest instance of the proverb discussed in this essay is a version written down about 1521 and published in 1533 by John Heywood. It is "Mary that wolde I se quod blynde Hew ('Mary! that would I [gladly] see,' said blind Hugh).''[1] This is a Wellerism or traditional proverbial form consisting of a remark with an ascription (said So-and-so) to a named or an unnamed person, occasionally an animal, and more rarely a thing.[2] Much has been written about sayings of this kind and more remains to be said, but we shall consider here only this example and shall deal particularly with the ways in which the speaker is identified.

Warning: file(http://www.deproverbio.com/content468.txt): failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found in /home/world68/public_html/DPjournal/DP,2,1,96/WELLERISMS.html on line 104

Warning: join(): Invalid arguments passed in /home/world68/public_html/DPjournal/DP,2,1,96/WELLERISMS.html on line 104

Warning: Division by zero in /home/world68/public_html/DPjournal/DP,2,1,96/WELLERISMS.html on line 113

The English versions of this Wellerism down to 1738 are as follows:


1632 "We'll say nothing, but we'll see," as blind Pete said to his dog (Lean II 752).
1640 "That I would fain see," quoth the blind George of Holloway (Apperson, p. 55, No. 15; Karl Pfeffer, Das elisabethanische Sprichwort in seiner Verwendung bei Ben Jonson [Diss., Giessen, 1933], p. 138, No. 271; Oxford, p. 185; Stevenson, p. 198: 6; Tilley).
cl640 "I w'ud I c'ud see't," ka' blind Hugh (Apperson, p. 55, No. 18; Tilley) .
1678 "Would I could see it," quoth blind Hugh (Apperson, p. 55, No. 18; Oxford, p. 185; Stevenson, p. 198: 6; Tilley).
1738 "Would I could see it," quoth blind Hugh (Oxford, p. 570; p. 2108: 2).

Similar sayings are widely current on the continent of Europe. The earliest instance seems to be that in Johannes Fischart, Aller Praktik Grossmutter (1572), a parody of the prognostications of the weather for the coming year. Here it appears as "'I want to see it,' said a blind man once upon a time (Ich will es sehen, sagt ein mal ein blinder).''[3] Half a dozen examples in modern German dialects ranging from Mecklenburg to Swabia are variations of "'Now we want to see,' said the blind man, as the lame man wanted to run (dance)."[4] About the same time that Fischart used the proverb Francesco Serdonati included it in a large collection of Italian proverbs that has remained unpublished until the present day. Fortunately, however, Charles Speroni has excerpted and published Serdonati's Wellerisms from the manuscript. Among them we find three pertinent versions: (1) "Staremo a vedere disse il cieco"; (2) "Come disse Lucca cieco: Lo vorrei vedere"; (3) "Come disse Nanni cieco: Vedere."[5] Speroni cites various Italian parallels to these texts and notes that an English version, "To say as Lucca the blindman said, viz., I would fain see that" (1666 Tilley), is a translation of the second. The saying seems to have been associated with "Di veduta disse il cieco,"[6] which occurs in various forms, some of which name the speaker but do not declare him to be blind. Speroni adds a citation of a modern collection, indicating that the saying is still current in Italy. F. Sánchez y Escribano cites two Spanish examples, but his authorities give no references to their sources.[7] I add Cervantes' use of the saying in Don Quixote, Vol. I, Bk. iv, ch. 23. which reads in Thomas Shelton's translation of 1612: "As one blind man said to another, let's behold ourselves."[8] On turning northward, we find three examples cited in Kruyskamp's charming collection of Dutch Wellerisms: (I) "'Au revoir,' said the blind man (Tot weerziens, sei de blinde)"; (2) "'That I should indeed like to see sometime,' said Maai, and she was blind (Dat zou ik wel eens willen zien, zei Maai, en se was blind)"; and (3) "'I like to see fish,' said the cat, and ate them up, being blind (Ik mag gaarne visch zien, zei de kat, en zij at se blindelings op)."[9] Evald Tang Kristensen has noted a Danish instance, "One must see with one's own eyes, said the blind man (Man må se med sine egne öjne, sagde den blinde mand)" and some curious parallels mentioning animals like Kruyskamp's third version.[10] From the province of Halland in southern Sweden Fredrik Ström gives an instance containing a proper name, "'Can you see?,' said blind Sarah (Kan du se, sa Blinna-Sara).''[11] And finally, a number of parallels mentioning animals as the speakers have been published from the collections of the Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland.[12]


The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 3:1996 & Issue 4:1996, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.




Wellerisms Involving Mention of a Wooden Leg

I see, said the blind man with a shake of his wooden leg, that the price of lumber has gone up.
I see, said the blind man as he peeped through the hole in grandpa's wooden leg (H.42).
I see, said the blind man as he spit through the knothole in his wooden leg (H. 45).
In one California version the speaker is identified in a special way for an obvious reason: "'Sí, sí,' said the blind Mexican."

Dean Halpert, who has given me much aid and encouragement, is making a study of the texts with special regard to their possible connection with a story of a blind man who saw a rabbit and a naked man who picked it up and put it in his pocket.[19] We shall have no occasion to anticipate his work, for it is sufficient here to stress the obvious evidences for oral transmission in these texts. As in many modern Wellerisms, puns have come to play a large share in the wit of these texts. It will be noticed that the simple notion of quoting a blind man's reference to seeing has seemed insufficient and has called for enlargement by referring to a characteristic but quite irrelevant act. The figure of the blind man has, furthermore, suggested mention of deaf and dumb persons and even a deaf dog. And finally, our Wellerism probably shows contamination with another and quite unrelated Wellerism, "'Aha,' she cried and waved her wooden leg." A more detailed analysis of these modern versions is unnecessary. They imply the existence of a flourishing oral tradition.

We can now summarize what we have learned. The record of the early use of the Wellerism is surprisingly generous. The six examples from the two centuries between 1533 and 1738 are, with the probable exception of the last, independent witnesses to oral tradition. Dean Swift may in 1738 have found the Wellerism referring to blind Hugh in Ray's collection of 1678, from which he had taken a great deal. Mrs. Mackie L. Jarrel's comment on his procedure is instructive. She says, "The strongest critical conviction which emerges from surveying Swift's proverbs is this: Polite Conversation is the work of a man of letters, a frequenter of libraries."[20]

From its first occurrence to the middle of the eighteenth century our Wellerism was characteristically known in a form that identified the speaker by a proper name. Whether this speaker was actually an historical person must remain uncertain, but we have in any case a tradition that is clearly conceived in concrete terms. A relic of these definite allusions to the speaker survives in Alexander Hislop's Scottish version, "'I would rather see than hear tell o't,' as blind Pete said,''[21] but this form of the Wellerism became extinct in the nineteenth century and references to "the blind man" who is often identified or described by adverbial and adjectival clauses, are preferred. Some of the changes appear to be wholly whimsical and others may be the products of associative thinking.


The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 3:1996 & Issue 4:1996, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.



Insignificant as the details of the history of our Wellerism may have seemed to be, the better knowledge of tradition and its ways of working that we gain from them throws light into a darkness that we shall never completely illuminate.



*Reprinted from Wolfgang Mieder (ed.) Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki 1975, pp. 106-114

  1. G. L. Apperson, English Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases (London, 1929), p. 55, No. 18; V. S. Lean, Collectanea (4 v. in 5, Bristol, 1902-1904), II, 747; W. G. Smith and Janet E. Heseltine, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (2d ed. by Sir Paul Harvey, Oxford, 1948), p. 70; Burton E. Stevenson, The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases (New York, [1948]), p. 198:6; M. P. Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor, 1950), G 84; B. J. Whiting, Proverbs in the Earlier English Drama (Cambridge, Mass., 1938), p. 177. Except for Smith and Heseltine, which I shall cite as Oxford, these collections will be cited by the authors' names.

  2. For general discussions of the Wellerism see my Proverb (Cambridge, Mass., 1931), pp. 200-220; Gustav Cederschiö1d, Om ordstäv och andra ämnen (Lund, [1923]), pp. 5-33; Fredrik Ström, Svenska ordstäv (Stockholm, [1939], pp. 5-39; C. Kruyskamp, Apologische spreekwoorden ('s Gravenhage, 1947), pp. 1-14.

  3. See the chapter "Von der Finsternuss" (Neudrucke deutscher Literaturwerke des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, 2 [Halle, 1876], p. 4).

  4. [E. Hoefer], Wie das Volk spricht (8th ed., Stuttgart, 1876), p. 31, No. 311. More precise references will be found in K. F. W. Wander, Deutsches Sprichwörter-Lexikon (5 v., Leipzig, 1867-1880), IV, 501, Nos. 11-13, 508, No. 176, and cf. p. 502, No. 48, and p. 508, No. 175.

  5. The Italian Wellerism to the End of the Seventeenth Century, Folklore Studies, 1 (Berkeley, 1953), pp. 23-24, No. 67. He had previously quoted these texts in "Wellerismi tolti dai proverbi inediti di Francesco Serdonati," Folklore (Naples), IV (1949), 10.

  6. See Speroni, p. 24, No. 70 and cross-references.

  7. "Dialogismos paremiológicos castellanos", Revista de filologia española, XXIII (1936), 289, No. 135. The first reference is to F. Rodríguez Marín, Más de 21,000 refranes castellanos (Madrid, 1926), p. 506 (Veremos, dijo el ciego, y nunca vió) and the second is, to Gabriel Correas, Vocabulario de refranes y frases proverbiales . . . (2nd ed., Madrid, 1924), p. 503 (Verémonos, y eran dos ciegos, Veremos, dijo el ciego).

  8. Quoted from Stevenson, p. 200:4.

  9. Pp. 4 and 85, Nos. 649, 652.

  10. Danske ordsprog og mundheld (Copenhagen, 1890), p. 458, No. 1034. Note also Nos. 1035 and 1036, which are similar, and four references (pp. 462-463, Nos. 1125-1128) to remarks addressed to a blind animal. The last and longest of these may be translated thus: "'You can see for yourseff,' said the man to the blind cow. He wanted to make it think that he was giving it oats, but it was only straw." (The word that I have translated "cow" is common gender and may also mean "ox".) P. 225.

  11. P. 225.

  12. Väinö Solstrand, Ordstäv, Svenska Litteratursällskapet i Finland, Skrifter, 172 (Finlands svenska folkdiktning, 3, Helsingfors, 1923), p. 269 (about a score of versions).

  13. "Some Wellerisms from Kentucky and Tennessee," Journal of American Folklore, LXIX (1956), 115-122.

  14. See also Ruth Odell, "Nebraska Smart Sayings," Southern Folklore Quarterly, XII (1948), 191, No. 4.

  15. Cited from C. G. Loomis, "Traditional American Word Play: Wellerisms or Yankeeisms," Western Folklore, VIII (1949), 18. This quotation is dated 1860.

  16. See Halpert, pp. 121-122, citing a text printed in 1933.

  17. See also Margaret M. Kimmerle, "A Method of Collecting and Classifying Folk Sayings," Western Folklore, VI (1947), 357 (hammer and saw). Four versions with "hammer and saw" have been reported from California, and the version with "chisel and saw" is from California.

  18. The version "'I see,' says the blind man. 'You lie,' says the beggar" (H. 31) may be corrupt.

  19. J Bolte and G. Polivka, Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm (5 v., Leipzig, 1913-1932), III, 115-119, will supply references to parallels.

  20. "The Proverbs in Swift's 'Polite Conversation,"' The Huntington Library Quarterly, XX (1956), 15-38. For the sentence quoted see p. 38.

  21. The Proverbs of Scotland (Glasgow, 1862), p. 128 (3d ed., Edinburgh, 1868), p. 195.

  22. Några utbyggda ordstäv," Folkminnen och folktankar, XII (1925), No. 2, pp. 27-38.

  23. Cited in Taylor, p. 212.

  24. Wiesbaden, 1956.

  25. Kritisches zur vergleichenden Märchenforschung," Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde, XXV (1915), 154-166. The passage paraphrased below will be found on p. 160.

Articles | Books | Bibliographies | Bible Proverbs
Copyright © 1995-2017 De Proverbio. All rights reserved.
The banner illustration is a fragment of Pieter Bruegel's painting "The Netherlandish Proverbs", 1559