Old Adages From Our Homestead Heritage
Self-Sustaining Living Has Given Us Many Fun and Wise Sayings
Have you ever wondered about the meanings of the old adages from our homestead heritage? Have you ever said, “I wonder where that saying comes from?” I know I have wondered this many times. I thought it would be fun to delve into some of the ones I learned from my grandparents and great-grandparents as part of my homestead heritage.
Self-sufficient farm living was once a way of life for most everyone. Homesteading today seems more like a movement than just a way of life, but that doesn’t change the reality of what it is; providing as much for your family as possible wherever you may find yourself able to farm and leave a homestead heritage.
Would it surprise you to learn how far back some of these go? Some of them go back over 300 years! At least that’s as far back as my research could trace them. Some of them are obvious, others aren’t. Let’s have some fun!
Your fences need to be horse high and pig tight ~
It was a bad reflection on a farmer to have his livestock escape his farm and cause harm to another person’s property. Generally, it was assumed he didn’t maintain his fences or animals. So the idea was to keep fences high enough horses couldn’t jump them and tight enough pigs couldn’t push their way through. Oddly enough this saying is said to come from a time of homestead heritage when waddle fences were the norm for livestock.
Shake the hand before you plow the field ~
Make sure you have compensation agreed upon and paid, if possible, before you do the work.
Leave a sleeping dog lie ~
If an enemy or a bad situation isn’t stirred up toward you, let it or them alone. Why cause trouble for yourself when it isn’t on your heels.
Life is simpler when you plow around the stump ~
This one was a little deeper for me than many of these. The general meaning is to recognize there are some things in life which just are. Instead of getting hung up on something you can’t do anything about, just get on with life. In the future, you may grow in knowledge and experience and be able to do something about it. If not, it’s often better to just move on.
Don’t do a rain dance if you don’t see clouds ~
Be sure about what you say and do. I used to tell my boys something similar when they were growing up, “Say what you mean and mean what you say. No guessing.”
A man of straw needs a woman of gold ~
In a time when most people were farmers, it was known straw is the left over product once the seed has been removed from wheat or oats. People used it for making hats, animal bedding, and as part of making bricks of a sort, as well as many other things. Straw was the lesser part of the crop. So a lesser man needs a woman who is strong and of value to help make the farm and his life work.
A stitch in time saves nine~
If you see something which needs repair, fix it as soon as you see it. Don’t let it go until the damage is worse or it can’t be repaired at all. Some people say this comes from sailing vessels. It was important to stitch the smallest tear every time one was found. Others say it comes from tailor shops in old England.
If you’re late with one chore, you’ll be late in a lot more ~
My Papa, who played the largest role in my homestead heritage, said a similar thing when I was growing up. He hated being late for anything. I’ve learned if I let the chickens out late, then I’m late getting to the barn, which means I’m late milking, which means I’m late…. In homesteading, whether you’re doing DIY fence installation or planting crops, there’s always the unforeseen thing that happens. It’s part of the way of life for homesteaders, but if we start the day on time, we’ll find it easier to adjust the rest of our day to those unplanned happenings.
Never look a gift horse in the mouth ~
I was surprised to learn this meant to not accept a gift without questioning. I always thought it meant be thankful no matter where it comes from. Originally, it was understood to mean to question why someone was giving you something without reason. The reason was based on the idea they would return at some later time asking for a favor or something else which you wouldn’t want to do. Since you received a gift from them, they would expect you to feel obligated.
Above all else, farming is a life of hope ~
I can wholeheartedly agree with this statement. Crops fail, but we plant again in hope. Animals die, but we breed or purchase again in hope. Fences break down, but we repair in hope. On and on we could go with all that could and often does go wrong on a homestead, yet we go on…in hope because it’s an intricate part of any homestead heritage.
A tottering fence without, means trouble in the house ~
If your fences are falling down, then there’s surely something wrong with the whole home. It may be sickness or even laziness. This was originally said to indicate marital trouble; a man who doesn’t love his wife or home will not take care of things.
Make hay while the sun shines ~
This is an obvious one I’m sure, but it’s such a part of the farming life. It’s very akin to the famous John Wayne saying, “You’re burin’ daylight,” which is one of my personal favorites. It goes back to the old days in England. It was a literal saying. Anyone who puts up their own hay knows you can only cut, rack, stack, and bail hay when it’s sunny and the hay is dry. If it’s going to rain, farmers rush to get the job done before the hay gets wet while lying on the ground after cutting.
Don’t count your chickens before they hatch ~
One of Ma Ingalls’ favorite sayings. Funny how I can mention her name and we all know who she is. She could never have imagined that. Anyway, this saying is known to us all, isn’t it. Don’t count a thing as so until it is done. What a life lesson. When learned, it will save us much heartache.
The more you stir, the more it stinks ~
Goes along with, “Less said, sooner mended,” another of Ma Ingalls’ favorite sayings. If you mess with a situation that’s none of your business or even a situation in your life which would be better left alone, you’ll cause yourself and others more harm. You can make a situation worse by keeping it going or messing with it.
A month of Sundays ~
In the old days, Sunday seemed to drag on forever. There were so many religious rules about what could and could not be done on Sundays, they must have seemed to long. So of course it means a long, slow period of time.
By hook or by crook ~
It’s believed this saying comes from a Medieval law which said peasants could use branches of any tree for firewood if they could reach them using a shepherd’s crook or a billhook. Between these two tools they could get wood for heating and cooking. It has come to mean one way or another a thing will be done.
Nothing falls into the mouth of a sleeping fox ~
This saying goes back to the days of fox hunting. Fox are sneaky creatures and have to work for their food. The counterpart to this saying is, “The sleeping fox will catch no chicken.” Simply meaning, a person has to work to provide for his basic needs and those of his family. Many could take a lesson from this today.
Don’t let the cat out of the bag ~
To us it means keep a secret. The original saying came from a time when piglets were sold in open market. The sellers would put the piglets into burlap bags and tie them up to keep them from running away and have them ready for the purchaser. Crooked sellers would put large cats in the bags instead of piglets. If the buyer didn’t check the bag, he was just out of luck. He couldn’t prove he didn’t swap them out once he left the market. If he was shrewd and opened the bag, the cat would leap out, letting the cat out of the bag.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket ~
Diversify. This could apply to many areas of life from investments to skills. Learn all you can, love all you can, don’t limit your mind or imagination to just one thing.
Which of these have you heard or actually use? Can you share an old adage and it’s meaning or origin of with us from your homestead heritage?
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack