“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
In his play Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare wrote
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
A rose among thorns
describes one female in a group of men.
Coming up smelling of roses
seems to apply to a person for whom things turn out for the best.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Have you ever watched horses grazing over a fence? The expression means that people are rarely content with what they have or the situation they are in.
A wallflower is a young lady at a dance, who remains seated in a chair next to the wall waiting out dance after dance, while all the young men choose other partners.
A shrinking violet is a shy person. Violets are small flowers of the hedgerow and can easily be overlooked.
Don’t beat about the bush!
Get to the point! Brewer explains that beaters go ahead of the shooters and beat the bushes to make the game-birds reveal their presence.
Stinging nettles have little hairs which release an irritant if you brush against them. However, if you pinch a nettle leaf firmly, the hairs are flattened and you don’t get stung. The expression grasp the nettle is applied to any daunting situation, where action is required.
You look as if you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards.
This is definitely not a compliment. Untidy hair, scratches perhaps, torn clothes, dirty face maybe…
…or an exaggeration and a child just needs to go and look in a mirror and improve his or her appearance.
I heard it on the grapevine.
The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation tracks this description of unofficial communication back to the American Civil War, when news was said to be passed ‘by grapevine telegraph’.
Sour grapes comes from one of Aesop’s Fables The Fox and the Grapes, according to the same reference book. ‘A fox unable to reach the grapes contented himself with the reflection that they must be sour.’
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may is from a poem by Robert Herrick To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time. (The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotation yet again.)
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today,
To-morrow will be dying.
Buttercups and daisies is a poem by Mary Howitt, who also wrote ‘“Will you walk into my parlour?” said a spider to a fly.’ (Penguin Dictionary of Quotations)
Here is a link to a video of a song on a flowery theme. June.
Do you like butter?
Most people do, but the reason I have included it here is because of the tradition of holding a buttercup under someone’s chin. The yellow is reflected by their skin and indicates that they like butter! (Why do we teach children nonsense?)
Dandelion and burdock
is a plant-based drink.
Push it into the long grass.
Put something off. This surely comes from the game of golf, where a lost ball causes a delay.
Great oaks from little acorns grow
is a misquotation of David Everett’s
“Large streams from little fountains flow,
Tall oaks from little acorns flow.”
Lines written for a school declamation (Penguin Book of Quotations).
If children have forgotten to wash their ears they may be told they could start growing potatoes.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Fresh fruit is good for us, no doubt. I prefer my apples cooked!
Brewer gives various possible derivations for this expression meaning “prim and precise order”. The same work quotes its use in Adventures in Mashonaland by Rose Blennerhassett and Lucy Sleeman. “Everything being in apple-pie order,…Dr Johnson proposed that we should accompany him to M’Tassa’s kraal”.
An apple-pie bed is a practical joke of a bed. The sheets are folded so that anyone trying to get into it comes to a fold half way down the bed. Personally, I can’t see the point of practical jokes. They seem to be a waste of time for the jokers and very inconvenient for the victims.
“Apples don’t grow on trees” is a line from Alan Bennett’s play Forty Years on. A nanny is trying to instruct a child and comes up with this nonsensical adaptation of money doesn’t go on trees.
The apple of your eye is a phrase used in various places in the Bible. Cruden’s describes it as the eyeball, whereas Brewer has it as the pupil. It is something precious either way.
In Psalm 17 verse 8-9 (NIV) David wrote Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.