Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jun 08, 2007 6:17 am

Some proverbs are really good and others are, well, not so good. In the latest issue of Newsweek, I came across one I hadn’t heard before and which I’d say falls into the second category:
<2007 “One morning when I was 9, he [[her father]] heard me humming as I poured my cereal and said. ‘Sing before breakfast and you’ll cry before supper.’ Coming from a man of so few words, that assumed real import. I never sang before breakfast again.”—‘Newsweek,’ 11 June, page 16
Wow! That’s really sad. And what a terrible thing to say to anyone, and especially to a child (also see 1884 poem and 2007 quote below), putting a damper on and snuffing out another’s expression of joy and optimism. Humbug! Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, as the ‘Shadow’ of old time radio used to say (http://www.uuca.org/sermon.php?id=11). Or is it just negativity, pessimism, cynicism, or plain stupidity?
__________________

SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE NIGHT: Taken literally by some and as a figurative warning by others. Those who wake up feeling happy and carefree often encounter sorrow or trouble before the end of the day. So don’t tempt fate by too much early cheer. The ‘proverb’ was first recorded, with somewhat different wording (see quote below), in Palsgrave’s L’éclaircissement de la Langue Francaise (1530). Variants include: IF YOU SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, YOU’LL CRY BEFORE SUPPER; LAUGH BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE SUNSET; SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE TEA; and the reversed CRY BEFORE BREAKFAST, SING BEFORE SUPPER.
__________________

The American Heritage Dictionary defines PROVERB as “A short pithy saying in frequent and widespread use that expresses a basic truth or practical precept.” So let’s see. Do we have a basic truth here? – not! Precept – yes. Is it practical? – I don’t think so, but it depends on one’s definition of practical. I guess I would feel better about this pithy little piece of nonsense if instead of classifying it as a proverb (as does The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs, etc), it were classified as a ‘superstition’ (as in Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions, Encyclopedia of Superstitions, etc.)
__________________

As for the origin of this notion, Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions said the following:

SING BEFORE BREAKFAST AND CRY BEFORE NIGHT: This idea apparently originated in the classical notion that a person should not celebrate the day’s achievements in song before the day’s business has begun.
__________________

So folks, let’s not get our hopes up too early and show signs of cheer or optimism because they may later we dashed in the mud – one could easily get gored and trampled by a crazed bull or hit by a meteor, or . . . and then where would all that unnecessary cheer and optimism have gotten you? (>:)
<1530 “You waxe mery this morning god gyue grace you wepe nat or [before] nyght.”—“L’éclaircissement de la Langue Francaise” by Palsgrave, page 404>

<1611 “s.v. Soir, Some laugh amornings who ere nigth shed teares.”—‘Dictionary of French and English’ by Cotgrave>

<1721 “They that laugh in the morning may greet [weep] e’er Night.”—Scottish Proverbs’ by Kelly, page 332>

<1863 “‘That boy will plague the life out of me yet!’ said Miss Ruth, in a tone intended to counterfeit peevishness. ‘I don't know what has got into him this morning. It's a bad sign FOR A BIRD TO SING BEFORE BREAKFAST. THE CAT WILL CATCH HIM BEFORE NIGHT, and Robert has begun the day in too great a glee. I just hope he mayn't change his tune before sundown – that's all!’”—‘Husks. Colonel Floyd's Wards’ by Marion Harland, page 385>

<1866 “‘You'd better take care, Cerinthy Ann,’ said her mother; ‘they say that “those who SING BEFORE BREAKFAST WILL CRY BEFORE SUPPER.” Girls talk about getting married,’ she said, relapsing into a gentle didactic melancholy, ‘without realizing its awful responsibilities.’”—‘The Minister's Wooing’ by Harriet Beecher Stowe, page 456>

<1884 “An Old Saw: A dear little maid came skipping out / In the glad new day, with a merry shout; / With dancing feet and flying hair / She sang with joy in the morning air. // ‘DON’T SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, YOU’LL CRY BEFORE NIGHT!’ / What a croak, to darken the child's delight! / And the stupid old nurse, again and again, / Repeated the ancient, dull refrain. // The child paused, trying to understand; / But her eyes saw the great world rainbow-spanned: / Her light little feet hardly touched the earth, / And her soul brimmed over with innocent mirth. // ‘Never mind, -don't listen, O sweet little maid! / Make sure of your morning song,’ I said; / ‘And if pain must meet you, why, all the more / Be glad of the rapture that came before.’”—‘Poems for children’ by Celia Thaxter, page 96>

<1886 “If you SING BEFORE BREAKFAST YOU’LL CRY BEFORE SUPPER.”— ‘Freeborn County Standard’ (Albert Lea, Minnesota), 21 July, page 14>

<1895 “SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE NIGHT’ is the most ridiculous of old bogies, and the most destructive of mirth, laughter, and happiness. Let every man, woman, and child stand up against it, sing, howl, . . . laugh merrily, and rejoice at the coming of the day . . . and thus will this detestable superstition retire to the gloom of its inception and be heard no more.”—‘New York Times.’ 3 November, page 27>

<1920 “1886. ‘SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE NIGHT.’ 1887. If you SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, you’ll get a whipping before the week is gone.’”—‘Kentucky Superstitions’ by D. L. & L. B. Thomas, page 153>

<1927 “The Ozark housewife is careful not to SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, for this is a sure sign that she will WEEP BEFORE MIDNIGHT.”—‘The Journal of American Folklore,’ Vol. 40, No. 155, January, page 90>

<1940 “‘You remember the saying, “SING BEFORE BREAKFAST—”’ ‘Oh dear—“cry before night.””—‘Our First Murder’ by T. Chanslor, xii>

<1954 “CRY BEFORE BREAKFAST, SING BEFORE SUPPER.”—‘Katherine’ by A. Seton, xxxi>

<1959 “I never sing before breakfast. ‘SING BEFORE BREAKFAST, CRY BEFORE TEA’ is an old English saying.”—‘North American Newspaper Alliance’ dispatch from Dover, England, to the San Diego Union, 1 November>

<1997 (book review for Willy's Silly Grandma by Nancy Vasilakis) “Willy's lovin' (and superstitious) grandma issues a warning for each day of the week. It's bad luck to cut your toenails on Sunday, she tells him. On Monday she cautions, SING BEFORE BREAKFAST AND YOU’LL CRY BEFORE SUPPER. . . .”— ‘The Book Horn,’ 1 May>

<2007 “Old sayings meant to keep kids quiet -- not me. I think the guy who banned singing before breakfast was a miserable old curmudgeon . . . There are scads of old sayings to keep kids from getting into mischief or just stay quiet. . . Like “SING BEFORE BREAKFAST AND YOU’LL CRY BEFORE SUPPER.”—‘Hickory Daily Record’ (North Carolina), 19 May>
(Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs, and archived sources)
___________________

Ken G – June 6, 2007
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 08, 2007 8:51 am

I regard the majority of proverbs as having, at best, a similar kind of function to social small talk ("How are you?" "Nice day, isn't it!" "Have a nice day!" "Mind how you go!"). In other words, they are the kinds of platitudes that people like to use to lubricate the social interactions they have with people whom they may have little in common with (such as their neighbours or co-workers) or complete strangers (such as telemarketers or shop assistants). The example Ken gave of the little girl whose father -- whether intentionally or not, it is impossible to be sure from the context -- so completely managed to crush her joie de vivre, vividly shows the harm that can result from carelessly bandying about these sayings in the earshot of the young and impressionable as if they had some inherently worthwhile content.

When first coined, some proverbs may have been useful as a kind of verbal safety valve to allow people to express their frustrations without exploding in bottled-up anger, or as a safe vehicle for expressing subversive thoughts by invoking a consensus that may or may not have existed in practice. And proverbs still have interest as cultural relics that can be useful for glimpsing how people saw the world when both the physical and mental landscapes (as well as the language) were different. (Some also have the benefit of still being funny or picturesque.) Nowadays, however, in the democratic societies of the West at least, it is normally possible to be much more direct in one's speech without risking some sort of draconian repercussion.

When they are taken at face value in the modern world, many proverbs exist as facsimiles of real thought that swill around in people's brains like mental flotsam, requiring sufficient mental energy and attention to process that they degrade and deplete the overall performance of the hearer's or speaker's intellect, and are liable to channel their thinking along some distinctly ungroovy grooves. In other words, they are a burden both on those who are forced to pay attention to them, and on those who have incorporated them into their active repertoire. At their worst, they are a convenient arsenal of ready-made weapons of guilt and coercion, embodying an unacceptably hierarchical or authoritarian view of the world that has long since been superseded by advances in science, logic or political thought, but which the unimaginative, the ignorant, the unscrupulous and the malicious can easily resort to in order to manipulate those around them, or in some cases even themselves.

Empirically speaking, their general futility is immediately apparent from even a cursory glance at a dictionary of proverbs. From the mutually contradictory ("The early bird catches the worm" vs. "Make haste slowly"; "The meek shall inherit the earth" vs. "God helps those who help themselves"; "Too many cooks spoil the broth" vs. "Many hands make light work"), to the disingenuous ("Every cloud has a silver lining"; "The darkest hour comes before the dawn"), the unfoundedly optimistic ("Good things come in threes"), the blindingly obvious ("Practice makes perfect"), the misleadingly inaccurate ("An apple a day keeps the doctor away"), the arguably true but still useless ("All cats are grey in the dark"), to the downright incomprehensible ("It's robbing Peter to pay Paul"), plus numerous combinations and variations of these categories, proverbs are, on the whole, a pretty worthless bunch of clichés, half-truths and vessels of prejudice.

Remember -- it's the thought that counts.
Post actions:
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 08, 2007 9:55 am

"I never sang before breakfast again."...."I got my stupid-genes from Dad."
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by dalehileman » Fri Jun 08, 2007 3:55 pm

Notwithstanding its being slightly OT, other victims of exploitation by the Medical Establishment will thank me for this

Owing to the side effects of the meds that old farts like me take to say alive, one might not sing before breakfast and especially before he has gulped his pill regimen. Of course there are prescription medications to counteract these reactions, but they too have fallout requiring further counteractants ad infinitum and further depleting one's fixed income. There is hope, however, in the form of certain inexpensive folk remedies only recently discovered effective by Modern Science and entailing minimal concomitants and interactions. For example it was only a short while ago that St. John's Wort was shown effective in the treatment of mild depression. And true to the claim of billions of Muslims and Buddhists through centuries of use, Science now concedes--woe to the profit margins of the Pharmaceutical Giants-- that a morning 1-2 Kmg dose of Ginseng does indeed boost your outlook
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 08, 2007 5:19 pm

No one, I'm sure, is going to write anything about an apple a day keeping the doctor away!
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by dalehileman » Fri Jun 08, 2007 5:36 pm

But wait, I remember reading something about that
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Shelley » Fri Jun 08, 2007 5:43 pm

gdwdwrkr wrote: "I never sang before breakfast again."...."I got my stupid-genes from Dad."
She never sang for her father again, either.
Re: an apple a day keeps the doctor away -- I'm a believer. Especially when you eat the core, seeds and all.
Ken, the 1884 Celia Thaxter poem is wonderful. Where do you find these gems?
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jun 08, 2007 9:18 pm

Shelley, Back when I was a teenager, I decided that not eating the apple core was silly and so, like you, I ate the whole thing seeds and all. I also decided that spitting out watermelon seeds was a waste of time and actually developing a liking for them. And then someone spoiled my apple core habit when they told me that the seeds were poisonous. I checked it out, found that they were and stopped. But that was 50 years ago or so and I wasn’t as choosy about my sources then as I am now, so I just checked it out again, and I wouldn’t worry too much, but I wouldn’t eat them like popcorn either:

http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WS ... HMSContent

THE SEEDS OF WORRY: . . . There is a "kernel" of truth, however, to the adage that apple seeds are poisonous. Perhaps you have heard of cyanide, a poisonous substance that can cause dangerously elevated acid levels in the body, seizures, coma, and death. Under certain unusual circumstances, cyanide poisoning can follow the ingestion of seeds or pits of several common fruits that are members of the Prunus species, including, apricots, cherries, almonds, and peaches, as well as apples. All of these seeds and pits contain amygdalin. You may have heard of amygdalin as a component of Laetrile, an "alternative" cancer treatment of no proven value that may be associated with cyanide poisoning. This harmless chemical lies inside the seed, but when the seed is moistened and crushed, it can be converted by bacteria in the intestinal tract or by an enzyme within the seed into cyanide. Because the amount of amygdalin in an apple seed is quite small, it is highly unlikely that you would become ill from swallowing one or two seeds, especially if they were not chewed. In fact, many other foods, including lima beans, also contain amygdalin in tiny amounts considered harmless.
_________________________

Well, I did chew my apple seeds. I also ate rhubarb leaves for years, which also turned out to be mildly poisonous. My grandfather, not wanting to be wasteful and being a big consumer of rhubarb (when in season) used to mix the leaves in with other food (e.g. scrambled eggs) which I ate when I visited him. He ate a lot more of it than I did and lived to be 94!
_________________________

As far as the poem goes, I did searches on SING BEFORE BREAKFAST in many sources (e.g. ProQuest, JSTOR, . . .) which tap into all sorts of old magazines, books, newspapers, journals, libraries, etc. and end up sending me all over the place. So I’m not exactly sure where that one came from.
_________________

Ken – June 8, 2007
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 08, 2007 10:08 pm

Shelley wrote:
gdwdwrkr wrote: "I never sang before breakfast again."...."I got my stupid-genes from Dad."
She never sang for her father again, either.
What a dysfunctional girl.
Never!
I hope never isn't here yet for them.
Maybe she'll sing to him before he (or she) dies.
Not, mind you, that he deserves it...

Anyone else ever wonder about deadly nightshade?
6 leaves will not even make you sick.
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by russcable » Sat Jun 09, 2007 4:32 am

gdwdwrkr wrote: Anyone else ever wonder about deadly nightshade?
6 leaves will not even make you sick.
Umm...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadly_nightshade#Toxicity
"Ingestion of a leaf of the Belladonna can be fatal to an adult."

Go ahead! I double dog dare you.
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sat Jun 09, 2007 9:47 am

Mmmm...
http://www.scienceu.com/library/article ... owers.html
is the deadly nightshade we have around here: solanum dolcamara.

Done. Your turn.
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Edwin Ashworth » Sat Jun 09, 2007 7:07 pm

On the whole, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jun 10, 2007 1:39 am

Rather than pussyfooting around, I recommend polonium-210.
_________________

Ken - June 9, 2007
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by gdwdwrkr » Sun Jun 10, 2007 12:03 pm

Alexander Litvinenko sang most likely before breakfast.
Post actions:

Sing before breakfast, cry before night

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sun Jun 10, 2007 1:41 pm

.. but he glowed after dinner ..

WoZ
Post actions:
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Post Reply