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May
Posted: 25 March 2007 12:19 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Should “May” in the saying “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out”, really be “may” and refer to the blossom of the thorn, rather than the month?  Yesterday I noticed the may was out (well, here at least), but it was still pretty cold out of the sun.

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Posted: 25 March 2007 05:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The OED includes it under the name of the month, and in the 1568 Grafton quote (”Old Proverb, Till May be out Ne’er cast a clout") spells it with a capital letter, for what that’s worth.

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Posted: 25 March 2007 06:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thanks, I didn’t think that the saying would be quoted in the OED.

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Posted: 25 March 2007 08:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The Phrase Finder has a discussion of this saying and the possible interpretations of May. They conclude that the month meaning “wins on points.”

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Posted: 26 March 2007 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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What about the Queen of the May, then? she’s also sometimes referred to as the May Queen. If she were Queen of the month and not of the blossom, wouldn’t we call her simply the Queen of May? (I’m not suggesting that this usage of “May” is necessarily linked to the one discussed above). Was there ever a time when “in the May” was synonymous with “in May”, as “in the Spring” is synonymous with “in Spring”?  Poe, if I recall correctly, says “...distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December” --- but that may simply be Poe-etic licence (or license, as the case may be). I cannot recall (from my admittedly haphazard reading) any other instance of the name of a month being preceded by the definite article.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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What about the Queen of the May, then? she’s also sometimes referred to as the May Queen.

The flower of the hawthorn is called “May blossom” because it comes into bloom at the very beginning of May (well, if you’re using the Julian Calendar it does – at least before global warming it did) and for this reason it was associated with the pagan festival of May Day. It is traditionally a very magical substance – it has a very strong scent which reminds some people of death, and others of sex; what could possibly be more laden with juju than that? – and it is extremely dangerous and unlucky to bring it into the house except as prescribed in the May day rites.

Traditionally on May Eve all the young people would go out “a-Maying” into the woods and spend all night gathering branches of May blossom (well, that’s what they claimed to spend the night doing) and in the morning they would come back “bringing in the May”.  So the Queen of the May was specifically the queen of the May Day festival as embodied in the May blossom, rather than of the month in general; hence the definite article.

The Spanish have several equivalents for the “till May be out” saying:
Para mayo, guarda el sayo.
Hasta mayo, no te quites el sayo.
En mayo, no te quites el sayo.
En mayo, busca la vieja el sayo.
Hasta el cuarenta de mayo no te quites el sayo
.
These certainly refer to the month. I can’t remember what hawthorn blossom is called in Spanish but it’s nothing resembling “mayo”.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Are you able to translate the Spanish for us monoglots?

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Posted: 26 March 2007 08:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Sorry. Here -

Para mayo, guarda el sayo.
During May, keep your coat on.

Hasta mayo, no te quites el sayo.
Until May, don’t take your coat off.

En mayo, no te quites el sayo.
In May, don’t take your coat off.

En mayo, busca la vieja el sayo.
In May, the old woman goes looking for her coat.

Hasta el cuarenta de mayo no te quites el sayo.
Until the 40th of May, don’t take your coat off.

The last two are a little obscure in detail but the general drift is clear.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I retract my earlier comment; I hadn’t looked closely enough, and assumed the plant name was a separate entry.  But it too is under May:

3. Now chiefly with lower-case initial. Hawthorn blossom; (occas.) a hawthorn tree.
The common hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, now typically comes into flower around the middle of May in Britain, but before the revision of the calendar in 1752 its blooming probably coincided with the beginning of the month. Hawthorn is notably venerated in British folklore: for an extensive discussion of the superstitions attaching to the plant see R. Mabey Flora Britannica (1996).
c1450 C. D’ORLEANS Poems 58 Awake.. lete vs at wode to geder may in fere, To holde of oure oold custome the manere. ... 1592 T. NASHE Summers Last Will B3 The Palme and May make countrey houses gay. ... 1626 T. JACKSON Comm. Apostles Creed VIII. xix. §1 By such a maner or trope of speech, as the English and French doe call the buds or flowers of haw~thorne May. ... 1784 S. NEVILLE Diary 16 May xv. 319 The hedges full of sweet may. 1820 SHELLEY Question iii, The moonlight-coloured May. 1848 J. H. NEWMAN Loss & Gain ii. 5 The laburnums are out, and the may. 1888 F. T. ELWORTHY W. Somerset Word-bk. s.v., It is thought very unlucky, and a sure ‘sign of death’, if May is brought into the house. 1940 A. MEE Norfolk 99 Limes and pink mays grow round the clerestoried church. 1994 D. HEALY Goat’s Song xxviii. 347 She stopped the car, got out and lifted the warm body over a white hedge of late may.

As you can see, the spelling with the capital letter survived right down to the late 19th century, so there’s really no way of knowing which is meant in ambiguous contexts.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 11:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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So the Queen of the May was specifically the queen of the May Day festival as embodied in the May blossom, rather than of the month in general; hence the definite article.

Interesting.  Where I grew up in the north of England, on May Day a procession of little girls holding ribbons attached to the maypole used to dance round the maypole to the tune of “With a hundred pipers and all, and all”. The dancers were followed by a band and one solitary mummer (an odd old man who dressed in rags and painted his face black).  The girls always wore white dresses and had handkerchiefs with bells on each corner and on their socks, and the prettiest girl in town was crowned Queen of the May.  This tradition continues in some parts of the country.  I see from the OED entry that the tradition of draping the pole with garlands of flowers arose during the 19th century.  I’ve always assumed the May Day festival was named after the month.  Thanks for the memories.

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Posted: 26 March 2007 02:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Syntinen Laulu - 26 March 2007 05:30 AM

I can’t remember what hawthorn blossom is called in Spanish but it’s nothing resembling “mayo”.

Thanks for your posting, Syntinen Laulu, it makes things a lot clearer. I never lived in Spain, and I don’t know if hawthorn (that magical plant) grows there. The only translation I find for ‘hawthorn’ among the dictionaries i’ve consulted is “espino”, which I think means any thorn bush, not hawthorn particularly. I thought I knew a few words of Spanish, but i didn’t know “sayo” (which the RAE says is “of Celtic origin” --- I think nowadays it’s probably archaic, like “clout” in English), nor did I know any of those old saws you quote with such facility. ¡Mis felicitaciones!.

Many years ago, I worked in the south of England as a farm labourer, which meant cycling to work at a horribly early hour. i shall never forget the lanes of Berkshire, early of a Spring morning, lined on either side with those unbelievable marvellous blossoms --- they almost reconciled me to getting up at 0530......

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Posted: 02 April 2007 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Interesting that web entries are completely divided - month versus blossom.  Two ideas to complicate matters further:
1) Could not “till May be out” mean “out and about”, ie “arrived”.  Meaning after May 1st?
2) I read somewhere that it really meant “till MAYING be out” - Maying being the celebration of May Day.  This leads to the same conclusion as (1) above.  Just a thought!

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Posted: 02 April 2007 02:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Good thinking, Gabriel. You May even be right. And welcome (all year round)

Edit: “I read somewhere”..... is a preamble which, when used on this board, usually arouses a chorus of “tut-tuts” which can be heard a mile off. Watch your step ;-). (Chapter and verse are usually demanded).

[ Edited: 02 April 2007 02:47 AM by lionello ]
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Posted: 02 April 2007 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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What is wrong with “I read somewhere”, so long as the poster is not suggesting that it represents any sort of an authority?

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Posted: 02 April 2007 05:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Didin’t say there was anything wrong with it, did I? All i said was, that’s what may happen. ----

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Posted: 02 April 2007 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Sorry, I wasn’t intending to imply criticism on your part, only on the part of the tutters.

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