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English Gipsies and Their Language, by Charles G. Leland, [1874], at


An Old Gipsy Proverb—Common Proverbs in Gipsy Dress—Quaint Sayings—Characteristic Rommany Picture-Phrases.

Every race has not only its peculiar proverbs, sayings, and catch-words, but also idiomatic phrases which constitute a characteristic chiaroscuro, if not colour. The Gipsies in England have of course borrowed much from the Gorgios, but now and then something of their own appears. In illustration of all this, I give the following expressions noted down from Gipsy conversation:—

Tacho like my dad. True like my father.

Kushto like my dad. Good like my father.

This is a true Gipsy proverb, used as a strongly marked indication of approbation or belief.

Kushto bāk. Good luck!

As the Genoese of old greeted their friends with the word Guadagna! or “Gain!” indicating as Rabelais declares, their sordid character, so the Gipsy, whose life is precarious, and who depends upon chance for his daily bread, replies to “Sarishan!” (good day!) with “Kushto bāk!” or “Good luck to you!” The Arabic “Baksheesh” is from the same root as bak, i.e., bacht.

When there’s a boro bavol, huller the tan parl the waver rikk pauli the bor. When the wind is high, move the tent to the other side of the hedge behind it.

That is to say, change sides in an emergency.

Hatch apré! Hushti! The prastramengro’s wellin! Jāl the graias avree! Prastee!”

“Jump up! Wide awake there! The policeman’s coming! Run the horses off! Scamper!”

This is an alarm in camp, and constitutes a sufficiently graphic picture. The hint to run the horses off indicates a very doubtful title to their possession.

The prastramengro pens me mustn’t hatch acai.

The policeman says we mustn’t stop here.

No phrase is heard more frequently among Gipsies, who are continually in trouble with the police as to their right to stop and pitch their tents on commons.

I can hatch apré for pange (panj) divvuses.

I can stop here for five days.

A common phrase indicating content, and equivalent to, “I would like to sit here for a week.”

The graias have taddered at the kas-stogguswe must jāl an dūrerthe gorgio’s dicked us!

The horses have been pulling at the hay-stack—we must hurry away—the man has seen us!

When Gipsies have remained over night on a farm, it sometimes happens that their horses and asses—inadvertently of course—find their way to the haystacks or into a good field. Humanum est errare!

Yeck mush can lel a grai ta panni, but twenty cant kair him pi.

One man can take a horse to water, but twenty can’t make him drink.

A well-known proverb.

A chirrico ’drée the mast is worth duidrée the bor.

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush (hedge).

Never kin a pong dishler nor lel a romni by momeli dood.

Never buy a handkerchief nor choose a wife by candle-light.

Always jāl by the divvus.

Always go by the day.

Chin tutes chuckko by tute’s kaum.

Cut your coat according to your fancy. This is a Gipsy variation of an old proverb.

Fino ranyas kair fino trushnees.

Nice reeds make nice baskets.

He can’t tool his kokerus togetherus (kettenus).

He can’t hold himself together. Spoken of an infirm old man.

Too boot of a mush for his kokero.

Too much of a man for himself; i.e., he thinks too much of himself.

He’s too boot of a mush to rākker a pauveri chavo.

He’s too proud too speak to a poor man. This was used, not in depreciation of a certain nobleman, whom the Gipsy who gave it to me had often seen, but admiringly, as if such hauteur were a commendable quality.

More (koomi) covvas the well.

There are more things to come. Spoken of food on a table, and equivalent to “Don’t go yet.” The appears to be used in this as in many other instances, instead of to for the sake of euphony.

The jivaben has jawed avree out of his gad.

The life has gone out of his shirt, i.e., body. This intimates a long and close connection between the body and the under garment. “Avree out of,” a phrase in which the Gipsy word is immediately followed by its English equivalent, is a common form of expression for the sake of clearness.

I toves my own gad.

I wash my own shirt.

A saying indicating celibacy or independence.

Mo rākkerfor a pennis when tute can’t lel it.

Don’t ask for a thing when you can’t get it.

The wongurs kairs the grasni jāl.

Money makes the mare go.

It’s allers the boro matcho that pet-a-lay ’drée the panni.

It is always the largest fish that falls back into the water.

Bengis your see! Beng in tutes bukko!

The devil in your heart. The devil in your body, or bowels.

This is a common form of imprecation among Gipsies all over the world.

Jawin sār a mush mullerin adrée the boro naflo-ker.

Going like a man dying in the hospital.

Rikker it adrée tute’s kokero see an’ kek’ll jin.

Keep it a secret in your own heart, and nobody will know it.

Del sār mush a sigaben to hair his jivaben. Give every man a chance to make his living.

It’s sim to a choomer, kushti for kek till it’s pordered atween dui.

It’s like a kiss, good for nothing until it is divided between two.

A cloudy sala often purabens to a fino divvus.

A cloudy morning often changes to a fine day.

Iuzhiou panni never jalled avree from a chickli tan.

Clean water never came out from a dirty place.

Sār mush must jāl to the cangry, yeck divvus or the waver.

Every man must go to the church (i.e., be buried) some day or other.

Kek mush ever lelled adusta mongur.

No man ever got money enough.

Pāle the wafri bāk jāls the kushti bāk.

Behind bad luck comes good luck.

Saw mushis ain’t got the sim kammoben as wavers.

All men have not the same tastes.

Lel the tacho pirro, an’ it’s pāsh kaired.

Well begun is half done.

Whilst tute’s rākkerin the cheiruses jāl.

While you are talking the times (hours) fly.

Wafri bāk in a boro ker, sim’s adrée a bitti her.

There may be adversity in a large house as well as in a small one.

The kushtiest covvas allers jāl avree siggest.

The best is soonest gone.

To dick a puro pal is as cāmmoben as a kushti hābben.

To see an old friend is as agreeable as a good meal.

When tuti’s pals chinger yeck with a waver, don’t tute jāl adoi.

When your brothers quarrel don’t you meddle.

Pet up with the rākkerin an’ mor pen chichi.

Endure the chattering and say nothing.

When a mush dels tute a grai tute mān dick ’drée lester’s mui.

When a man gives you a horse you must not look in his mouth.

Mān jāl atut the puvius.

Do not go across the field. Intimating that one should travel in the proper road.

There’s a kushti sovaben at the kunsus of a dūro drum.

There is a sweet sleep at the end of a long road.

Kair the cāmmodearer.

Make the best of it.

Rikker dovo adrée tute’s see.

Keep that a secret.

The koomi foki the tacho.

The more the merrier.

The pishom kairs the gūdlo.

The bee makes the honey. Id est, each does his own work.

The pishom lels the gūdlo avree the roozhers.

The bee gets honey from flowers. Id est, seeks it in the right place.

Hatch till the dood wells apré.

Wait till the moon rises. A very characteristic Gipsy saying.

Can’t pen shukker atut lendy.

You cannot say aught against them.

He’s boccalo ajaw to haw his chokkas.

He’s hungry enough to eat his shoes.

The puro beng is a fino mush!

The devil is a nice character.

Mansha tu pal!

Cheer up, brother. Be a man! Spoken to any one who seems dejected. This corresponds partially to the German Gipsy Manuschwari! which is, however, rather an evil wish and a curse, meaning according to Dr Liebich (Die Zigeuner) the gallows, dire need, and epilepsy. Both in English and German it is, however, derived from Manusch, a man.

He’s a hunnalo nākin mush.

He is an avaricious man. Literally, a spiteful nosed man.

Tute can hair a covva ferridearer if you jāl shukár.

You can do a thing better if you go about it secretly.

We’re lullero adoi we don’t jin the jib.

We are dumb where we do not understand the language.

Chucked (chivved) saw the habben avree.

He threw all the victuals about. A melancholy proverb, meaning that state of irritable intoxication when a man comes home and abuses his family.

A myla that rikkers tute is kushtier to kistur than a grai that chivs you apré.

An ass that carries you is better than a horse that throws you off.

The juva, that sikkers her burk will sikker her bull.

“Free of her lips, free of her hips.”

He sims mandy dree the muilike a puvengro.

He resembles me—like a potato.

Yeck hotchewitchi sims a waver as yeck bubby sims the waver.

One hedgehog is as like another as two peas.

He mored men dui.

He killed both of us. A sarcastic expression.

I dicked their stadees an langis sherros.

I saw their hats on their heads. Apropos of amazement at some very ordinary thing.

When you’ve tatti panni and rikker tutes kokero pāsh mātto you can jal apré the wen sār a grai.

When you have brandy (spirits), and keep yourself half drunk, you can go through the winter like a horse.

Next: Chapter VIII. Indications of the Indian Origin of the Gipsies