Posted by Dave McCutchan on August 14, 2000
In Reply to: Red sky at night....... posted by ESC on July 21, 2000
: : : : : : Anyone know the meaning/origin or variations of this phrase, I have heard it applied variously to shepherds and sailors
: : : : : Red sky at night, sailors' delight.
: : : : : Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.
: : : : : No idea of origin, I'm just remembering the rhyme from childhood.
: : : Whatever language Noah spoke, he probably had a variation on this one. The saying arose from observations made by sailors, who have a clear view of a 360 degree horizon. Most of the weather in the Northern Hemisphere goes from west to east in cyclic patterns of clear and rain. Thus if one sees a red sunset, there are clear skies to the west, and tomorrow will likely be nice.
: : : However, if the sunrise is rosy, the "chunk" of good weather has passed, and rain is more likely to move in.
: : : My ability to spell in Italian stinks, but my Italian wife knows this same little rhyme, which translated goes like this:
: : : Rosy in the evening, expect a good time tomorrow
: : : Rosy in the morning - rain is in the area.
: : : : The red sky in each case if caused by the sun striking particles of dust in the atmosphere and, with the suns at a low angle, it's (poetically) peering through this dust. Rain, and other atmospherical effects clears a proportion, more rain clears more hence; we get mornings and evenings less the rosy glow.
: : Thanks both, but how did the shepherds get involved in the story?
: The answer to the shepherd question is at the end of this entry. (This saying fits in nicely with my theory that most phrases are from Shakespeare, the Bible or are nautical since it turns out to be both Biblical and nautical.)
: RED SKY AT NIGHT, SAILORS' DELIGHT; RED SKY AT MORNING, SAILORS TAKE WARNING. "One of today's better known weather proverbs, this saying appeared in the New Testament Gospel According to Matthew (A.C. c 65) as 'When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowring.' The earliest mention outside the Bible gave only the proverb's second part, 'The skie was very red this mornyng. Ergo we are like to haue rayne or nyght,' and appeared in the 'Rule of Reason' by Thomas Wilson. Soon after, a version containing both parts was rendered as 'The element redde in the euenyng, the next daye fayr, but in the morning redd, wynde and rayne,' in 'Prognostication to Judge of the Weather by Leonard Digges. The English author Reginald Scot gave another version, combining both elements in 'The Discouerie of Witchcraft' : 'The skie being red at evening Foreshews a faire and clear morning; But if the morning riseth red, Of wind or raine we shall be sped.' A version comes closer to the modern appearing in R. Inwards's 'Weather Lore as 'Sky red in the morning Is a sailor's sure warning; Sky red at night Is the sailor's delight.' The current version with the word 'shepherd' substituted for 'sailor' was recorded in the magazine 'Punch' . Versions using 'sailor' and 'shepherd' (usually just the first or second part) were quoted in print frequently during the twentieth century." From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).
Your commentators missed the fact that the saying works because weather generally travels east