Ne'er cast a clout till May be out

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on June 04, 2007

In Reply to: Ne'er cast a clout till May be out posted by RRC on June 04, 2007

: : : : : Though the verdict seems to be unanimous in that "clout" refers to clothing, is there not a possibility that "casting a clout" does, in fact, refer to turning of the soil - "clout / clod"? This would give us a meaning of "Don't turn the soil until the May blossom can be seen", which would impart important agricultural information, as opposed to being a phrase concerned with when to take off or discard items of clothing, which should be fairly obvious.

: : : : That's certainly a possibility. I'd say that 'cast' seems more a more appropriate verb for the removal of clothing than it does for the turning of soil.

: : : Unlikely. It appears to be a translation of a Spanish proverb which exists in various forms, e.g.:
: : : 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; it's all about clothes. NB that "mayo" in Spanish is definitely the month; may-blossom in Spanish is called somethign quite different. (VSD)

: : > On the contrary, "cast" is precisely the word for the action of a plow in turning soil (as it is also for the action of earthworms passing soil through their bodies as they go). Furthermore, "clout" could be a variant form of "clod", meaning a lump of earth. The suggestion that the proverb is agricultural seems somewhat probable as well as possible.

: An interesting tidbit from Wikipedia:
: "The custom of employing the flowering branches for decorative purposes on the 1st of May is of very early origin; but since the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1752, the tree has rarely been in full bloom in England before the second week of that month. In the Scottish Highlands the flowers may be seen as late as the middle of June."
: ... so it would seem that in "ancient" times the flower signalled the arrival of the month.
: But... I'm not an ancient English farmer... would they really wait til late April/May to plow?

The earliest known version of this proverb, dated 1732, is "Leave not off a Clout, till May be out". "Clout" here clearly has to refer to clothes, not clods - how would you "leave off" a clod? It's significant that the first version of the proverb in English occurs several decades after the first publication of the translation of the Spanish version in Stevens' "Spanish & English Dictionary" in 1706. There is every chance that it derives directly from the Spanish saying. And as RR says, after "May is out" is certainly not the season for ploughing in England. In fact the traditional beginning of the ploughing season in England was the second Monday after Epiphany (Twelfth Night), i.e. mid-January. This traditional date had its own name: Plough Monday. (VSD)