one for sorrow, two for mirth; three for a wedding, four for a birth

one for sorrow, two for mirth; three for a wedding, four for a birth
A traditional country proverb found in a variety of forms, which refers to the number of magpies seen on a particular occasion.

a 1846 B. HAYDON Autobiography (1853) I. V. During the journey four magpies rose..and flew away... I repeated..the old saw, ‘one for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, and four for death.’

1846 M. A. DENHAM Proverbs relating to Seasons, etc. 35 One for sorrow: two for mirth: three for a wedding: four for a birth: five for silver: six for gold: seven for a secret, not to be told: eight for heaven: nine for hell: and ten for the devil’s own sel [self].

1913 A. C. BENSON Along Road 162 I never see magpies myself without relating the old rhyme: ‘One for sorrow, Two for mirth, Three for a death, Four for a birth; Five, you will shortly be In a great company.’

1999 A. L. BARKER Haunt (2000) 53 A magpie flew up from the road, almost under his wheels. ‘One for sorrow,’ said the girl. ‘But there’s another in the hedge—two for joy.’

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, Thematic Index — absence absence makes the heart grow fonder he who is absent is always in the wrong the best of friends must part blue are the hills that are far away distance lends enchantment to the view out of sight, out of mind …   Proverbs new dictionary

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  • magpies —    A rhyme about magpies is well known all over the country, although presumably not believed. The divination depends on the number of birds seen; there are naturally numerous variations, although nearly all agree that one magpie is bad, but two… …   A Dictionary of English folklore

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