In like a lion, out like a lamb

Mar 17, 2017


Due to medical appointments and grandkid visits, I’ve spent several days driving across central and western Kansas the last few weeks. During that travel time, gusting north winds have shaken and tossed my silver Toyota like a terrier shaking a rat, leaving me to hope that spring weather lore is more than a wishful thought. Now that the beginning of the month is here and I have a few more journeys to make, that old saying about March, “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” appeals to me.

Unfortunately, after this ditty popped into my brain, it stalked through grey matter like the king of the jungle mentioned in the verse. Since I couldn’t shut down the repeats ringing through my head, I decided to banish it by finding this adage’s origin. After cruising from one site to another to discover it source, I’m more confused than when I began.  

One author explained that the phrase’s birthplace might have begun with the Biblical reference to Jesus coming as a sacrificial lamb and returning as the Lion of Judah. To clarify himself, the writer shared that this comparison meant that March is a false spring. I’m still scratching my head at this metaphor. Hmmm. That one seems backward to me, so I might need instruction to see the relationship.

Another writer explored several 16th through 18th century references that revealed possible first uses of the saying. These include a line in little known playwright John Fletcher’s work A Wife for a month, early naturalist John Ray’s insertion of the phrase in his Catalogue of English Proverbs, and its appearance in the British American colonial text Ames Almanack in 1740. It’s clear this axiom’s been around a while.

Despite that researcher’s examples of when the term first came into use and another writer’s obscure metaphor to explain its meaning, I hoped to find a better answer for the origin of this saying about unpredictable March weather conditions. Since the references began centuries ago, it’s clear I’m not the only person who finds this month filled with extreme weather noteworthy.

I investigated long enough to find a couple of sites that explained the term has astronomical connections. From early times, stargazers observed that at the beginning of this particular calendar cycle, the lionly constellation Leo is rising. By April, Leo has descended and Aries the ram has taken over his heavenly role. While I don’t think of male sheep as gentle creatures, their lambs are certainly cuddly and sweet. This explanation will satisfy the logical part of me until another old saying trips me up and sends me searching for more answers.

That said, I’m back to dealing with schizophrenic weather that is balmy and peaceful for a day or two. Then it roars enough to blow loose objects and tumbleweeds all the way to Oklahoma. Within a few days, it changes direction so that Kansans see the same items returning and heading for Nebraska.

I’m ready for that lion to exit and the lamb to rise.