Can't see the wood for the trees

Eoin C. Bairéad ebairead at GMAIL.COM
Thu Feb 25 20:14:01 UTC 2010


the 17th century humorously whimsical story in Hiberno-English - The
Irish Hudibras or Fingallian Prince, (London, 1689), has the earliest
use of the word "brogue" meaning an Irish accent I know of:
"And wore a Brogue upon his Tongue
For Tongue a Brogue supply'd the Strain"

However it also has the phrases "can't see the wood through the trees"
and "are you a man or a mouse".

I'd love to know if these are the earliest versions of what are now
standard catch phrases in the American and all other dialects of

Any ideas anyone? I'd be particularly interested if the earliest
American usages had any Irish connection - and I don't mean "Gaelic".
The Ulster Scots brought their own dialect across the Atlantic as



Eoin C. Bairéad
Dublin, Ireland
Áth Cliath, Éire

The American Dialect Society -

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