If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
|"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."|
"If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" is an English language proverb and nursery rhyme, originating in the 16th century, which is usually used to suggest that it is useless to wish and that better results will be achieved through action. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20004.
Common modern versions include:
- If wishes were horses
- Beggars would ride:
- If turnips were bayonets
- I would wear one by my side.
The first recognisable ancestor of the rhyme was recorded in William Camden's (1551–1623) Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, printed in 1605, which contained the lines: "If wishes were thrushes beggers would eat birds". The reference to horses was first in James Carmichael[disambiguation needed]'s Proverbs in Scots printed in 1628, which included the lines: "And if wishes were horses, pure [poor] men wald ride". The first mention of beggars is in John Ray's Collection of English Proverbs in 1670, in the form "If wishes would bide, beggers would ride". The first versions with close to the modern wording was in James Kelly's Scottish Proverbs, Collected and Arranged in 1721, with the wording "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride". The modern rhyme above was probably the combination of two of many versions and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s. The last line was sometimes used to stop children from questioning and get to work: "If if's and and's were pots and pans, there'd surely be dishes to do."
In popular culture
The phrase is misquoted in the 2002 television series Firefly in the series finale episode "Objects in Space" in which Adam Baldwin's character Jayne Cobb gets upset and says "Yeah and if wishes were horses, we'd all be eating steak."
Star Trek Deep Space Nine Season 1, Episode 16 was called If Wishes Were Horses.
In the episode entitled Things Fall Apart Season Six, Episode 21 of the television series The West Wing, Josh Lyman makes a reference to the poem while in conversation with a female campaign staffer who tells him that if media circumstances were different, their candidate, Matthew Santos, would have already locked up the Democratic party's nomination for president. Josh responds by saying, "If wishes...horses...etc." She erroneously attributes the quote to Bob Dylan by asking Josh "What is that from some Dylan song? Guys your age have this thing about Dylan."
The phrase is used by the character Spike in the television series Angel. In addition, in the series finale, when another character wishes "to do more violence", Spike replies that "wishes are horses today".
The phrase was used by the Austrian musician Falco at the beginning of his 1999 single "Push! Push!".
The pop music group Spin Doctors quoted the phrase in their 1995 song "If Wishes Were Horses"
This phrase is also being used by Patrick Jane in the TV-series The Mentalist. "I don't suppose you wanted to kill him, but uh, if wishes were horses, and all that...", is what he said to a man who was being arrested for murder.
The phrase makes up part of the chorus on Larry and His Flask's song, "Beggars Will Ride", from their 2011 album, All That We Know.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), p. 427.
- G. L. Apperson and M. Manser, Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs (Wordsworth, 2003), p. 637.
- "Things Fall Apart - Fun Facts, Questions, Answers, Information". Funtrivia.com. Retrieved 2013-04-14.