After the tease of warm weather last week, the first day of March promises to be cold and windy, and we even may have some snow. All of which brought to mind that phrase about March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” What is the history of the phrase? I headed for the reference collection to find out, and became happily distracted reading the definitions and origins of many other proverbs and sayings. (For instance, who knew that the mouthwash Listerine “takes its name from Lord Lister, the English surgeon who is generally considered the father of aseptic surgery”? That tidbit is from the Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins.)
But back to the matter at hand. According to the The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, 2003 edition, cites Ray too, and also lists the use of the phrase in Charlotte Bronte’s 1849 novel Shirley. Bronte would know a thing or two about March wind on the Yorkshire moors.
The phrase seems uniformly to mean that the weather will be wild and winter-like in the beginning of the month, and soften to more spring-like weather by the end. The National Weather Service’s forecast for March 1 in Iowa City calls for a 40 percent chance of snow before noon, cloudy, a north wind around 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph, and a high near 33 degrees. Lion-like for sure.