If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
According to wikipedia, it comes from a 16th century nursery rhyme and “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.” Who knew there was a Roud Folk Song Index?
An early version was recorded in Remaines of a Greater Worke, Concerning Britaine, printed in 1605. “The modern rhyme was probably the combination of two of many versions and was collected by James Orchard Halliwell in the 1840s.”
Here’s the whole rhyme:
If wishes were horses,
Beggars would ride.
If turnips were watches,
I’d wear one by my side,:
If Ifs and Ands were pots and pans,
There’d be no work for tinkers’ hands.
There are lots of these sorts of phrases:
If ‘if’ was a skiff we would all take a boat ride.
If we had some ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had any eggs.
If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass a-hoppin’.
I think people enjoy making them up. I’m reminded of one that goes like this:
If Ands and Buts were fruits and nuts
We’d all have a Merry Christmas.
Since the phrase has been used popularly of late – by John Boehner and Sheldon Cooper for example – a google search for the origin is rather overwhelmed by pop references. I’d rather do something else today.
So – Don Meredith- you get the credit!