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I smell the blood of an Englishman

by Gaurav Sethi

Fie, foh, fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman

The phrase has no allusory meaning and, apart from when quoting Shakespeare or Jack the Giant Killer, there's little reason ever to use it.

It is best known from the nursery rhyme - Jack the Giant Killer:

I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he alive or be he dead
I'll grind his bones to make my bread.

The source is anonymous and the date is unknown. It must have been before 1596. It is referred to by the English dramatist Thomas Nashe, in Have with you to Saffron-walden, 1596:

"O, tis a precious apothegmatical Pedant, who will find matter enough to dilate a whole day of the first invention of Fy, fa, fum, I smell the blood of an English-man".

How true. Let's not spend the whole day on this and finish with Shakespeare's alternate version, from King Lear, 1605-6:

"Child Roland to the dark tower came,
His word was still, Fie, foh, and fum,
I smell the blood of a British man."

To Kanpore


Anil Singh said...

Thanks for enlightening, NC. Enjoyed reading the etymological write-up.

Anonymous said...

It is jack and the bean stalk.

Anonymous said...

Something smelly in their selections actually.

Gaurav Sethi said...

harmison on the tour sucks. while they're at it get tresco n thorpe too

Anonymous said...

"I'll grind his bones to make my bread"

Broadie certainly has contributed much to the mill. Good one as usual.