What Does "In Like A Lion, Out Like A Lamb" Mean? This March Saying Dates Way Back
Well friends, it’s March, the month that supposedly comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. But what does “in like a lion, out like a lamb” mean, even? I know this phrase well thanks to my elementary school teacher who, when she wasn’t quite sure what lesson to do with us, would have the class glue cotton balls to a lamb picture in celebration of the new month. It was an activity that happened every year without fail, and it was always ridiculous, but what kid is going to say no to art class? You need me to glue cotton balls to paper instead of another 30 minutes of math? YOU GOT IT.
If I had to guess what this phrase means, I would assume it has something to do with the zodiac, of which I know nothing about. Perhaps the ruling sign for early March is a mighty and fierce lion who storms into the month and kicks ass, while the end of March is ruled by a gentle softy who sings songs and is loved by all. These days all the phrase makes me think of is that famous but dumb line in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight:
“And so the lion fell in love with the lamb…" he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
"What a stupid lamb," I sighed.
"What a sick, masochistic lion.”
I haven’t touched that book in years, and I thankfully can’t remember everything about the plot, but I don’t think they are talking about the month of March.
The phrase “in like a lion, out like a lamb” is actually much more straightforward than any of that. It’s all about the weather. Since there are still some brutal days of winter left when March starts, it's like a lion. By the time March is over, the weather has (ideally) turned into the calm days of spring, aka a lamb.
As The Paris Review explains, an early documented use of the phrase is from a 1732 book of proverbs titled, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs; Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern, Foreign and British . The exact wording used is, “Comes in like a Lion, goes out like a Lamb” which is obviously very close to the phrasing we use today. The book actually includes a few more March proverbs but they never caught on. My favorite is, “March many-Weathers rain’d and blow’d / But March grass never did good.” I can’t imagine why that one wasn’t an instant classic.
Now, before I send you off into the harsh lion days of early March, please watch this bizarre video slideshow I found that's all about the lion/lamb personality of March.