Cry poor/poor-mouth

Discussion in 'English Only' started by giovannino, May 28, 2008.

  1. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    At IE we're looking for a way to translate an Italian phrase (literally "cry poverty") used, mostly with a negative connotation, in the sense "to complain/whine about being poor". It is a colloquial phrase and the translations in Italian-English dictionaries are too formal (e.g. "bewail one's poverty").
    Somebody suggested "cry poor", which seems to be used just like the Italian phrase:

    My brother has much more money than I do but he is always crying poor
    (from Google - Australian source)

    However an American forero said he had never heard of it.

    One Italian dictionary gives "poor-mouth" as a translation, which, though listed in the Oxford Dictionary (AE 1. talk disparagingly about 2. claim to be poor), sounded unusual to the American forero.

    Are "cry poor" and "poor-mouth" currently used in this sense and are there any other phrases you can think of?
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Neither "cry poor" or "poor-mouth" are common in AE in that context, in my experience.

    Whe you are trying to excuse or justify something, you can plead it. "Pleading poverty, they asked for an exemption from that regulation.

    Bewail is not too common; it has a very dramatic register in many cases. One could "bemoan one's poverty," but this isn't particularly descriptive.
  3. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I have heard "cry poor" to mean exactly that, but I think it's fairly rare. "Poor-mouth" to me would be similar to "bad-mouth"; in other words, I would hear it as the first definition you gave. The second definition would never occur to me.

    "Acting like he's broke", "Talking like he's broke" are two expressions that I would expect to hear in a casual conversation.

    My brother has much more money than I do but he always acts like he's broke.

    Does the Italian expression imply that the person is actually poor or only that they pretend or claim to be poor?
  4. Dimcl Senior Member

    British Columbia, Canada
    Canadian English
    As Biblio stated, neither of "cry poor" or "poor-mouth" are in the least bit common (in Canadian or American English).

    James makes a good point... are they truly poor or not? If so, Biblio's "pleading poverty" would work for the truly poor (although I have known people to "plead poverty" who weren't in the least poor).
  5. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    My vote goes to "plead poverty".
  6. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Many thanks for your replies, bibliolept, JamesM, Dimcl and Loob.

    It can be used in both cases, but mostly in the latter.
    It would be used, for example, in these examples for "cry poor" I found on Google:

    Jane's wife cries poor as court fight ends
    Bob Jane not in the mood to celebrate after his estranged wife pleads too poor to continue court action against him

    Bill Gates Cries Poor: the bully wants all of our lunch money
  7. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    The City of New York
    USA - English
    Well, in my New York City English, "poor-mouth" used with the meaning "to complain about one's alleged poverty" is entirely common, and I am very surprised to hear others say that it is not common in AE:
    I can't stand how Donna is always poor-mouthing to the office about how she can't afford this or that -- I mean, we all earn exactly the same salary, so who does she think she is kidding?

    I have never heard "cry poor", though.

    "Plead poverty" is not uncommon, and is more formal than "poor-mouth", which seems to me to be slang.
  8. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Hello Giovannino. When I read your question and got to
    (literally "cry poverty")
    I thought, "Well, there you have it ~ cry poverty." Reading the rest of the thread, I started thinking, "Hold on a minute ~ have I imagined this?"
    So I googled it. And got (some) results, including sources as diverse as a headline from the New York Post and the Lancashire Telegraph.
    I too have never heard cry poor or poor-mouth, the second of which I also would interpret as bad-mouth.
  9. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    I would use and SAY: "cry poverty".

    I can't understand why anyone would object to that!
  10. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    I am familiar with "poor mouth" in the sense GWB describes in post #7 (to complain about being poor). Someone might be criticized for "poor mouthing" whenever he or she asked to share in paying for something.

    It would never occur to me to understand "poor mouthing" as "bad mouthing".

    I don't think I've heard "cry poor".

    (Note that though JamesM and I are from the same region, our experiences with these expressions are different.)
    Last edited: May 29, 2008
  11. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    Perhaps the phrase is falling in popularity.
  12. vicky1027 Senior Member

    usa english
    I have to say, I find this very interesting...I'm originally from the metropolitan area and in the example you gave, I would (with no doubt) have said she's "crying poor" about how she can't afford....

    Honestly, I have never heard "poor-mouthing"...

  13. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Here are a few examples. I can certainly understand that your experience may differ from mine. This is just to show that it is in use in the public arena:
    But when the legislators released this information, some Bush administration officials poor-mouthed the findings, noting that these old WMDs were hardly evidence of an ongoing post-Gulf War WMD program by Saddam, the fearful scenario that dominated the pre-war debate.
    Ever since Cicero had declined to join his camp, he had gone out of his way to demonstrate his enmity. He cut him dead in public. He poor-mouthed him behind his back.
    A graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, Henderson came to USC from Broadway High School in Seattle. He brought some of his players with him, including Leo Calland, an outstanding lineman at USC. "Gloomy Gus" was a well-known cartoon character of the era and Henderson, an outgoing person, was saddled with that nickname by Los Angeles Times sports writer, Paul Lowry, because of the way he poor-mouthed the Trojans' prospects before a game.

    I can also easily find examples with the other meaning:
    Poor mouthing - Just always saying "we're too poor" to do this or that.
    City of Lubbock "poor mouthed" about losing federal funding for CITIBUS and "gouged" bus riders 25% in fare increase.
    "I sell a few hides to pay the taxes," he poor-mouthed, suggesting an improbable picture of himself in a dinner jacket leading a tallowy cow down a dusty arroyo to keep the sheriff from foreclosing on his splendid Palo Corona Ranch at Carmel, California.
    Last edited: May 29, 2008
  14. Cagey post mod (English Only / Latin)

    English - US
    James, thank you for your informative research and examples. I am reading them and taking note.

    I'm afraid I didn't express myself clearly. I had no intention of offering my observations as a correction of yours. It would never occur to me to doubt that your observations are carefully considered and accurate.

    I simply meant to say that my experience happened to be different, for whatever reason: the company I keep, the books I read, etc. Behind this was the thought that sometimes differences are idiosyncratic as well as regional. Or something like that. Obviously, whatever the thought is, it was poorly expressed.
  15. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I didn't take it that way at all, and my observations can be as inaccurate and ill-considered as the next poster. :) I just thought it would be good to check out my assumption that the expression was used in more than one way.
  16. rainbow84uk Senior Member

    English, UK
    I'd also never heard of cry poor or poor-mouth, but I quite often use plead poverty.
  17. giovannino

    giovannino Senior Member

    Naples, Italy
    Italian, Neapolitan
    Many thanks to all of you for your extremely interesting responses.

    Thanks for pointing that out, ewie and gaer. None of the native speakers at IE suggested "cry poverty" so it never occurred to me that the literal translation might work and I did not look for it on Google.

    Good point, Cagey. The same happens to me with Italian. I will post saying I've never heard a particular expression in my part of Italy, then an Italian from the same area comes along and says he's familiar with it and uses it.

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