My mother can oft be heard to say, upon hearing someone giggling, ‘he/she has spied a titter’s nest and is laughing at the eggs’. I cannot find any definitive reference to this, but have found several clues (perhaps). For example, one of the several collective nouns for magpies is a tittering.
And at http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/mares-nest.html I found the following:
“Animals are often alluded to in phrases of this sort, for example, lion's share, dog's breakfast, bird's-eye view etc. Of course, this one is different, in that mares don't make nests - the allusion was meant to be comically ironic. That humour is reflected in several of the early citations of 'mare's nest' (or horse's nest, as some early references have it), which refer directly to laughter, for example, John Fletcher's Jacobean tragedy Bonduca, circa. 1613
Why dost thou laugh? What Mares nest hast thou found?
The joke was pushed further by Dr. [Jonathan] Swift, in the play Miscellanies, 1751:
What! Have you found a mare's nest, and laugh at the eggs?”
Or is it perhaps just one of those old lines quoted by someone such as Frankie Howerd? His well-known “Oooh no missus, titter ye not” doesn’t really have any connection as such, but somehow I can just hear him saying “Oooh missus, he has spied a titter’s nest and is laughing at the eggs”.
So, is there anyone else out there who has heard of this saying? And if so, do they know from whence it originated?