My Favorite Norse Proverbs and Sayings

IcelandToday I would like to share with you a few proverbs from Scandinavia. Feel free to post your own favorite Norse and Viking sayings in the comments below.

Icelandic Proverbs

Neyðin kennir naktri konu að spinna.
The necessity teaches a naked woman how to spin.

Sjaldan er ein báran stök.
There seldom is a single wave.

Árinni kennir illur ræðari.
A bad rower blames the oar.

Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.
Bare is the back of a brotherless man.

Brennt barn forðast eldinn.
A burnt child keeps away from fire.

Linur bartskeri gjörir fúin sár.
Mild physician – putrid wounds (idiomatic translation).

Kemst þó hægt fari.
You will reach your destination even though you travel slowly.

Swedish Proverbs

Bara döda fiskar följer strömmen.
Only dead fish follow the stream.

Det är som mörkast innan gryningen.
It is darkest before dawn.

Ensam är stark.
Alone is strong (You can accomplish a lot on your own).

Inga träd växer till himmelen.
No trees grow to the sky (Nothing lasts forever).

Ju senare på kvällen, desto vackrare folk.
The later in the evening, the more beautiful the people.

Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder.
There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Det som göms i snö, kommer fram vid tö.
What is hidden in snow, is revealed at thaw.

Norwegian Proverbs

Bra vind i ryggen er best.
A fair wind at our back is best.

Altfor reint har ingen smak.
Too clean has no taste.

Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø.
One should listen when an old dog barks.

Gammel kjærleik rustar ikkje.
Old love does not corrode.

Berre bok gjer ingen klok.
Merely book makes none wise.

Båtlaus mann er bunden til land.
Boatless man is tied to the land.

Dei galne har mange morosame stunder som den vettige ikkje har.
The maniacs have many funny hours that the sane guy does not have.

Danish Proverbs

Man må hyle med de ulve man er i blandt.
One must howl with the wolves one is among.

Den hund som bieffer meget, han bider ikkun lidet.
Barking dogs seldom bite.

Du skal kravle, før du kan gå.
You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

Lidet er om den mans vrede, som ingen vurder.
If you cannot bite, never show your teeth.

Når man vil slå hunden finder man lätt en kæpp.
If you want to beat a dog you will easily find a stick.

Faroese Proverb

Tíðin rennur sum streymur í á.
Time runs like the river current.

Photo: Lonely house by the mountains, Iceland. Courtesy Suvodeb. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

43 comments… add one
  • Noah

    Hi there, I know it has been asked before but I can’t seem to find the correct answer. I too am trying to translate the proverb “Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi” into Younger Futhark. I’m stuck between

    ᛒᛅᚱ ᛅᚱ ᚼᚢᛅᚱ ᛅᚦ ᛒᛅᚴᛁ ᚾᛅᛘᛅ ᛋᛅᚱ ᛒᚱᚢᚦᚢᛦ ᛅᛁᚴᛁ
    ᛒᛅᚱ ᛁᚱ ᚼᚢᛅᚱ ᛅᚦ ᛒᛅᚴᛁ ᚾᛁᛘᛅ ᛋᛅᚱ ᛒᚱᚢᚦᚢᛦ ᛅᛁᚴᛁ

    Could anyone check the translation and let me know which one is more correct, or point out any mistakes if I made any? Thank you :)

  • Oli

    Icelandic: “Feigum er ekki forðað”
    A translation might be: “Marked cannot escape”
    Feigr is a word that has changed from its original meaning almost everywhere but in Iceland over the centuries.
    In iceland it means marked for death.
    The word in germanic it is “fegh” and in Danish it is “fej” and means something like having a bad character.
    In english I believe it was “fey” in old english and changed from there to the fey we know today. However, I remember I read somewhere that fey or a very similar word in scottish means “doomed” or similar.

    I remember reading in the sagas about a man replying to the taunts of another with “Thu talar feigum munni” or “You speak with a marked mans mouth”.

    The word is bound with a kind of belief in that your way in life is set in general terms and when you are set to die, you will.

  • Brian

    two rune stones laid in the churchyard wall at Gjerde Church until the 1820s -1830s when they were taken to the Historical Museum in Bergen. The inscription has been dated back to the time around the year 1100. On one is written “Erlend wrote down these runes from his father, Olve” Does anuone have this in younger futhark or can find a picture of the stone?

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