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
  • Mileena Bredenberg

    Why don’t you have any proverbs in Finnish here?

    • Dan

      Because finland wasn’t considered part of the vikings.. It was more of the group connected with Russia

    • Viking Rune

      Finland is a Scandinavian but not a Norse country. This article is about Norse proverbs.

  • Dean

    Hi im hoping somone could help me, how would you translate Valhalla in norse launguage, even better valhalla in runes? Thanks in advance

  • Andy

    could anyone translate something for me into old norse?

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Andy. It depends. Do you have a large text or just some word?

  • Loshi

    This website really has all of the info I wanted about this subject and didn’t know
    who to ask.

    • Viking Rune

      Thanks for the feedback.

  • Anders

    der er ingen ko paa isen
    There is now cow on the ice

    meaning, nothing is at stake, no need to worry

  • rob hansen

    is there a way to translate these saying into Elder futhark???

  • Ginny Ayotte-Prunty Nielsen

    The only one I remember hearing from my Norwegian father and grandmother was… A Thousand Swedes ran through the weeds chased by one Norwegian. No offense meant. I understand that Norway was beaten by Sweden a number of times. Also by the Danes. So where did this saying come from?

    • Linda Larsen-Mason

      There is a song that tells of a battle where I was told that the Norwegians deceived the Swedish and beat them in battle.

    • Maggie

      My family used to say this as well! Thanks for the reminder! And does anyone know where I can find this song??

  • Martin

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

    This is a saying we still use in the Netherlands.

    “zachte heelmeesters, maken stinkende wonden”

  • Gardar

    Where does the term “hung like a Norse” originate?

    It seems urban dictionary has put it that that it came during the Viking age, but it doesn’t seem like people would have said anything like that and there are no historical references.

    Were there any historical references?

    Did it originate because it rhymes with “horse”?

    • Viking Rune

      Yes, I think it has to do with the rhyme, Gardar.

  • Michael Enevoldsen

    I can add a few Danish proverbs:
    – Pels ikke bjørnen, før den er skudt – don’t skin the bear before it’s been shot
    – Vejen til helvede er brolagt med gode intetioner – The road to hell is paved with good intentions
    – Hovmod står for fald – pride comes before fall.

    • Viking Rune

      Thank you, Michael. Very interesting!

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