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
  • I was looking for proverbs about the house, but I didn’t find them here. Where they can be found?

  • im trying to find the old Norse text for this quote from Volunga Saga “Fear not death for the hour of your doom is set and none may escape it”. That might not be an exact quote, but i think its close.

  • Henry

    Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi. – Bare is the back of a brotherless man. How would this have been written in rune?

  • Johannes

    Hello, norwegian here

    I believe they are written like this:

    “They grow in body but not in brains” = “De vokser i kropp, men ikke i sinn”
    “Sardines and old shoes” = “Sardiner og gamle sko”

    I truly hope this helps

  • Karsten Mungo Madsen

    Hi – Being a Dane, I just want to say, that there was no grammar or right way of spelling words a thousand years ago, when runes where used for writing. The spelling must have been more or less phonetic in which way the writer felt was right. So feel free to spell words in runes as you like.

  • Mandy

    Is the quote:
    “Altfor reint har ingen smak”
    missing any access marks? I’m working on a gift for a friend and would like to make sure I represent the lettering correctly.
    This site is great. Thank you for all the wonderful info.

  • Robynn

    My dad was Norwegian and often quoted “They grow in body but not in brains” and “sardines and old shoes” or back to the old grind as we would say. I would like to know how these are written in
    Norwegian. Thanks

  • Phenia


    I am trying to find the origin of this quote
    Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø.
    One should listen when an old dog barks.

    Can you help me with that?
    Thank you very much for your time!

    • Viking Rune

      It’s a Norwegian proverb. Proverbs’ origins are usually in the oral tradition of the people.

      • My Mother used to say a Norwegian prayer to us, that I am trying to remember and obtain.
        A part of the prayer was “say toe me ten air”.
        Do you have any ideas that may help me find that complete prayer.?
        Thanks !!

  • Richard

    I am trying to translate the English “I am ” into Old Norse.
    Can you be of help t me?

    • Viking Rune

      Ek em

      • Ratatoskr

        ‘Am’ or ’em’ could perhaps be used in Old English. This is not used in Norse, except in the form ‘um’, where it tentatively means ‘about,’ as in ‘thereabout’ or ‘lauying about,’ for instance as it’s known in the Norse words ‘um-kring’ or ‘kring-um.’ In Norse ‘I am’ it is written ‘Ek er.’
        Heil ok sæl!

  • Hanna

    Im trying to convert the saying: “Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi” into the long branch variant of the younger futhark. I cant figure out how to write “hver” since I there is no “v”. Would appreciate any feedback.

    • Raphael

      Hej there Hanna

      I study History (with a Minor in Northern Germanic Languages) and I’m a bit of a freak concerning Old Norse and all ( :-D ) therefore I suggest you this:

      I. In Old Norse the Icelandic word “hver” is written as “hverr” (just in case you want to translate your saying into actual Old Norse, not Modern Icelandic) :-)

      II. If you want to use the “standard” younger Futhark: the answer is the letter “úr”, since it stands for the latin letters u/ú/v

      You probably find out how the letter looks like on this website :-)

    • Viking Rune

      Hanna, you may want to follow this tutorial: How to Write in Old Norse With Runes.

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