Icelandic proverbs Posted by hulda on Nov 8, 2012 in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs, Icelandic history
What taught the naked woman to spin thread? Or why does one become happy twice when one sits on a stone? Icelandic proverbs show how the people here think and view the world around them, and besides that they’re often very sharp and accurate to their point. Let’s look at some of my favourites!
A while ago I received a request to include word-to-word translations along with the real ones to better help understand how the language works. I thought it sounded an interesting idea so I’m trying it here. Any thoughts about it? Should I keep doing this in the future as well or would you rather just get the real translation?
I’ve a feeling that even the nicest parking inspector would not turn a blind eye to this type of parking…
Svo má brýna deigt járn að bíti.
(“So may sharpen dull iron to bite.”)
“A dull piece of iron can be sharpened to a blade”, a soft person can, if needed, treat you harshly as well. It can be used for example to hint that even though someone’s been very lenient towards a certain person their attitude may eventually change.
Litlir katlar hafa og eyru.
(“Small pots have as well ears.”)
“Even little kettles have ears (= handles)”, which is the good old “even the walls have ears” in Icelandic style. I always found this one really cute!
Þrínættur gestur þykir verstur.
(“Three nights old visitors are considered the worst.”)
“Visitors become unwanted after three nights’ stay”. Another easy one: a visitor should not overstay their welcome. There’s a similar saying in Lithuanian – “fish and visitors begin to smell after three days”.
Tvisvar verður sá feginn sem á steininn sest.
(“Twice becomes that one happy who on the stone sits.”)
“The one who sits on a stone becomes happy twice.” This one’s so Icelandic it may be difficult to figure out even after it’s translated. It means that when you’re really tired of walking outside you’ll feel very happy when you finally get to sit on a stone to rest. Since they’re not very pleasant to sit upon you’ll feel happy for a second time when you stand up and continue on your way.
Sá kann ekki að segja af súru sem aldrei sýpur nema sætt.
(“That one knows not to say of sourness who never sip except for sweet.”)
“The one who’s only tasted sweet cannot describe sourness”. The one who’s always had it easy should not pretend to know about the hardness of somebody else’s life.
Ekki tjáir að binda um banasárið.
(“No meaning to bind a deadly wound.”)
“There’s no point in trying to bind a deadly wound.” When things go so badly wrong that there’s no turning back there’s often no use in trying to mend them. It’ll be effort and energy wasted with little to no result, so it’s better to just leave them be.
Mark Twain should not bother Hitler while he’s driving the bus.
Enginn er alheimskur ef þegja kann.
(“No one is totally stupid if falling quiet knows how to do.”)
“No one who knows how to be silent is totally stupid.” This is a way of saying “he who knows he knows nothing knows more than the one who does not know he knows nothing” and “if you know you’re stupid, don’t open your mouth and let everyone else know it too” in one tight package. The idea behind this proverb goes back in time all the way to the medieval times – Hávamál, the viking era book of advice on life in general, stresses the importance of knowing how and when to be quiet.
Sannleikurinn er sagnafár en lygin langorð.
(“The truth is few of verbs but the lie long of words.”)
“It takes but a while to tell the truth but to lie takes a long time.” This one seems to have a double meaning. First of all, the person who speaks lengthily about something is more likely to be lying than the one who says very little about the same matter. The other way of understanding this is that telling the truth is quickly over and done with, but a liar will have to keep lying more to keep up the pretense around their lies.
One of our neighbours showing some creative problem solving skills: what would you do if the cord of your hedge cutter was not long enough?
Neyðin kennir naktri konu að spinna.
(“Necessity teaches naked woman to spin thread.”)
“A naked woman will learn to spin thread out of necessity”, or to use a well-known English equivalent, “Necessity is the mother of all inventions”. This is one of the most famous Icelandic proverbs and for a good reason: anyone caught naked in Iceland will very quickly think of clothes; if for no other reason then because the winter is coming and it’s getting really, really cold!
Thank yous for helping me out with the first proverb go to Heiða and Friða! I could not have fully understood it without your help, guys!
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