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Danish Proverbs

"Their proverbs reveal them." - On another page are 830 Danish proverbs in Norwegian translation

The cultural heritage of the Danish isles and Jutland is rich. The climate is humid and overcast with mild, windy winters and cool summers. The terrain of the mainland is low and flat for most part; its highest point is just above 170 m.

In World Happiness Report 2015 Denmark is ranked among the top four of 158 countries when it comes to subjectively reported life quality, or thriving. The four top countries are Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway.

Danes are quite fun loving and averagely reserved, and esteemed as altogether 'civilized', articulate, and clean. Danish design has got world-wide approval.

Among well-known Danes are Niels Bohr, physicist and Nobel Prize laureate; Tycho Brahe, the astrologer and astronomer who foretold the great London fire; Canute the Great, king of England, Denmark and Norway; Søren Kierkegaard, existentialist philosopher.


A bird may be ever so small, it always seeks a nest of its own.

A bird never flew on one wing.

A blind pigeon may sometimes find a grain of wheat.

A cow is not called dappled unless she has a spot.

A fair exchange is no robbery.

A fair skin often covers a crooked mind.

A gross belly does not produce a refined mind.

A headstrong man and a fool may wear the same cap.

A large fire often comes from a small spark.

A lazy boy and a warm bed are difficult to part.

A lord without land is like a cask without wine.

A man often kisses the hand he would like to see cut off.

A poor man has few acquaintances.

A rich child often sits in a poor mother's lap.

A slight suspicion may destroy a good repute.

A small bolt to the house is better than none at all.

A small fire that warms you, is better than a large one that burns you.

A truth-telling woman has few friends.

A wise head makes a close mouth.

Age is a sorry travelling companion.

Age makes many a man whiter, but not better.

All are not good cooks who carry long knives.

All who snore are not asleep.

All wish to live long, but none to be called old.

Always to be sparing is always to be in want.

Art and knowledge bring bread and honour.

As a man dresses so is he esteemed.

As the master is, so are his men.

Ask advice of your equals. [Cf. Danish]

Beauty draws with a single hair.

Better a poor horse than an empty stall.

Better be convinced by words than by blows.

Better the child cry than the old man.

Better the world should know you as a sinner than God know you as a hypocrite.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

Better twice measured than once wrong.

Better whole than patched in gold.

Beware of the dog himself, his shadow does not bite.

Care, and not fine stables, make a good horse.

Children are the riches of the poor.

Cunning has little honour.

Deep rivers move with silent majesty, shallow brooks are noisy.

Do as others do, and few will mock you.

Do as you would be done by.

Don't sell the skin till you have caught the fox.

Drive the nail that will go.

Eggs and [Danish] oaths are easily broken.

Envy does not enter an empty house.

Even doubtful accusations can leave a stain behind them. [Mod]

Even doubtful accusations leave a stain behind them.

Every day has its evening.

Every fool can find faults that a great many wise men can't remedy.

Every fox looks after his own skin.

Everyone sees his smart coat, no one sees his shrunken belly.

Every tub must stand on its own bottom.

Fair words please the fool, and sometimes the wise.

Fame and repute follow a man to the door.

Favour and gifts disturb justice.

Fingers were made before forks.

From praise, as from a shadow, a man is neither bigger nor smaller.

Give your wife the short knife, and keep the long one for yourself.

Good counsel will not rot, if it be got in dry.

Grey hairs are death's blossoms.

He is a poor smith who is afraid of sparks.

He is easy to lure, who is ready to follow.

He is little suited to be a baker, whose head is made of butter.

He is not yet born who can please everybody.

He knows best where the shoe pinches who wears it.

He must keep a sharp look-out who would speak the truth.

He must stand high that would see the end of his own destiny.

He scolds most that can hurt the least.

He that does you a very ill turn will never forgive you.

He that lies down with the dogs, will get up with fleas.

He that lives on hope has but a slender diet.

He who feeds the hen is out to have the egg.

He who is afraid to ask is ashamed of learning.

He who loves sorrow, will always find something to mourn over.

He who rises early will gather wisdom.

He who spends more than he should shall not have to spend when he would.

He who takes the child by the hand, takes the mother by the heart.

He who was born to be hanged will not be drowned, unless the water go over the gallows.

He who would eat the kernel, must crack the nut.

Hold your dog in readiness before you start the hare.

Honour buys no meat in the market.

Honour the tree that gives you shelter.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Hope springs eternally.

If the beard were all, the goat might preach.

If you play with the fool at home, he will play with you abroad.

In still water are the largest fish.

It does not depend on the dog when the horse shall die.

It is a bad well that need water to be carried to it.

It is an ill wind that blows nobody good.

It is bad to lean against a falling wall.

It is best to be off with the old love before you are on with the new.

It is dear-bought butter that is licked off a wool comb.

It is difficult to trap an old fox.

It is hard to live in Rome and strive against the Pope.

It is hard to make a fire on a cold hearth.

It is of no use making shoes for geese.

It is time enough to take off your hat when you see the man.

It is vain to fish without a hook. [Partial]

Italian devotion and German fasting have no meaning.

Jest with your equals.

Keep not two tongues in one mouth.

Kind words heal friendship's wounds.

Late repentance is seldom worth much.

Lend to your friend, and ask payment of your enemy.

Let another's shipwreck be your sea-mark.

Let him stay at the oar who has learnt to row.

Lies and Latin go round the world.

Love and poverty are hard to conceal.

Many a cow stands in the meadow and looks wistfully at the common.

Many a man labours for the day he will never live to see.

Meddle with dirt and some of it will stick to you.

Much noise and little wool, said the devil, when he was shearing the sow.

Much water runs by while the miller sleeps.

No man is so tall that he need never stretch, and none so small that he need never stoop. [Danish]

No one falls low unless he attempt to climb high.

One bite brings another.

One mangy sheep spoils a whole flock • One scabbed sheep will mar a whole flock.

Onions, smoke, and a shrew, make a good man's eyes water.

Other times, other folk.

Peace and a well-built house are rarely bought too dearly. [Mod]

Philosophy bakes no bread.

Relatives are the worst friends, said the fox as the dogs took after him.

Sail while the breeze blows, wind and tide wait for no man.

Sight goes before hearsay.

Ten no's are better then one lie.

That bench is well adorned that is filled with virtuous women.

The bow may be bent until it breaks.

The fire heeds little whose cloak it burns.

The goose that has lost its head no longer cackles.

The more cooks, the worse broth.

The owl does not praise the light, nor the wolf the dog.

The priest to his book, the peasant to his plough.

The sheep is shorn, not the horse. [Partial]

The sword keeps the peace of the land.

There is no cure against a slanderer's bite.

There is no virtue in a promise unless it is kept.

They brag most of their ancestors who are unworthy of them.

Though you teach a wolf the paternoster, he will say "Lamb! Lamb!"

Treachery and slander are long lived.

Two may lie so as to hang a third.

Unworthy offspring brag the most of their worthy descent.

Vice is most dangerous when it puts on the garb of virtue.

Want of variety leads to satiety.

We must sow even after a bad harvest.

Weighty work must be done with few words.

What the sober man has in his heart, the drunkard has on his lips. [Latin, Danish]

When dirt comes to honour it know not what to be.

When mistrust enters, love departs.

When the helm is gone the ship will soon be wrecked.

When wisdom fails, luck helps.

When you go to dance, take heed whom you take by the hand.

While the dogs yelp, the hare flies to the wood.

While the great bells are ringing no one hears the little ones.

Wisdom rides upon the ruins of folly.

Words once spoken cannot be wiped out with a sponge.

You can have too much of a good thing.

You cannot eat your cake and keep it.

You cannot take a cow from a man who has none.

You cannot take a shirt from a naked man.

You must have good luck to catch hares with a drum.

Young people must be taught, old ones be honoured.


Danish proverbs, Literature  

More: Some 1300 Danish proverbs in Nynorsk Norwegian, with background information.

Breseman, Friederich. Danske Ordsprog og Mundhæld. København: Høst, 1843.

Grundtvig. Nicolai F. S. Danske Ordsprog og Mundheld. Kjøbenhavn: C. A. Reitzel, 1845.

Holbæk, Bengt & Jørn Piø: Alverdens ordsprog. Copenhagen: Politiken, 1966 and later.

Kjær, Iver og Bengt Holbæk. Ordsprog i Danmark: 4000 ordsprog fra skrift og tale gennem 6000 år København: Paludans forlag, 1969.

Kragh, Ole. Alverdens ordsprog og talemåder. Copenhagen: Vendelkærs, 1979.

Kristensen, Evald Tang, saml. Danske Ordsprog og Mundheld, Skjæmtsprog, Stedlige Talemåder, Ordspil og Samtaleord. Kjøbenhavn: Gyldendal, 1890.

Levin, Christian Sander. Tre Hundrede af Peder Syvs Ordsprog Til Brug ved humoristiske Forelæsninger. Første Udvalg. København, 1819.

Låle, Peder. Forndanska och latinska ordspråk: Peder Låles samling efter 1506 års upplaga med avvikande läsarter ur upplagorna av 1508 och 1515. Copenhagen: Axel Koch och Carl af Petersens, 1890.

Mau, Edvard, saml. Dansk Ordsprogs-Skat, eller Ordsprog, Skjæmtesprog, Rimsprog, Munheld, Talemåder, Tankesprog, samt et lille Udvalg af Bibelsteder: efter trykte og utrykte Kilder samlede og ordnede, tillige med nogle Varianter, Oplysninger og Henvisninger. Copenhagen: Gad, 1879.

Molbech, Christian. Danske Ordsprog: Tankesprog og Riimsprog. Copenhagen: Thiele, 1850.

Syv, Peder, og Aage Hansen. Peder Syvs Danske ordsprog. København: Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab / Munksgaard, 1944.

Villum, Erik: Andres køer har større yver. Gyldendal. København, 1985. ⍽▢⍽ A brief selection.

WP (dansk Wikipedia), sv. "Ordsprog".

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