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Norwegian Proverbs: A Sample
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Spoon
"Norway is like a spoon to me."

Norway is a kingdom in northern Europe, resembling a ladle somewhat. Mountainous and bulky, it is the second least densely populated country in Europe. Most of it borders on the North Atlantic Ocean and the Barents Sea. The extensive coastline is home to famous fjords. Norway also borders on Sweden to the east, and Finland and Russia too, up north. The capital is at present Oslo.

Two and a half centuries of Viking raids ended in 1066. After a period of civil war ended, Norway expanded its control overseas to parts of the British Isles, Iceland, and Greenland in the 1200s. Norwegian territorial power peaked in 1265, but then the country weakened for the next six centuries or so. Rising nationalism throughout the 19th century led to Norwegian independence - from Sweden - in 1905.

Oil and gas reserves beneath the sea were discovered in its waters in the late 1960s, and came to boost Norway's economic fortunes, as fish farming later has, too. Today there are considerable reserves of petroleum, natural gas, minerals, lumber, seafood, fresh water, and hydropower. Norway today is the world's largest producer of oil and natural gas outside of the Middle East.

Norway is a democracy with a representational monarchy, and maintains close ties with the European Union and its member countries, as well as with the United States. Norway is one of the biggest financial contributors to the United Nations.

Some of the cultural treasures of Norway can be traced back to the Viking Age, and some even a bit further. Viking poetry is found here, and some of the people's proverbs are found in Norwegian on other pages. Several of its fairy tales have been very well received world-wide too, through translations of the collection of Asbjornsen and Moe.

The first known inhabitants "came from the Hamburg area": they were the Paleolithic Ahrensburg culture (11th to 10th millennia BCE). Because of Norway's high latitude, there are large seasonal variations in daylight. The topography and climate varies considerably also. From late November to late January, the sun never rises above the horizon in the north, and daylight hours are very short in the rest of the country.

The brown bear is the largest predator on the mainland, and the common moose (also known as the "European Elk") is the largest inland animal. In the adjacent ocean the sperm whale is biggest, and the more or less harmless basking shark is the biggest fish in the waters of Norway. Read more: [Wikipedia, s.v. "Norway"]

Below is a sample of Norwegian proverbs put into American English, with an introduction. They are taken from from some of the best Norwegian collections. They are listed below. Over half of the proverbs were collected by Ivar Aasen (1813-96) (below).

The collection of 3500 Norwegian proverbs that the sample originates in directly, is partly bilingual, and contains more information about Norwegian proverbs.

The selection consists mostly of sensible pinpointings, and some of them may seem obvious if they are not given figurative meaning, which is a central part of the proverb tradition: We casually connect a proverb to a happening or occurrence, and as a result the proverb may take on new, interesting meanings, as the case may be.

Some proverbs offer sensible hints and a bit of humour by scanty means, as in "The king has to sit on the same as us (his bottom). [Br 104]." The proverb may help under-dogs against unbecoming servility.

The Norwegian of this collection is normalised, moderate New Norwegian, which is close to many dialects and first recordings of Norwegian proverbs, notably the collection by Ivar Aasen. For that reason, not a few of the proverbs in this collection are normalised retellings of the kind that is common for Norwegian proverb collections. Simple wording is preferred throughout.

Proverbs I have changed, are marked with a star (*). Proverbial utterances I have added, are marked in the same way.

The letters at the back of the proverbs refer to the collections below, and the numbers following the letters, refer to pages.

It is my online collection of 3550 Norwegian essential proverbs, fragments, and adages (sayings) that I offer a minor sample from.

Sample

A burning light may go out, a sailing man may drown.
Brennande lys kan slokne, seglande mann kan drukne [Noo 135].

A child's grief is soon put out.
Barnesorg er snart sløkt [Go 40].

A fair wind at our back is best.
Bra vind i ryggen er best [Oy 17].

A grey patch is better than a bare side.
Betre ei grå bot enn ei berr side [Go 95].

A tied dog does not jump farther than his cord.
Bunden hund bykser ikkje lenger enn bandet rekk [Br 14].

A tied up man is sorrowful.
Bunden mann er sorgbunden [Oy 134].

Age is nothing to boast of; you get it for nothing.
Alder er ikkje å skryte av; ein får han for ingenting [Oy 2].

Age probably leads to something worse.
Alder fører sikkert til det som er verre.

All birds cannot be hawks (some are just cuckoos).
Alle fuglar er ikkje haukar (somme er berre gaukar) [Oy 37].

All birds cannot be hawks.
Alle fuglar kan ikkje vere falkar [By 180].

All don't like the same thing; some like it cold, and some like it hot.
Alle liker ikkje eitt; somme liker kaldt og somme heitt [Oy 89].

All food does not come upon one single dish.
All mat kjem ikkje på eitt fat [Oy 99].

All madmen are not the same.
Alle galningar er ikkje like [Go 96].

All masters are born, but none is born a master except the billygoat.
Alle meistrar er fødde, men ingen er fødd meister så nær som bukken [Br 125].

All sense is not housed in one single head.
Alt vettet sit ikkje i éin haus (eitt hovud) [Br 197].

All shoes are not sewn on the same last.
Alle skor blir ikkje sauma på same leisten [Oy 133].

All the fat floats together.
Alt det feite flyt i hop [Go 33].

Another's horse is always strong.
Annan manns hest er alltid sterk [Go 84].

Another's steak is always fat.
Annan manns steik er alltid feit [Br 51].

Away is not to be at home.
Borte er ikkje å vere heime [Go 60].

Bare are buttocks without breaches.
Berr er bukselaus bak [By 202].

Barter is for fault.
Byte er gjort for lyte [Go 69].

Barter is to favour two and not just one.
- Byte skal vere til bate [fordel] for to og ikkje for éin [Noo 173].

Best that vende mens it goes vel.
Best å vende mens det går vel [Br 193].

Better (be) aware beforehand than quick afterwards.
Betre føre var enn etter snar [Oy 169, 39].

Better (be) wise beforehand than aware afterwards.
Betre føre vis enn etter var [Br 197].

Better (be) wise beforehand than wise afterwards (after the damage or accident).
Betre føre vis enn etterpå klok [Br 197].

Better a whole ship than a broken one.
Betre heil båt enn brote skip [Br 35].

Better an empty purse than wrongly got money.
Betre tom pung enn rangt skaffa pengar [Br 20].

Better barefooted than without jeans.
Betre berrføtt enn bukselaus [Br 29].

Better be limping than footless.
Betre halt enn fotlaus [Br 77].

Better be unmarried than badly married.
Betre ugift enn ille gift [Oy 164].

Better be without money than without honor.
Betre pengelaus enn ærelaus [Br 202].

Better bend than bump.
Betre å bøye seg enn støyte seg [Oy 17].

Better bend to get through the door than run one's head against a stone wall.
Betre å bøye seg for døra enn å renne hovudet mot veggen [Br 35].

Better grey than bald • Better grey hair than no hair.
Betre grå enn skalla • Betre grått hår enn ikkje hår [Oy 49].

Better know a little too much than too little.
Betre å vite litt for mykje enn altfor lite.

Better know for sure than just guess.
Betre å vite visst enn berre å gjette [Oy 181].

Better know rightly than hope wrongly.
Betre å vite rett enn å håpe feil [Oy 182].

Better learn from one damage than many.
Betre å lære av éin skade enn av mange.

Better let ten guilty ones go free than judging an innocent man.
Betre at ti skuldige slepp fri enn at ein skuldlaus blir dømt [Br 41].

Better lie uncomfortably than to cover oneself with a rag.
Betre å ligge ilt enn å breie over seg ei fille [Go 65].

Better little than nothing.
Betre lite enn ingenting [Br 20].

Better ten hairs on the head than one in the soup.
Betre ti hår på hovudet enn eitt i suppa [Br 44].

Better to live with certainty than in the hope.
Betre å bu i vissa enn i håpet [Oy 181].

Better too full than too early empty (about stores).
Betre for fullt en for tidleg tomt (om forrådshus, forsyningslager) [Oy 38].

Better turn in the brook than in the waterfall.
Betre å vende i bekken enn i fossen [*Oy 174].

Better turn than go astray.
Betre vende enn fare vilt [Br 193].

Better unlearned and bright than erudite and foolish.
Betre ulærd og vettig enn lærd og uvettig [Oy 165].

Better whole than mended well (probably).
Betre heilt enn aldri så godt bøtt [Br 81].

Better wind one's way on dry land than lie in water and call (for help). (A warning against walking on weak ice).
Betre å gå på land og kroke enn ligge i vatn og rope (åtvaring mot å gå på veik is - IA) [Oy 41].

Beyond the mountain there are people too.
Bortanfor berget bur òg folk [By 178].

Blind hen finds a corn too.
Blind høne finn også eit korn [Ae 174].

Blindest is he who doesn't want to see.
Blindast er den som ikkje vil sjå [By 161].

Boatless man is tied to the land.
Båtlaus mann er bunden til land [Oy 8].

Bookless man is (quite) blind.
Boklaus mann er blind [Br 24].

Bookless man may struggle badly.
Boklaus mann kan ille stri.

Both gentlemen and fools speak freely.
Både herrar og narrar har frispråk [Oy 59].

Certainty is better than hope. D: Better sit with certainty than walk with hope.
Betre å sitte med vissa enn gå med håpet [Oy 181].

Child memories will last long.
Barneminnet vil lenge vare [By 179].

Children are pauper wealth.
Barn er fattigmanns rikdom [Br 16].

Children do children's work.
Barn gjer barns verk [Go 41].

Documents do not forget.
[Brev. [og dokument] gløymer ikkje [Go 23].

Either conform to the customs or flee the country.
Enten må ein skikk følge eller land fly [Go 72].

Even the best horse may stumble.
Aldri så god hest at han ikkje kan snuble [Br 204].

Even the best swimmer may sink.
Beste svømmaren kan òg søkke [By 185].

Every cloud has a silver lining. There is nothing so bad in which there is not something good D: Things are never so bad that they are not good for something.
Aldri så gale er godt for noko [Ae 85].

Every little bit helps (contributes some) - IA).
Alle monnar drar ("drar til", tilfører eitkvart - IA) [Oy 104, By 174].

Everybody looks at others, and none on himself.
Alle ser på andre og ingen på seg sjølv [Go 62].

Everybody wants to put the axe in the bear-skull, but nobody wants to hold the handle.
Alle vil ha øksa i bjørneskallen, men ingen vil halde i skaftet [Oy 61, By 181].

Everyone has seen his cradle, but none his grave.
Alle har sett vogga si, men ingen har sett grava si [Br 72, Go 18].

Everyone knows what to do with a bad (crazy) wife except the one who has her.
Alle veit råd med ei vond kone så nær som han som har ho • Alle veit råd med ei galen kone utan han som har ho [jf. Oy 116, 76, Go 58].

Everyone wants to be a gentleman; nobody want to carry the sack. • Everyone wants to be great; nobody wants to carry the sack.
Alle vil vere herre, ingen vil bere sekken • Alle vil store vere, ingen vil sekken bere [Oy 59, 127, Oy 145, Og 33].

Everyone wants to climb the lowest fence.
Alle vil klatre over det lågaste gjerdet [Oy 42].

Everyone wants to hear praise, and nobody blame. • Everyone would rather hear praise than blame.
Alle vil høyre lovord, og ingen vondord • Alle vil heller ha ros enn klandring [Oy 174, By 165].

Everyone wants to live long, but nobody wants to age (get old).
Alle vil leve lenge, men ingen vil eldast (bli gammal) [Oy 91, Go 27].

Everyone wants to turn the prettiest side forward.
Alle vil snu venaste sida fram [Oy 127].

Everyone's friend is faithful to none.
Alle manns venn er ingen mann tru [Oy 178].

Everything does not go as we guess.
Alt går ikkje som ein gjettar [Oy 41].

Everything has an end, except the sausage, she has two.
Alt har ein ende, så nær som pølsa: Ho har to [Oy 24].

Everything is good for its own use.
Alt er bra til sitt bruk [Br 27].

Everything is not as bad as it sounds.
Alt er ikkje så låkt som det let [Oy 85].

Everything is pure to the pure.
Alt er reint for den reine [Bible, Br 141].

Everything is well told that is well received.
Alt er vel talt som blir vel opptatt [Br 176].

Everything must be destroyed that is meant to be so.
Alt lyt øydast som er etla til det [Br 203].

Everything needs its time.
Alle ting treng si tid [Oy 156].

Everything serves the thief.
Alt er tenleg for tjuven [Oy 156].

Everything will lie where it is lowest.
Alt vil ligge der det lågast er [Oy 88].

Face to face eagles shall claw (fight).
Andlet til andlet skal ørner klorast [Br 203].

Farmer thrives among farmers best.
Bonde trivst mellom bønder best [Go 83].

From a gruff word both harm and murder may ensue.
Av eit vondt ord kan komme både mein og mord [Oy 112].

From children and drunk people we get to hear the truth.
Av barn og fulle folk får ein høyre sanninga [Ae 49].

From harm one gets wise (and not rich).
Av skade blir ein vis (og ikkje rik) [Oy 130].

From nothing comes nothing.
Av ingen ting kjem ingen ting [Oy 56].

From our years we learn more than from many books.
[Av år lærer ein meir enn av mange bøker [Go 98].

From small seeds big trees grow.
Av små frø blir det store tre [Oy 37].

Getting a small part is better than a long quarrel.
Betre ein liten del enn lang trette [Go 66].

Good love glides easily and smoothly and pays in time.
Bra kjærleik glir lett og sikkert og ber seg sidan [jf. Oy 73].

Great fear and spanking hardly make the boy extremely wise.
Age og ris gjer neppe guten overlag vis [*Jf. Br 197].

Honor the old, teach the young.
Dei gamle skal ein ære, dei unge skal ein lære [Oy 41].

If the man does not heed time, time does not heed the man.
Aktar ikkje mannen tida, så aktar ikkje tida mannen [Br 178].

If you bend the bow too much, it will break.
Bender du bogen for hardt, så brest han snart [By 167].

If you bend the rights, they will break.
Bøyer ein retten, vil han breste [Br 142].

If you build your house as everybody counsels, it will never stand straight.
Bygger ein hus etter kvar manns råd, kjem det aldri til å stå beint [Go 80].

It is easier to learn from the damage of another.
Annan manns [annans] skade er lettast å lære av [Oy 130].

It's best to stop while things go well.
Best å slutte mens det går vel [Br 193].

Merely book makes none wise.
Berre bok gjer ingen klok [*Oy 12].

Most prayers go unanswered anyway.
Bønner flest går trass alt utan svar.

Not everyone can become pope in Rome.
Alle kan ikkje bli pave i Roma [Br 138].

Not everyone can have the bishop for his uncle.
Alle kan ikkje ha bispen til morbror [Go 36].

Not everyone can meet one's better.
Alle kan ikkje ha overmann [jf. Oy 186].

Only he who wanders, finds new paths.
Berre den som vandrar, finn nye vegar [Ae 154, Br 191].

Other times, other customs (manners).
Andre tider har andre sedar [Oy 155].

Other years make other people.
Andre år gjer anna folk [Oy 5].

Patchwork is better than bare buttocks.
Bot er betre enn berr bak [By 202].

Rather suffer for truth than get rewarded for lies.
Betre å li for sanning enn å få lønn for løgn [Oy 88].

Respect gives power.
Akt gir makt [Br 123].

Seriousness and fun often go together.
Alvor og gaman går ofte saman [Oy 5].

Sometimes the child just has crying to resort to (and it is horrible).
Barnet har somtid berre gråten å ta til (og den er fæl) [*Go 40].

Straight ahead is shortest, but not always easiest.
Beint fram er stuttast, men ikkje alltid lettast [Oy 8].

The ancients were no fools.
Dei gamle var ikkje gapar [Oy 41].

The baker and the smith belong to the devil.
Bakar og smed høyrer hinmannen (fanden) til [Br 14].

The bear and bear hunter are not of the same opinion.
Bjørnen og bjørnemannen (bjørnejegeren) har ikkje same meining [Go 34].

The best cure meets the disease before it enters the home. - Cf. Prevention is better than cure.
Beste lækjedommen møter sykja før ho kjem i huset [Oy 96].

The best friends are fewest.
Dei beste vennane er det færrast av [Oy 179].

The best joy lasts the longest.
Best glede varer lengst [Oy 46].

The best remedy against getting drunk is keeping sober.
Beste middel mot å bli drukken er å halde seg edru.

The billy-goat knows he has horns.
Bukken veit om at han har horn [Br 32].

The blemishes of another are easily seen.
Annan manns lyte er lette å sjå [Oy 95].

The burden of someone else is always light.
Annan manns byrde er alltid lett [Br 10].

The burnt child fears the fire.
Brent barn er redd elden [By 203].

The child has to crawl till it learns to walk.
Barnet får krype til det lærer å gå [Oy 7, cf Ae 105].

The comparison halts (something is alike, something is not).
Alle samanlikningar haltar (somt er likt, og somt ikkje) [Oy 89].

The craziest speak most truly.
Dei galnaste seier sannast [Br 62].

The day that is gone, you will not get one more time.
Dagen som er gått, får ein ikkje igjen [By 188].

The east wind travels where it is supposed to.
Austavinden fer vel den vegen han skal [*Jf. Br 13].

The eye is the first thing that is blinded.
Auget er det første ein blir blind på.

The eye wants to be where it is dear, and the hand where it hurts.
Auget vil vere der det er kjært, og handa der det er sårt [Oy 4, By 161].

The fair wind blows even if the sailor does not see it.
Børen blæs om ikkje seglaren ser det [By 171].

The fair wind blows just as well whether the sailor sleeps or is awake.
Børen blæs like godt om den seglande søv eller vaker [Oy 17].

The farmer can sow, but not put on the ear.
Bonden kan så, men ikkje sette akset på [jf. Oy 125].

The farmer cannot invite all.
Bonden kan ikkje alle by [By 202].

The farmer himself the best, and his wife the next.
Bonden sjølv det beste, og kona hans det neste [Br 26].

The farmer is no goose because he is grey.
Bonden er ikkje gås fordi han er grå [Go 83].

The friend of all is the fool of all.
Allemanns venn er allemanns narr [Br 131].

The maniacs have many funny hours that the sane guy does not have.
Dei galne har mange morosame stunder som den vettige ikkje har [Go 22].

The old are to be honored.
Dei gamle skal ein ære [*Oy 165].

The patch always has to be larger than the hole.
Bota lyt alltid vere større enn hòlet [Go 80].

The patch is sometimes worse than the hole.
Bota er stundom verre enn hòlet [Br 27].

The straightest road is shortest, but not always easiest.
Beinaste vegen er kortast, men ikkje alltid lettast [Oy 172].

The table catches.
Bordet fangar [Br 26].

The will be quiet sometime, those who are wild now.
Dei blir ein gong stille, dei som no er ville [Oy 144].

There are at least two sides to a thing.
Alle ting har to sider, minst [Br 8].

There is a knack to every handicraft.
Alle handverk har sin kunst [Br 78].

There is much poverty in the world, but many to share it (Joke).
Armoda er stor i verda, men så er det mange om henne òg [Oy 3, Br 11].

There is nothing so bad that it cannot be worse.
Aldri så vondt at det ikkje kunne vore verre [Br 199].

There never was so bad a crow that it did not want a mate.
Aldri så klein ei kråke at ho ikkje vil ha ein make [Br 123].

Those who yawn at the same time, are not on bad terms.
Dei er ikkje uvennar som geispar samtidig [Go 72].

Too audacious is often given a beating.
Altfor djerv blir ofte dengd [Go 71].

Too clean has no taste.
Altfor reint har ingen smak [Go 42].

Too much makes the sack burst.
Altfor mykje sprenger sekken [Oy 105].

Too near is little dear.
Altfor nært er lite kjært [Oy 109].

Too sensitive gets nowhere.
Altfor var kjem ingen veg [Oy 169].

Too sharp may be a burden too.
Altfor kvast er òg til last [By 167].

Too shy gets nowhere ahead.
Altfor blyg kjem ingen stad fram [Go 93].

Collection

Norwegian proverbs of Norway, Literature  

Br: Universitetsforlaget: Kort og godt. Utvalde ordtak til husbruk (In brief: Selected Proverbs for Home Use). ( Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1978.

By: Bø, Olav, ed: Rim, gåter, ordtøke. (Rhymes, Puzzles, Proverbs) 3. utg. (Norsk folkediktiing 4) Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1977.

Go: Christiansen, Reidar: Gamle norske visdomsord. Norske ordspråk i utvalg. (Selected Old Norwegian Words of Wisdom) Oslo: Cappelen, 1992.

Noo: Almenningen, Olaf, red. Norske ordtak. Nesodden: Frifant Forlag, 2005.

Oa: Aasen, Ivar: Norske ordsprog. (Norwegian Proverbs) 3rd ed. Voss: Vestanbok, 1982.

Or: Kragh, Ole: Alverdens ordsprog og talemåder. (Proverbs and Sayings from the Whole World) Copenhagen: Vendelkærs, 1979.

Osl: Jensen, Brikt, red. Ordspråkleksikon (Proverb Dictionary). Tr. Gunnar Gjengset. Oslo: Schibsted, 1996. (Carsten Bregenhøj og Solveig Pått: Politikens Ordsprogleksikon.)

Oy: Aasen, Ivar. Norske Ordsprog samlede og ordnede af I. Aasen. (Norwegian Proverbs Collected and Arranged by I. Aasen) 2nd ed. Christiania (Oslo): Mallings Boghandels Forlag, 1881.

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