"Ola and Per" is a Norwegian-American farcical strip that was made between 1918 and 1935 by Peter Rosendahl. The strip protagonists, Ola and Per, are folk heroes among Norwegian-Americans.
A proverb is a pithy saying for most part. Or a traditional, short and often memorable sentence that people often quote. Proverbs are part of what is called folk wisdom (previous page). They express and hand over various stands in a culture or group by informing along broad lines what not to do, and to be quick to set things right, and much else.
Rosendahl's strip episodes are furnished with headings, and some of the headings are proverbs that serve as nubs. Further, "Ola and Per" episodes may be called anecdotes, and end in a jocular resolutions, nubs. Some such nubs are proverbs or proverb-looking. Also, some expressions in the comic strip's speech bubbles are proverbs or proverbial too.
Most of the renderings that follow are as they appear in the two books on Han Ola og han Per edited by Haugen and Buckley. The first of the books contains a full list over the strip numbers and titles in Norwegian.
The allotted number of various strip episodes as they appear in two books, Han Ola og han Per and More han Ola og han Per, are put in brackets below.
Be kind to animals (Strip No. 3). The title says the opposite of what happens, and the mixed comment and text of the strip blends nice words of kindness to animals with ongoing cruelty.
"You may know the great by their riding-gear" (Strip No. 8). It is an ironical comment in a scene in Henrik Ibsen's play Peer Gynt from 1875. It is said by Peer when thrashing the pig he rides on while trotting off.
As long as you live you learn (Strip No. 10). It is never too late to learn. You live, you learn. We learn not for school but for ourselves. Still, "Learning in the breast of a bad man (a prince) is as a sword in the hand of a madman." (Mieder et al. 1996, 366; Wilson 1970, 451)
It's never so bad that it could not get worse (Strip No. 15). Compare: From the day you were born till you ride in a hearse, there's nothing so bad but it might have been worse. (Mieder et al. 1996, 433)
Per "executes the smith for the baker", or The cow that suffered instead of the pig (Strip No. 29). - The caption alludes to a poem by Herman Wessel, "Smeden og Bakeren (The Smith and the Baker)". Its action is, in prose rendition: In a town there were two bakers and one smith. The smith killed another man while drunk, and was sentenced to death. But then they had just this smith in town - and he was a good smith too when he was not drunk - whereas they had two bakers, and one of them was not much praised for his work. So they hanged him instead of the smith. "Always be prepared for death. / It comes when you least expect it" concludes the poem, which relates to the practice of scapegoating that runs through the Bible, where innocent animals are sacrificed for the sins of the Jews and further on. However, if slaughtering of innocents for the sake of sinners is justice, what is injustice?
It is not easy to be a newcomer, says Lars (Strip No. 41). I n his case it is in part as Kahlil Gibran (1991) suggests in the section Crime and Punishment in The Prophet: "When the black thread breaks, the weaver shall look into the whole cloth, and he shall examine the loom also." However, in Soto Zen a main ideal is to attain, keep, and cultivate an attentive "beginner's mind", which is something desirable to go for. (Suzuki 1999)
Who laughs last, often laughs best (Strip No. 44). The caption is also used in the strips 357, 422, and 486. This proverb suggests "the biter bit", that is, sweet revenge. Similarly: Let them laugh that win. Meanings in other veins are possible too: He who laughs last laughs longest. (Mieder et al. 1996, 360, 362, 361)
When Ola was to mind the house (Strip No. 51). This caption, which is not an outspoken proverb, alludes to a very popular type of folk tale that is given the International Folk Tale Catalog number (AT) 1408. (See Uther 2004; Hodne 1984)
"Per demonstrates "Safety first" for Ola" (Strip No. 62). "Safety first," the motto of Industrual Council for Industrial Safety, was used as a proverb as early as in 1915 (Mieder et al. 1995, 522]. Compare: Better one safe way than a hundred on which you can't reckon [Ib., 643].
When Lars was to mind the house (Strip No. 75). The strip illustrates in a humorous way that if you set someone to do a thing, make sure to tell him the details of it if he is inexperienced, or something unexpected may happen. As it is, Lars, a doctor in botany, at times serves to illustrate that untranslatable, academic learning can be "a dang'rous thing". Compare: A little learning is a dangerous thing. (Alexander Pope, in Ratcliffe 313)
Sharp lye is needed for scurvy heads (Strip No. 95). A Swedish proverb says: Det behövs skarp lut till lusiga huvud (dåligt folk behöver hård behandling). Sharp lye is needed for heads with lice. Implied is that at times bad people need tough treatment. (Holm 1975, 212)
Everything at the right time and place (Strip No. 103). Compare: Each thing has its right place if you know how to place it. (Mieder et al. 1996, 148, 589)
A byway is often the shortest (Strip No. 132). It can be questioned. Compare: Don't go round the world for a shortcut. (Mieder et al. 1996, 677)
No one knows the day until the sun has set (Strip No. 140). Compare the British: The evening crowns the day. (Suggested thereby is something like "Only at the end of his life can a man be truly judged"). Praise a fair day at night. Call no man happy till he dies. The Norse teaching poem Havamal says in Henry Bellow's translation: Give praise to the day at evening, to a woman on her pyre (verse 81). In derived or related proverbs it is: Ein skal ikkje rose dagen før kvelden er kommen. (Don't praise the day till evening has come). Prisa ej dag förrän sol gått ned (och icke människan förrän hon är (död) Don't praise the day until the sun has set (and not a person until he (she) is dead). (Mieder et al. 1996, 135-7; Fergusson 51; Bellows, v. 81; Bø 1977, 172; Aasen 1982, 40; Seim 108; Holm 1975, 59)
Oh, I hear your voice, but I can't help you. (Strip No. 148) Along with the situation that is illustrated in picture 4 in this strip, it equals the Swedish proverb Jag hör dej, men jag kan inte hjälpa dej, sa den fulle, när brännvinet rann ur kuttingen. (I hear you, but I cannot help you, said the drunk when the liquor flowed out of the keg). (Holm, 1975, 161)
Nosiness [may be] punished (Strip No. 172, 245). Compare: Keep your nose to yourself and it won't be cut off. Foolish curiosity . . . often lead to misfortune. British: Meddle not with another man's matter. Værmor in Rosendahl's strip at times experiences rebuttals for her nosiness. It is a cause of mishaps. (Mieder et al. 1996, 432, 630; Fergusson 133.)
"Per does not practice what he preaches" (Strip No. 194). Compare: Practice what you preach. (Mieder et al. 1996, 479)
"Need breaks laws" (Strip No. 215). Other variants: Necessity is above the law. Necessity knows no law. (Mieder et al. 1996, 353)
"When the ending is good, everything is good" (Strip No. 223). Variant: "All's well that ends well." (Strip No. 247). But compare Buddha's wise stand that real good is good in the beginning, in the middle and in the end, all of which serves one best.
A stitch in time saves nine (Strip No. 267). The Norwegian is literally: [It is better to be] precautious than quick afterwards (eg, when damage has been done). Cf. Prevention is better than cure.
You're never rid of book agents (Strip No. Joke) (294). In Rosendahl's Spring Grove Norwegian: Bogagenter blir man aldrig kvit.
"When the danger is at its worst, help is nearest" (Strip No. 328). - Two fishermen from the Sands Island in Norway had capsized in the middle of the Sandsfjord, and were clinging to the overturned boat bottom. While big waves kept lashing over the keel, one of them said, "Joan, now we have to call to Our Lord." - "But aren't there people closer by?" asked the other. (Grimstad 1974, 47-48)
Things do not aways go according to plan (Strip No. 358). Compare: "The best laid plans of mice and men / often go awry," by Robert Burns.
Too much of a good thing . . . (Strips Nos. 373, 597). Compare: Too much of a good thing is worse than none at all, says an American proverb. (Mieder et al. 1996, 260)
Sorrow and joy, they wander together (Strip No. 391). Compare: Grief often treads upon the heels of pleasure. Pessimistic-religious Norwegian: "Hver gledesstund du har på jord, betales må med sorg "Every happy moment [you have] on earth, must be paid with sorrow)." (Mieder et al. 1996, 268)
Big head and little sense (Strip No. 423). This is derogatory, like "Big head and little wit." A retort to that again: "Big head, little wit, little head, not a bit." (Mieder et al. 287)
Don't believe everything you hear (Strip No. 425). Compare: Believe only half of what you see and nothing you hear, and Season all you hear with salt. (Mieder et al. 1996, 274; 523)
He who digs a grave for others . . . (Strip No. 432). He who digs a grave for another falls in himself. (Mieder et al. 1996, 266)
The cure [may be] worse than the disease (Strip No. 568). Sometimes the remedy is worse than the disease. (Mieder et al. 1996, 152, 504)
Bellows, Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda. Translated from the Icelandic with an Introduction and Notes. Scandinavian Classics, Volumes 21 and 22. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1936.
Buckley, Joan Nagelstad. "The Humor of han Ola og han Per." In Peter Julius Rosendahl. Han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian- American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.
Buckley, Joan Nagelstad. "Peter Julius Rosendahl: The Creator of Ola and Per." In Peter Julius Rosendahl. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.
Buckley, Joan N. and Einar Haugen. "Preface." In Han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.
Bø, Olav, red. 1977. Rim, gåter, ordtøke. (Norsk folkedikting 4) 3rd ed. Oslo: Samlaget.
Fergusson, Rosalind. The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983.
Gibran, Kahlil. 1991. The Prophet. Waterville ME: Walker Large Print.
Grimstad, Ivar. Velsigne kjæften din, prest. Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1974.
Haugen, Einar Ingvald. "The Language of Han Ola og han Per." In Peter Julius Rosendahl. Han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984, 26-39.
Haugen, Einar Ingvald. "Ola and Per: Folk Heroes of Norwegian Americans" In Peter Julius Rosendahl. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.
Haugen, Einar, and Joan N. Buckley. "Han Ola og Han Per." NAHA publication 1984.
Hodne, Ørnulf. The Types of the Norwegian Folktale. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.
Holm, Pelle. Ordspråk och talesätt. Rev. utg. Stockholm: Bonniers, 1975.
Johnsen, Birgit Hertzberg. 1997. Hva ler vi av? Om nordmenns forhold til humor (What Do We Laugh At? How Norwegians Relate to Humor. Oslo: Pax.
Mieder, Wolfgang (main ed.), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder. 1996. A Dictionary of American Proverbs. Paperback ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ratcliffe, Susan, ed. 2000. The Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rosendahl, Peter J. Han Ola og Han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984 (Original printed in the Decorah-Posten).
⸻. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie. Edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Bilingual Edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.
Suzuki, Shunryu. 1999. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. Rev. ed. New York: Weatherhill.
Universitetsforlaget. Kort og godt. Utvalde ordtak til husbruk. Bergen: Universitetsforlaget,1978. ⍽▢⍽ Selections from Einar Seim. Norske ordtøkje og herme. Oslo: Bergen: Universitetsforlaget 1965.
Uther, Hans-Jörg. 1994. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica.
Wilson, F. P., ed. The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs. 3rd ed. Compiled by William George Smith. London: Oxford University Press. 1970.
Aasen, Ivar: Norske ordsprog [Norwegian Proverbs]. 3rd ed. Voss, NO: Vestanbok, 1982.
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