Site Map
Scottish Proverbs
Section › 7   Set    Search  Previous Next

Reservations   Contents    

Scottish Proverbs, a Sample

Scottish proverbs, sound and thrifty, are influential in Britain.

A selection of upwards of 630 Scottish proverbs and some mentions. Words or phrases may be looked up here: ◦Dictionary of the Scots Language.


A' [all] are gude [good] lasses, but where do the ill wives come frae?

A' are no thieves that dogs bark at.

A bairn [child] must creep ere he gang [walk].

A bawbee [little] cat may look at a king.

A bird in the hand's worth twa fleeing by.

A black ewe may have a white lamb. (58)

A blyth heart makes a blomand visage.

A fair offer is nae [no] cause o' [of] feud.

A fisherman's walk - twa steps and overboard.

A fool may speer [ask] mair [more] questions than a wise man can answer.

A fou [full] purse never lacks friends.

A friend's counsel, unasked, is never esteemed as it ought to be. (366)

A fu' [full] purse never lacks friends.

A gloved cat was never a good hunter.

A good goose indeed, but she hes an ill gansell.

A great boaster is rarely a great performer.

A grunting horse and a graneing wife seldom fail their master.

A gude fellow is a costly name.

A gude goose may hae an ill gaiflin.

A hasty judgment may be harmful. (159)

A hook is weel tint to catch a salmon.

A late beginning will not mend a bad day's work. (546)

A little wit ser's a lucky man.

A man at forty is either a fool or a physician.

A man o' words, and no o' deeds, is like a garden fu' o' weeds.

A mean pot plaid never even.

A misty morning may be a clear day.

A nod o' honest men's eneugh.

A person once wud, or deranged, is always suspected of being so, in the event of anything strange taking place.

A poor fellow can do but his best. (130)

A Presbyterian minister had a son who was made Archdeacon of Ossery; when this was told to his father, he said, 'If my son will be a knave, I am glad that he will be an archknave.'

A proud mind and an empty purse gree ill thegither.

A reproof is nae poison.

A rich heart may be under a poor coat. (Partial] (256)

A saft aiver was ne'er a gude horse.

A shored tree stands long.

A sloathfull man is a beggers brother.

A sturdy beggar should hae a stout nae-sayer.

A timely advice [may be] better than a late gift. (192)

A timid or cowardly person may be raised against the most valuable and useful things. *

A toom [empty] purse makes a pratling merchant.

A wicked woman will get her wish, but her soul will not get mercy. (178)

A wise man wavers, a fool is fixed.

A word is enough to the wise.

Ae gude friend is worth mony relations.

Ale-sellers shouldna [should not] be tale-tellers.

All dogs down on the strange dog. (8)

Although the wren be small it will make a noise. (177)

An auld [old] dog bites sicker.

An auld pock is aye skailing.

An ill life, an ill end.

An ill servant ne'er prov'd a good master.

And a pennyworth o' herring,

And slip na certainty for howp,

Ane beats the bush, and anither grips the bird.

Ane mans meat is another mans poyson.

Anger may look in on a wise man's heart, but it abides in the heart of a fool. (385)

Anger's short-lived in a gude man.

Anything for a quiet life.

A's but lip-wit that wants experience.

As the auld cock craws the young one learns.

As the fool thinks ay the bell clinks.

As wight as a wabster's doublet, that ilka day taks a thief by the neck.

At my leisure, as lairds dee.

Auld folk are twice bairns.

Auld men are twice bairns [children].

Auld springs gie me price.

Bad conversation spoils good manners. (249)

Bad legs and ill wives should stay at hame.

Bannocks are better than nae bread.

Barefit fowk shouldnae tread on thorns (Barefoot folks should not tread on thorns).

Bastard brood are aye proud.

Be happy while you're living, for you're a long time dead.

Be the same thing that thou wald be cald.

Bear wealth weel, poortith will bear itsel.

Beauty is but skin deep.

Beggars breed, and rich men feed.

Best to be aff wi the auld love afore we be on wi the new (Best to be off with the old love before we are one with the new).

Better a gude fame than a fine face.

Better a handful of craftsmanship than a handful of gold. (556)

Better a poor horse than no horse at all.

Better a toom [empty] house than an ill tenant.

Better a wee bush than nae beild.

Better an even down snaw than a driving drift.

Better auld debts than auld sairs.

Better be alone than in bad company. (219)

Better be bordering on plenty than be in the middle of poverty. (410)

Better be freends [friends] at a distance than enemies at hame.

Better be idle than ill doing.

Better be silent than sing a bad song. (62)

Better be sonsy than soon up.

Better be sure than be a loser. (211)

Better be the lucky man than the lucky man's son.

Better bide the Cooks nor the Mediciners.

Better eat brown bread in youth than in eild.

Better gie the slight than tak it.

Better hae than want.

Better half an egg than empty shells. [German]

Better hand loose nor bound to an ill bakie (baikine).

Better haud wi' the hounds than rin wi' the hare.

Better keep weel than make weel.

Better leave to my faes than beg frae my friends.

Better not remove at all than do so and then regret it.

Better saut than sour.

Better sma' fish than nane.

Better small corn seeds out of bad land than no seed at all. (561)

Better tine life than gude fame.

Better wade back mid water than gang forward and drown.

Binde fast, finde fast.

Blaw the wind ne'er sae fast, it will lown at the last.

Bought wit [can be] best. (198)

Bread and cheese is gude to eat when folk can get nae ither meat.

Broken freendships can be soother'd, but never soond.

But then was then, my lad, an' noo is noo;

Buy according to your needs, and sell as you may desire. (114)

Buy friendship wi' presents, and it will be bought frae you.

Cadgers (beggars, or gipsy pedlars) speaks of lead saddles.

Calk is na sheares. Chalk's no shears.

Chairity begins at hame [home], but shouldna end there.

Charge nae mair shot than the piece 'll bear.

Charity begins at hame.

Choose a bird from a clean nest. (456)

Choose the good mother's daughter were the Devil her father. (420)

Claw me and I'll claw thee.

Clippet sheep will grow again.

Clippet sheep will growe again.

Common saw sindle lies.

Confess'd faut is half amends.

Consider well in the first place, then act. (277)

Counsel is nae command.

Count again is not forbidden.

Covetous people will never be satisfied while they are alive.

Craft maun hae claes, but truth gaes naked.

Cutting out well is better than sewing up well.

Danger past, God forgotten.

Daughters pay nae debts.

Daylicht will peep throu a smaa hole (Daylight will peep through a small hole).

Death and drink-draining are near neighbours.

Deid men dae nae herm (Dead men do no harm).

Delays [can be] dangerous.

Despise your old shoes when you get your new ones. (133)

Diet cures mair [more] than doctors.

Diligence [can be] the mother of good luck.

Dinna gut yer fish till ye get them (Don't gut your fish till you get them).

Dinna streetch yer airm farther than yer sleeve'll let ye.

Dirt parts gude company.

Do not do strange acts merely for the sake of astonishing your friends.

Do not speak about a thing, or wish it done, but do it.

Do not throw aside good hay (Counsel).

Dogs will redd swine.

Don't be so busy that you have no time to get rich. (Counsel) *

Don't befriend neighbours who speak unreasonable things. *

Don't cry herrings till they are in the net. [Dutch]

During the year when meal is scarce let big bakings be few. (4)

Eagles catches nae [no] fleas.

Eaten bread is soon forgotten. [Italian]

Eident youth maks easy age.

Empty bladders are loquacious. (An empty pail makes most noise.) (228)

Even the ravens must live. (161)

Every ane loups the dyke where it's laighest.

Every cock crows loudest on his own dunghill, is a saying common to all nations.

Every fisher loves best the trout that is of his own tickling.

Every flow has its ebb.

Every man does his work after his own fashion.

Every man slams the fat sows arse.

Every man to his taste, as the man sayed when he kiss'd his cou [cow].

Every man's man had a man, and that gar'd the Threave fa'.

Everyone can rule a shrew except the one she's married to. (381)

Expect not a very covetous person to be very honest for a long time. * Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in nae ither.

Fair hechts will male fults fain. [Cherrie and the Slae]

Fair words winna mak the pat bile (Fair words will not make the pot boil).

Fashious fools are easiest flisket.

Fast bind, fast find.

Feeling has nae fellow.

Felicity follows generosity. (63)

Fight dog, fight bear; wha wins, deil care.

Fire an [and] watter is guid [good] servants but ill maisters.

Fire and water are gude servants but ill maisters.

Flee as fast as you will, your fortune will be at your tail.

Follow love and it will flee thee: flee love and it will follow thee.

Fools set far trysts.

For a tint thing care not.

For fashion's sake as dogs gang [go] to the market.

For my faither likes melts [the spleens and fish milts]!

Forced love ne'er dae [do] weel [well].

Fortune helps the hardy. *

Fou o coortesy, fou o craft (Full of courtesy, full of craft).

Fretful persons can be offended. *

Friendship conceals blemishes. (118)

Gaunting gaes frae man to man.

Gentility will not boil the pot. (85)

Gie [give] is a guid [good] fellow, but he suin [soon] wearies.

Gie a bairn his will, and a whelp its fill, and nane o' them will e'er do weel.

Gie is a gude fellow, but he soon wearies.

Gie ye meat, drink, an cleas, an ye'll beg amang yer freends.

Giff, gaff, makes good friends.

Give a dog an ill name and ye may hang him.

Give o'er ["stop"] when the play's good.

Glasgow people, Greenock folk, and Paisley bodies.

Glum or morose people are difficult to manage. [Kelly]

God ne'er sent the mouth, but he sent the meat wi't.

Goe shoe the Geese.

Gold itself may be too dearly bought. (146)

[Good] method will keep a farm. (Partial) (566)

Greed is envy's auldest brither: scraggy wark they mak thegither.

Gude foresight furthers wark.

Gude wares mak a quick market.

Guid will should be tean in pairt peyment.

Gut nae fish till ye get them.

Hang a thief when he's young, an he'll no steal when he's auld.

Have I done you a service, see that you repay it. *

Have the caution of a thief over every one, but make no one a thief. (69)

Hawks winna [will not] pike out hawks' een.

He begs frae [from] them that borrowed frae him.

He complains early that complains of his kail [pot].

He cuts near the wood (is very keen in driving a bargain.

He gangs early to steal, that cannot say Na.

He has a saw for a' sairs [sores] (that is, a salve or "balm for every wound."

He has coosten his cloak on the ither shouther.

He has gi'en up a trade and ta'en to stravaigin' (humorously: he has retired from business to live comfortably: "stravaig" = walk about idly.

He has got the heavy end of him. (in an argument or struggle he has the best of it.)

He has nae mair mense than a miller's horse.

He is a fairy Cook, that may not lick his own fingers.

He is wise, that is ware in time.

He keeps a high hand ower the country, but he spak to unreasonable folk - he might just hae keepit his breath to hae blawn on his porridge.

He likes nae beef that grows on my banes.

He looks as if the wood were fu' o' thieves.

He may weel soom wha has his head hauden up.

He ne'er did a gude darg that gaed grumbling about it.

He rides well that never falls: he is a perfect man who never errs.

He rises over early that is hangit ere noon.

He sits fu' [here: too] close that has riven breeks [pants]. - The Earl of Douglas, after being wounded at the battle of Shrewsbury)

He sits wi' [with] little ease wha [who] sits on his neighbour's coat tail.

He snites his nose in his neighbour's dish to get the brose himsel (a rude, expressive saying used when a person has done another an injury to benefit himself.)

He that ance [once] gets his fingers i' the dirt can hardly get them out again.

He that borrows and bigs, maks feasts and thigs, drinks an's no dry, nane a' these three are thrifty.

He that canna make sport shou'd mar nane (He that cannot sport, should marry none).

He that cheats in daffin [larking] winna be honest in earnest (He that cheats in harmless fun and mischief, will not be honest in earnest).

He that comes first to the hill, may sit where he will.

He that fishes afore the net, long e're he fish get.

He that grapes in the dark may fyle his fingers.

He that has a good crop may thole some thistles.

He that has a muckle nose thinks ilk ane speaks o't.

He that has a wife has a maister.

He that has his hand in the lion's mouth maun tak it out the best way he can.

He that has muckle wad aye hae mair.

He that hes gold may buy land.

He that invented the maiden first handselled her.

He that is welcome fares well.

He that lends you hinders you to buy.

He that marries a beggar gets a louse for a tocher.

He that never eats flesh thinks harigals a feast.

He that rides ahint anither doesna saddle when he pleases.

He that shows his purse tempts the thief.

He that spends his gear before he gets 't will hae but little gude o't.

He that wants content canna sit easy in his chair [with one exception].

He that's born to be hanged will never be drowned.

He tines bottles gathering straes.

He watsna whilk end o' him's upmost.

He who always sets his net will get a bird sometime. (533)

He who hath gold hath fear, and he who hath none has sorrow.

He who marries a wife marries trouble. (354)

He who will not prosper in his sleep, will not prosper when awake. (12)

He who will not sow, [may] not reap in Autumn. (526, mod)

He would gar you trow that the mune's made o' green cheese.

Hear all parties.

He'll hing by the lug o't.

He'll neither haud nor bind.

He's a fool that forgets himsel.

He's a fool that forgets himself.

He's a poor beggar that canna gang by ae door.

He's free o' fruit that wants an orchard.

He's got his nose in a gude kail pat. (meaning that a person has been well provided for. It is generally applied to a poor man who has married a rich wife.)

He's like the craws, he eats himsel' out o' ply.

He's like the sing'd cat, better than he's bonny.

He's mair worth hanging than hauding.

He's sairest dung that's paid wi' his ain wand. (that is, he suffers most who injures himself by his own folly, or by means which may have been intended to injure another.

He's ta'en a start and an owerloup. (meaning a slight encroachment on a neighbour's property - Sir Walter Scott.

He's twice fain that sits on a stane. (that is, glad to sit down when weary, and glad to rest and get refreshed).

He's weel worthy o' sorrow that buys it wi' his ain siller.

He's wise that's timely wary.

Hesitation in buying is better than delay in paying. (186)

Highest in the court, nearest the widdie.

Him that lives on hope has a slim diet.

His eggs hae a' twa yolks.

His meal's a' daigh.

Honours change manners.

Hope puts that haste into zour heid,

Horns an' grey hair dinna aye come o' years.

I ken by your half-tale what your hale tale means.

I ken I hae a gude deal o' the cuddy in me,

I ne'er lo'ed water in my shoon, and my wame's made o' better leather.

I think mair o yer kindness than it's aa worth.

I winna mak a toil o' a pleasure, quo' the man when he buried his wife and was asked to speed it up.

I would rather see't than hear tell o't, as blind Pate said.

If a gude man thrive, a' thrives wi' him.

If ae sheep loup the dyke, [others] will follow.

If ever ye make a lucky pudding, I shall eat the prick.

If it werena for the belly the back wad wear gowd.

If it winna be a gude shoe we'll mak a bauchel o't.

If marriages are made in heaven, you twa hae few friends there.

If ye dinna see the bottom, dinna wade.

If ye had as little money as ye hae manners, ye would be the poorest man o' a' your kin.

If you are manly, don't be gloomy. (426)

If you laugh at your ain sport, the company will laugh at you.

Ignorance is a great burden. (191)

Ilka bird maun hatch her ain egg.

I'll gar ye claw where its no yeuky.

I'll mak a shift, as Macwhid did wi' the preachin'.

I'll no tell a lee for scant o' news.

Ill won gear winna enrich the third heir.

I'm but beginning yet, quo' the wife when she run wud.

In a good time I speak it, in a better I leave it.

Industry pays debt. (135)

Industry results will bring; sheaves of corn and stacks that fill the barn. (Abr) (577)

It [can be] dangerous to speak against those who are in authority.

It is a sin to lye on the Devil.

It is dear bought honey that is lickt off a thorn.

It is difficult to track a man through a river. (412)

It is good to be out of harms gate.

It is ill fishing if the hook is bare.

It is ill to draw a strea before an old cat.

"It is less for that," as the wren said when it took the full of its bill from the large lake. (189)

It is not every day that Macintosh holds a Court. (The Macintosh here referred to was one of the Chamberlains to the Earls of Perth. At these Courts, thieves were hanged - but culprits were not always at hand. The saying relates to these brutal ways.) (621)

It is not what is she, but what has she.

It is past joking when the head's aff.

It is weil warit that wasters warn geir.

It sets you weel to gab wi' your bannet on.

It's a cauld stamach that naething hets on.

It's a ill kitchen that keeps the breid awa.

It's a' outs an' ins, like Willie Wood's wife's wame.

It's a sooth dream that's seen waking.

It's as true as Biglam's cat crew, and the cock rock'd the cradle.

It's but kindly that the pock savour of the herring.

It's difficult to put an old head on a young shoulder. (227)

It's easier to forgie than to forget.

It's gude to be out o' harm's gate.

Its gude to dread the warst, the best will be the welcomer.

It's ill takkin corn frae geese.

It's no for nought that the gled whistles.

It's ower weel hoardit that canna be fund.

It's weel that oor fauts is no written in oor face.

It's weel won that's aff the wame (well saved that is won from the belly).

Kame [comb] sindle [seldom], kame sair [sore] (if the hair is seldom combed it soon becomes a difficult and painful to do it. Proverbially applied when simple but necessary matters of business are neglected so much that they become troublesome.)

Kamesters are aye creeshy. (Wool-combers are always greasy. People are subjected to all sides of their work.)

Keep out o' his company that cracks o' his cheatery.

Keep your tongue a prisoner, and your body will gang free.

Ken when to spend and when to spare, and ye needna be busy, and ye'll ne'er be bare.

Kindness comes o will, it canna be coft.

Kings and bears aft worry their keepers.

Lang leal, lang poor.

Lang straes are nae motes, quo' the wife when she haul'd the eat out o' the kirn.

Langest at the fire soonest finds cauld

Law-makers shouldna be law-breakers.

Lear young, lear fair,

Learn your gudewife to mak milk kail.

Leave the court ere the court leave you.

Let a horse drink what he will, but no when he will.

Let him tak a spring on his ain fiddle.

Let ilka tub stand on its ain bottom.

Let ne'er your gear owergang ye.

Let the dead lie. (239)

Light supper makes long life.

Light suppers mak lang days.

Like draws aye to like. *Abr

Like the wife wi' the mony dochters, the best's aye hindmost.

Liked gear is half-bought.

Little kent, the less cared for.

Little to fear when traitors are true.

Live in measure, and laugh at the mediciners.

Lo'e me little an' lo'e me lang.

Love has nae law.

Make a kirk or a mill o't.

Make not twa mewes of ane daughter.

Many court the child for the sake of the nurse.

Many irons in the fire, pare must cool.

Many words fills not the furlot.

Marriage will sober love. (447)

Marry yer son when ye will, but yer dochter when ye can.

May we be preserved from lawyers and from doctors. (Truly a very fervent wish, this one.) (172)

Meal is finer than grain, women are finer than men. (The Gael regards woman as of finer mould, of more tender sensibility, therefore he is deferential towards her. However, he is not insensible to her faults.) (418)

Meat is gude, but mense is better.

Mills an wifes is aye wantin.

Mony a gude tale is spoilt in the telling (Mony a guid tale is spyled in the tellin).

Mony ane kisses the bairn for love o the nurse.

Mony ane wad hae been waur had their estates been better.

Mony hounds may soon worry a hare.

Mony littles maks a muckle.

Mony words, muckle drouth.

Much may be done under the guidance of a good man. (402)

Muck and money gae thegither.

Muckle corn, muckle care.

Muckle spoken, part spilt.

My neighbours skaith's my ain peril.

Nae fleeing frae fate.

Nae friend to a friend in need.

Nae man can baith sup and blaw at ance.

Naething like bein stark deid (Nothing like being stark dead).

Nane can mak a bore but ye'll find a pin for't

Nane can play the fool sae weel as a wise man.

Nane sae weel but he hopes to be better.

Narrow gathered, widely spent.

Nearer e'en the mair beggars.

Neathing comes fairer to licht than what heas been lang hidden.

Necessity made the roe swim across the loch. (574)

Necessity will get something done. (50)

Need maks a man o craft.

Need maks the naked quean spin.

Ne'er lippen ower muckle to a new friend or an auld enemy.

Ne'er say Ill fallow to him you deal wi'.

Ne'er strive against the stream.

Neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring.

Never dae ill that guid micht come o't.

Never keep a cou when ye can get milk cheap.

Never scad your lips in other fouks kail.

No fumes from the pot, but from what it contains. (81)

No man makes his own hap.

Now-a-days truth's news.

Of ane ill come mony.

One hapless act may undo a man, and one timely one will re-establish him. (109)

One man can lead a horse to the water, but twelve cannot make it drink. (53)

Oor ain reek's better than ither fowk's fire.

Out o' debt, out o' [such] danger.

Ower mony grieves hinder the wark.

Pey-aforehand's never weel ser'd (Pay-before-hand is never well served)

Plack aboot's fair play.

Plenty maks dainty.

Poor men are fain of little thing.

Possession's worth an ill charter.

Pride and grace ne'er dwell in ae place.

Pride that dines wi vanity sups wi contempt.

Pride's an ill horse to ride.

Puddins and paramours should be hetly handled.

Put the man to the mear that can manage the mear.

Put your hand nae farther oot than your sleeve will reach.

Quhair the Deer is slain, some bloud will lie.

Quhen the good-man is fra hame, the board-cloth is tint.

Quhen thy neighbours house is on fire, take tent to thy own.

Quick returns mak rich merchants.

Racklesse youth makes a goustie age.

Raise no more spirits than you can conjure down.- German.

Reckon up your winning at your bed-stock.

Right wrangs nae man.

Ripe fruit is suinest rotten.

Rule youth weel, for eild will rule itsel'.

Ruse the ford as ye find it.

Sairs shouldna be sair handled.

Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. [English]

Say but little and say it well. (2)

Say well's good but do well is better.

Scornfu' dogs eat dirty puddin's.

See that your own hearth is swept before you lift your neighbour's ashes. (158)

Seein's believin' a' the world ower.

Sel, sel, has half-filled hell.

Self-praise is nae honour.

Send, and fetch.

Seying goes good cheap.

Shallow waters make maist din.

Shame shall fall them that shame thinks, to do themselves a good turn.

She frisks about like a cat's tail i' the sun

She hauds up her heid like a hen drinkin watter.

She spend's money like a woman with nay hands.

She'll keep her ain side o the hoose, an gang up an doun yours.

Short rents mak careless tenants.

Shro the ghuest the house is the war of.

Sic things maun be if we sell ale.

Sike a man as thou would be, draw thee to sike company.

Silly bairns are eith to lear.

Sins and debts are aye mair than we think them.

Sleepy fellow will lose a wedder, but gad-about will lose a cow. (540)

Slighted love is sair to bide.

Slippery is the flagstone (doorstep) at the mansion house door. (A hint of the uncertainty of depending on favours from those in high places, and that one's own efforts should be depended upon as the means to success. There are, however, exceptions to.) (183)

Snapper, to stumble. Even the best of men may err.

Soft fire makes sweet malt.

Some cannot do two things at once.

Some cut lang whangs aff ither folk's leather. *

Some folk look up, and ithers look down.

Some men are blind in their own cause.

Soon gotten, soon spent.

Soon ripe, soon rotten.

Spare when ye're young, and spend when ye're auld.

Speak when ye're spoken to, do what ye're bidden, come when ye're ca'd . . .

Stable the steed, and put your wife to bed when there's night wark to do.

Staunin' dubs gather dirt. (Standing pools gather filth)

Step by step climbs the hill.

Stewarts, the race of kings and tinkers. (The name was commonly adopted by tinkers for the same reasons that induce Jewish moneylenders to adopt some of our most aristocratic names - mercenary motives and the desire for respectability.) (641)

Suppers kills mair than doctors cure.

Sweet words beguile a fool. (176)

Tak your thanks to feed your cat.

Take a man by his word and a cow by her horn.

That person is welcome who brings presents.

That's as ill as the ewes in the yaird and nae dogs to hunt them. (The yaird being the safest place where the ewes could be. So: The thing is quite right.

That's Halkerston's cow, a' the ither way. (Halkerston, a lawyer and landed proprietor, gave permission to one of his tenants to graze an ox. The tenant's ox was gored to death by a heifer belonging to the lawyer. The tenant went to Halkerston, and told the reverse of what had occurred. Why, then, said the lawyer, your ox must go for my heifer - the law provides that. No, said the man, your heifer killed my ox. Oh, said Halkerston, the case alters there, and forthwith reversed his tactics.

That's the best gown that gaes up and down the house.

The banes o' a great estate are worth the picking.

The better day the better deed.

The biggest rogue cries loudest out.

The cat may look at the king. (152)

The cow may dee ere the grass grow.

The day hes eyne, the night hes ears.

The deil made souters sailors that can neither steer nor row. (applied to those who undertake work of which they are incapable.

The disdainful (high) look of the old maid. (445)

The dorty dame may fa' in the dirt.

The feet are slow when the head wears snaw.

The foremost hound grips the hare.

The greedy man and the gileynour are weel met.

The heavy burden of the lazy man. (137)

The herb that cannot be found will not give relief. (15)

The higher the hill the laigher [shorter] the grass.

The hurried marriage is often a tragedy, and the slow to marry are often blind. (416)

The king lies doun, yet the warld rins round.

The knowledge of a trade is worth a handful of gold (Counsel)

The langer we live we see the main ferlies.

The less wit a man has, the less he kens the want o't.

The little frequent (may] overtake the infrequent large. (73)

The mair cost the mair honour.

The mair haste, the war speed.

The more you get of what's good, the less you will get of what's bad. (13)

The mother of mischief

The mouth will speak, but deeds are the proof. (236)

The next time ye dance, wit whom ye take by the hand.

The oar that's nearest at hand, row with it. (11)

The poor man's aye put to the warst.

The raven thinks its own chic the prettiest. (197)

The shamrock is folding its garments before heavy rain. (512)

The slow horse [may] reach the mill, but the one that breaks its bones [may] not. (269)

The snail is as sune at its rest as the swallow.

The thatcher said unto his man, Let's raise this ladder if we can. - But first let's drink, maister.

The upright heart endures a great deal before it breaks. (217)

The warld is bound to nae man.

The waves have some mercy, but the rocks have no mercy at all. (281)

The wolf micht loss his teeth, but never his nature.

The worst cow in the fold lows the loudest. (41)

The worth of a thing is best kent by the want o't.

Them that likesna water brose will scunner at cauld steerie.

There are mair foxes than there are holes for.

There are many fair words in the marriage making.

There grows nae grass at the market cross.

"There is meat and music here," as the fox said when running away with the bagpipes. (291)

There is naething ill said that's no ill tane.

There is no deceit so great as a promise unfulfilled. (104)

There is no friend, to a friend in mister.

There was ne'er a height but had a howe at the bottom o't.

There's a dub at every door, and before some doors there's twa.

There's a word in my wame, but it's ower far down.

There's aye some water where the stirkie drowns.

There's mair ways o' killing a dog than hanging him.

There's mair ways than ane o' keeping craws frae the stack.

There's mair ways to the wood than ane.

There's measure in a' things, even in kail supping.

There's muckle ado when muirland folk ride--

There's nae fules like auld fules.

There's nae poackits in a shroud.

There's naething sae gude on this side o' time but it might hae been better.

There's skill in gruel making.

They are eith hindered that are no fundersome.

They are welcome that brings.

They censure my doing such a thing who neither consider my occasions of doing it, or what provocations I have had. [Kelly].

They may dunsh that gie the lunch.

They that lie dawn far love should rise up for hunger.

They that rise wi' the sun hae their wark weel begun.

They that will not be counselled cannot be helped.

They're a' ae sow's pick.

This and better may do, but this and waur will never do.

Thou shouldst not tell thy foe when thy foot sleeps.

Though the man be the farmer, the horse is the labourer. (552)

Though the raiment be not the man, he is no man without it. (395)

Thrift's gude revenue.

Time tries whinstanes.

To keep their ain hole clean, the minister's wife should put away old things as often as needed. *

Too much familiarity breeds contempt.

Toom barrels mak much din. *

Toom ruse means empty praise,

Try before you trust.

Twa hungry meltiths makes the third a glutton.

Two heads are better than one. (209)

Unfit are some who complain of common food. *

Unskilfull mediciners and horse-marshels slayes both man and beast.

Vanity is not without trouble. (120)

Want siller, want fish.

We are bound to be honest, and no to be rich.

We maun tak the crap as it grows.

Wealth, like want, ruins mony.

Weel kens the mouse when pussie's in.

Weil worth aw, that gars the plough draw.

Wha canna gie will little get.

What canna be cured maun be endured.

What is well done will be shown by results. (24)

What may be done at ony time will be done at nae time.

What the little ones will see the little ones will do, and what they hear they will repeat. (441)

What we first learn we best ken.

What's in your wame's not in your testament.

When a ewie's drowned she's dead.

When all fruits fails, welcome haws.

When drink's in wit's oot.

When drink's in wit's out. [cf. Norse Havamal]

When love cools fauts are seen.

When people have but little property, they take good care of it. [Kelly]

When the cat's away the mice will play. [English]

When the cow has been sold with firmness you may relax for a while and go for a better When the cup is full, carry it even.

When we are seeking gold, let us be seeking gold; And when we are seeking bait let us be seeking bait. (i.e., One thing at a time, and everything in its own time.) (29)

When ye are weel, haud yoursel sae.

When ye ca' the dog out o' your ain kail-yaird, dinna ca't into mine.

Where drums beat, laws are dumb.

Where the river is shallowest it will make the most noise. (151)

Where there are no cattle, the king will lose his rights. (Old, from times when all wealth was derived direct from the land, and the King's means too somehow.) (549)

Who farthest away ever did roam, heard the sweetest music on returning home. (22)

Who goes softly goes safely, and he that goes safely goes far. [Italian]

Who keeps not his arms in times of peace, will have no arms in times of war. (31)

Who speaks ill of his wife dishonours himself. (312)

Wide lugs [ears] an a short tongue is best.

Wipe wi' the water and wash wi' the towel.

Wise men [are fond] o sittin.

Wives maun be had whether gude or bad.

Woe to him who is not afraid of falsehood. (229)

Woman's patience - till you count three. (This is pointed, and pithy, and true - sometimes. It bears the stamp of the Gael's manner towards women. Gaelic proverbs can be sarcastic to a degree.) (394)

Wonder at your auld shoon when ye hae gotten your new.

Wooing is a costly dame. (380)

Worst of all things, a bad wife. (417)

Ye ca' hardest at the nail that drives fastest.

Ye canna mak a silk purse out o' a sow's lug.

Ye hae been smelling the bung.

Ye hae the best end a' the string.

Ye learn your father to get bairns.

Ye look like a rinner, quo' the deil to the lobster.

Ye maun spoil or ye spin.

Ye may be heard where ye're no seen.

Ye may drive the deil into a wife, but ye'll ne'er ding him oot o' her.

Ye needna mak a causey tale o't.

Ye should be a king of your word.

Ye wad marry a midden for the muck.

Ye'll be hang'd and I'll be harried.

Ye'll beguile nane but them that lippens to you.

Ye'll neither dee for your wit nor be drowned for a warlock.

Ye'll no sell your hen in a rainy day.

Ye're a foot behint the foremost.

Ye're black aboot the mou' for want o' kissing.

Ye're like a bad liver--the last day there's aye maist to do wi' ye.

Ye're like the miller's dog--ye lick your lips ere the pock be opened.

Ye're very foresighted, like Forsyth's cat.

Young folk may dee, auld folk maun dee.

Your een's greedier than your guts.

Your thrift's as gude as the profit o' a yeld hen.

Youth never casts for peril.


Thomas Donald MacDonald's Collection

In 1882, Alexander Nicholson published 3900 Gaelic proverbs and proverbial sayings collected in the Highlands. They include native and borrowed ones.

In this survey there are about 110 numbered Gaelic proverbs and sayings in English translation or in the form of English equivalents. Their source: Gaelic Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings, with English Translations (1926) by Thomas Donald MacDonald. As a rule of the thumb, many otherwise well-known proverbs have been left out, explanations are kept to a minimum, and only English renderings of Gaelic proverbs are given.

MacDonald borrowed extensively from Nicholson. He also writes:

He rides slowly who observes.

The heaviest ear of corn bends its head the lowest.

The weed that's on the dunghill growing

Will its head he highest showing.

The highest mountain in the land

Is oftenest covered with mist.

Going to ruin is silent work.

A poor fellow can do but his best.

Death-bed repentance is like sowing seed at Martinmas (on 11 November).

In his introduction, MacDonald asserts that the Highlander finds the proverbs very useful in conversation, and frequently quotes them to good purpose.

Lord John Russell defined the proverb as "the wisdom of many and the wit of one."

Most Gaelic proverbs are the product of the thatched cottages, and not of the baronial halls. Yet a considerable amount of proverbs are the product of the better-to-do of the days of old, he also concludes.

The Earl of Mar's cooking bravery

Hunger is a very good cook,

Woe to him who would despise food;

This barley gruel in my shoe heel

Is the best I've found in all my time. (504)

The original Gaelic lines here quoted are attributed to the Earl of Mar, who commanded the Royal Forces at the first Battle of Inverlochy, in 1411. Mar's forces were routed by Donald Balloch of the Isles and his Highland host, and the Earl was compelled for a time to live the life of a fugitive among the hills of Lochaber and Badenoch. In dire need for food, he approached a humble dwelling where a lonely old man lived. His condition seemed to have been only a little better than that of the earl. All the food he had was some barley meal, and he had not as much as a dish that it could be prepared in.

But the Earl was starving, and took off one of his brogues (shoes), and made barley gruel in it. Having partaken of this homely fare, he expressed his gratitude to the old man by reciting the foregoing lines and invited the old man to come to Mar Castle some time.


Scottish proverbs, Literature  

Anderson, Mark Louden, ed. The James Carmichaell Collection of Proverbs in Scots: From the Original Manuscript in the Edinburgh University Library. Edinburgh: The Edinburgh University Press, 1957. ⍽▢⍽ Exemplary work on a high level.

Cheviot, Andrew, coll. Proverbs, Proverbial Expressions, and Popular Rhymes of Scotland. London: Alexander Gardner, 1896.

Dawson, Lewis. Och Wheesht and Get oan wae It. Edinburgh: Jumped Up/Bookspeed, 2011. ⍽▢⍽ A mirthful, little collection of proverbs and quotations of renowned Scots. - 164 in all.

Editors, the. Scottish Proverbs Compiled by the Editors at Hippocrene Books. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1998. ⍽▢⍽ Nearly 135 proverbs with 30 drawings and a word list.

Fergusson, Rosalind. The Penguin Dictionary of Proverbs. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983. ⍽▢⍽ There are many Scottish proverbs in it, among the rest. A good book!

Firth, John. Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish together with Old Orkney Words, Riddles and Proverbs. 2. utg. Stromness: John Rae, 1922. ⍽▢⍽ There are 69 proverbs at the back of the book, and a glossary. Most of the book gives background information from the Orkneys.

Henderson, Andrew, coll. Scottish Proverbs. New ed. London: William Tegg's Co. 1876. ⍽▢⍽ A main source of Scottish proverbs.

Hislop, Alexander. The Proverbs of Scotland with Explanatory and Illustrative Notes and a Glossary. New ed. Edinburgh: Alexander Hislop og Co., 1868. ⍽▢⍽ One more major source of Scottish proverbs.

Kelly, James. A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs Explained and Made Intelligible to the English Reader. London, Rodwell and Martin, 1818. ⍽▢⍽ Also a main source.

Kynoch, Douglas, red. Doric Proverbs and Sayings. Rev. utg. Dalkeith: Scottish Cultural Press, 2004. ⍽▢⍽ 1,266 proverbs, sayings and verses from north-eastern Scotland, where people speak Doric dialects.

Lang Syne Publishers. Old Scots Proverbs. Newtongrange: Lang Syne Publishers, 1980. ⍽▢⍽ A selection of about 1,500 proverbs from Andrew Henderson's work, first published in Glasgow in 1881 by Thomas D. Morison. The proverbs here are arranged in alphabetic order, theme by theme.

MacDonald, Thomas Donald. Gaelic Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings with English Translations. Stirling: Eneas MacKay, 1926.

MacGillivray, Angus. Our Gaelic Proverbs: A Mirror of the Past. Glasgow: Reprint from the Caledonian Medical Journal, 1928. ⍽▢⍽ Examples of Gaelic proverbs from a little collection.

Macintosh, Donald. Mackintosh's Collection of Gaelic Proverbs, and Familar Phrases: Englished A-New: To which Is Added, 'The Way to Wealth,' by Benjamin Franklin. Edinburgh: William Stewart, 1819.

Mackay, Charles. A Dictionary of Lowland Scotch, with an Introductory Chapter on the Poetry, Humour, and Literary History of the Scottish Language and an Appendix of Scottish Proverbs. London: Whittaker and Co., 1888. ⍽▢⍽ About 1,600 proverbs are listed at the end of the book.

Murison, David. Scots Saws: From the folk-wisdom of Scotland. Edinburgh: James Thin/The Mercat Press, 1981. ⍽▢⍽ The book comes with a good introduction to Scottish proverbs. The main content is Scottish proverbs in the Scots language. The proverbs are grouped into themes, and come with explanations in English as well.

Nicolson, Alexander, ed. A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases: Based on Macintosh's Collection. 2nd, rev. ed. Edinburgh: Maclachlan and Stewart, 1882 (1785).

Palmer, F. and C., publishers. National Proverbs: Scotland. London: Frank and Cecil Palmer, 1913. ⍽▢⍽ About 400 proverbs in Scots, with a glossary. Good.

Speake, Jennifer, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015 ⍽▢⍽ Over 1,100 of the most widely used proverbs in English, arranged in A-Z order and with a thematic index. What the different proverbs mean is described along with examples of use and a history for many of the entries. Some proverbs are of Scottish origin. A good and available work.

Stampoy, Pappity (psevd.), coll. A Collection of Scotch Proverbs Plagarized from David Fergusson.. London: Printed by R. D., 1663. ⍽▢⍽ 835 Scottish proverbs arranged alphabetically by the first letters of each.

Walker, Colin S. K., ed, scoll. Scottish Proverbs. New ed. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000. ⍽▢⍽ Here is one of the best and most extensive collections. After a historically oriented, little introduction, well over 4,000 proverbs and sayings are listed, and many explained in English. The Scottish proverbs are arranged alphabetically. At the back of the book is a glossary.

Wood, Nicola. Scottish Proverbs. Edinburgh: Chambers, 1989. ⍽▢⍽ A selection of some 450 well known and some less known Scottish proverbs are put in alphabetic order, with translations and explanations. At the back of the book is a dictionary.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

Scottish proverbs, To top    Section     Set    Next

Scottish proverbs. User's Guide   ᴥ    Disclaimer 
© 2005–2019, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil [Email]