Estonian wisdom – 25 proverbs and sayings

A proverb is a simple and concrete saying, popularly known and repeated, that expresses a truth based on common sense or the practical experience, often metaphorically. Proverbs also encapsulate society’s values and beliefs. We have collected 25 Estonian proverbs and sayings and have also included the original expression in Estonian. Most of these are traditional, going back in centuries – yet, they are still used to this day. If you’re not an Estonian speaker and struggle to grasp the meaning, please ask under the comment section – the native speakers are certain to explain. Meanwhile, you can practice your Estonian!

He who seeks shall find – kes otsib, see leiab

Only a sheep lets himself be sheared – ainult lammas laseb ennast pügada

Make fun of the man, not of his hat – narri meest, mitte mehe mütsi

He who does not work, does not eat – kes ei tööta, see ei söö

He who helps himself will be helped by others – kes aitab ennast ise, seda aitavad ka teised

He who is late will be left without – kes hiljaks jääb, see ilma jääb

He who brings up the past, will have his eye plucked out – kes vana asja meelde tuletab, sel silm peast välja

Don’t sell the bear skin until you have the bear – ära karu nahka enne ära müü, kui karu käes on.

He who sows the wind will reap a storm – kes külvab tuult, lõikab tormi

He who is patient will live long – kes kannatab, see kaua elab

A smart one learns from the mistakes of others – tark õpib teiste vigadest

Where there’s work, there’s bread – kus on tööd, seal on leiba

The work will teach the worker – töö õpetab tegijat

A lie has short legs – valel on lühikesed jalad.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire – kus suitsu, seal tuld

Every tup has his St. Michael’s day – igal oinal oma mihklipäev

The cone does not fall far from the tree – käbi ei kuku kännust kaugele

A man by his word, an ox by his horn – meest sõnast, härga sarvest

Don’t rejoice before the evening – ära hõiska enne õhtut

The morning is wiser than the evening – hommik on õhtust targem

An old bear will not learn to dance – vana karu tantsima ei õpi

One does not look into the mouth of a horse given as a present – kingitud hobuse suhu ei vaadata

Old love does not rust – vana arm ei roosteta

All that glimmers is not gold – kõik ei ole kuld, mis hiilgab

Steady row, far you´ll go – tasa sõuad, kaugele jõuad

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Cover photo: Kaarel Mikkin/VisitEstonia

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About the author: Estonian World

Estonian World is a global independent online magazine, founded in London in 2012 and headquartered in Tallinn, Estonia. The magazine has editorial representations in London, New York, Toronto and Tallinn, and contributors all over the world, on every continent. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.