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.
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 has patience 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
26 thoughts on “Estonian wisdom – 25 proverbs and sayings”
The English translation given for “kes ei tööta, see ei söö” is inaccurate and sounds weird. It would be better translated simply as “He who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat”.
Even better as “Who doesnt work, doesnt eat” as it then includes the gender neutrality of Estonian
In this context “he” in English is also gender-neutral. It doesn’t refer to a man, just a person.
True, but after 100 years of feminism it’s becoming increasingly less acceptable in English to use words like ‘he’ when referring to a person in general – and since the problem doesnt exist in estonian ‘tema’ or ‘ta’ why introduce it into the translation?
I see your point, but “Who doesn’t work” just doesn’t sound like correct English to me.
How about ‘Whoever doesn’t work’ ? it may be a little cumbersome but still is gender neutral..
Thanks Chris, we amended it.
Kui perse sugelep, siis peremes kiidab
a few minor editorial suggestions:
It is a sheep who lets himself sheared
only a sheep lets himself be sheared
He who does not want to work, need not to eat
he who does not work, does not eat
He who reminds of an old thing will have his eye picked out
he who brings up the past, will have his eye plucked out
Don’t sell the skin till you have caught the bear
don’t sell the bear skin until you have the bear
He who sows a wind will reap a storm
he who sows the wind will reap a storm
The work will teach you how to do it
the work will teach the worker
One does not look into the mouth of a horse given as a present
don’t look a gift horse in the mouth
He who starts with small will end up with big
he who starts small will finish big
Thanks Tiina, we have amended some of them accordingly.
igal oinal oma mihklipäev – Every dog his Michaelmas Day. I’m guessing “tup” is a mistake?
Its either ram or tup, not a dog. As traditionally sheep were slayed on St Michales Day and black ones will definitely find their end on this day.
Thanks, Annika. I was reading it very wrongly – assuming it was the equivalent of the english saying “every dog will have its day.” This is a far bleaker sentiment than that!
“He who suffers will live long” is wrong. It’s actually “He who is patient, will live long.” Estonian “kannatama” means both, and to proverb is about patience.
Thanks, Jaanus – amended!
Proovige tõlkida: Julge hundi rind on rasvane. 🙂
the brave wolves chest is greasy. otsetõlkes vist aga ma ei tea 😀
One of the more popular ones is ‘The child can speak when the chicken pees’ (that is, never) ‘Laps räägib siis kui kana pissib.’
Pildi järgi oleks võinud arvata, et siin on ka “tasa sõuad, kaugele jõuad” 🙂
Good point, although “He who starts small will finish big” is fairly similar.
Though tasa sõuad, kaugele jõuad is a more commonly used proverb than kes väikselt alustab, see suurelt lõpetab
For americans, the “Every tup has his St. Michael’s day” would be better off as “every turkey has it’s thanksgiving”
Every dog has his day
Perhaps “Õnnetus ei hüüa tulles” could be “Disaster will not call before coming” or “Disaster will not call while coming”. And I guess instead of the word “disaster” we can use “accident”
What about beans beans, the musical fruit?
Is anyone here familiar with an Estonian saying involving ‘staring at the cracks in the ceiling’? My late mother used to say it frequently, but I’ve forgotten exactly how it goes, or why it might be said. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.