Monday, January 28, 2013


I think of proverbs as simple, popular sayings. The Oxford English Dictionary explains a proverb as: “a pithy saying in general use”, and the Longman Dictionary says it is: “a short well known phrase or sentence, which contains advice about life.” Often repeated, proverbs express a truth based on common sense. Proverbs are wise words of wisdom, said in a hidden way. In many cases, we heard them given as advice or as warnings.

Living History at the NH Highland Games
Proverbs are handed down generation-to-generation, country to country, and through more than one language. The ‘Bible’s’ ‘Book of Proverbs’, and medieval Latin, have played a large role in distributing proverbs across Europe, although almost every culture has examples of its own.

Everyone has heard proverbs, in one form or another, retold over and again by the people who influenced their lives. Sage expressions such as hast makes wast, willful waste makes woeful want, and penny wise, pound fool were meant to guide us in our younger years. Spouted by our parents, schoolteachers, and clergy, we children were taught to use them wisely upon reaching adulthood. Recalling their words make us pause when faced with an important decision.

I write Scottish historical novels and my research has uncovered several interesting tidbits. I am amazed at the vast number of proverbs linked to Scottish origins. Many of these I found in literary texts written before 1600! Several of these old adages sounded familiar!

My favorites among the proverbs I recorded for this article are the ones that mention our furry or feathered friends. Please bear with me. I believe they will also ring true, even though their translations from Scottish dialects to English sound funny!

Waken not sleeping dogs. I agree. Good advice! I like owning ten fingers.
Ye cannot make a silk purse of a sows lug. I felt this way when in my younger years, until the braces came off.
Love me, love my dog. My sister, the veterinarian, lives this.
A given horse should not be lookt in the teeth. I never let on which wedding gifts were God-awful-ugly! A few eventually found their way into one of our yard sales.
Better a fowl in hand nor twa flying. I have always had a problem with taking ready cash and investing it in order to make more. With the all-too-recent economic downturn, this became a wise choice.
Ane may lead a horse to the water, but four and twenty cannot gar him drink. I married a man just as stubborn! I find it best NOT to give him a choice about anything. And, this last one made me break out laughing, especially when I remember awkward family dinners!
Fidlers, dogs and flies, come to the feast uncalled. (Just kidding, Mom and Dad)

Born a Scorpio, I have also used several adages from my childhood to tame my temper and found it TRUE that the higher up, the greater the fall. No one loves a bitch. What about all is not gold that glitters? Many instances in my life have shown me the truth in these words, especially when I recall our first home. It looked like a castle to our young first-time homebuyers eyes. What a money-pit.
Historical Village at the Loch Norman Highland Games, NC

As a volunteer EMT, I often responded to an emergency scene and arrived first. I learned many hands makes light work and always breathed a little easier when my squad showed up to back me up. Of course, my mom used that same proverb around my sisters and I quite frequently! And, a new bissom sweeps clean is recognizable in any language. Maybe we ignored her words at the time, as it goes in at one ear, and out the other, but I remember her wisdom years later.

You can find oodles of Scottish Proverbs in a vast selection of printed books, on-line resources, and even T-shirts! How have proverbs passed through time and space to guide our thoughts and actions? Family stories, one generation to the next, is the most common method. When you find yourself pausing before acting on some impulse which may change your life forever, think back on those little Scottish proverbs. And remember: no door ever closed but another opened. When you do, you may be delighted to find that all is well that ends well.

For more information on Scottish Proverbs try:


This article was written by Nancy Lee Badger and first published on November 13, 2009 on

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