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Proverbs and Sayings

From 'Shetland Proverbs and Sayings' ed. Bertie Deyell, pub. Shetland Folk Society, 1993.

Acceptance

Der mony a guid horse snappered
Misfortunes or mishaps occur to the best. Can also be used in a moral sense.

Better rue sit as rue flit.
Warning to those who are keen to change their house, employment, etc.

Der waar diets as rossen hoe.
Be glad of small mercies in hard times. (The dogfish was not a favoured diet but acceptable in hard times.)

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Advice

A sylk Monanday is a canvas week
Fine beginnings sometimes have poor outcomes

You needna saa blinnda an lippen bere
You cannot expect to produce good results from poor input

Owre lang fastin is nae bread hainin
Abstinence sometimes leads to over-indulgence

If you lay aa ta aa you'll nedder till or saa
If you pay too much attention to every difficulty you will achieve nothing.

Hit's owre late ta sift whin da sids is i da bread
Comment on importance of making adequate preparation for a task.

Da mön is nane da waar for da dog barkin at her
No one is the worse for being laughed at.

As a man maks up his bed, sae lays he him doon
Conditions or results in later life follow on from early practices or result from some decision made previously.

Aft boiled water never maks guid tae
Things that go on too long, e.g a courtship or engagement, will not be very successful.

Whin aa man speaks nae man hears.
Too many opinions are counter-productive.

Dey can cöl i da sam brö as dey haetit in.
It was their fault they got into this situation: let them get out of it themselves

Da giean hand never wants/Da hand at gies, gadders.
Be generous. It brings its own reward.

Never tak da sken aff o a taatie or da rig oot o a sillock till October is dön.
In the hairst-time potato skins are very thin and sillock bones are very soft so there is no need removing either.

Hit's no for da kyunnen's göd ta be owre cosh wi whitrits
Innocent people should not become too closely involved with shady characters.

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Appearance

He stöd laek a dyook glyin for thunder
He stood, one eye looking aloft, head on one side

He's surely aeten a whitrit
He's looking ghastly or utterly miserable

He cam jöst laek a troot in a well
Said of a young person who grew to the length but was very spare and thin

He hed a face laek a run daek-end
An unkind observation on a person’s appearance

Far fled fools has fine fedders.
Someone from far away comes with an aura of superiority which often proves false.

Shö hed a face laek a limed buggie.
She had a pallid complexion. (‘Limed buggies’ were sheepskins newly flayed and rubbed on the inside with quicklime).

He hed a face laek a midderless foal.
He had a forlorn, uncared for look.

Mony a boannier face is lookit oot trow a halter/ sty door.
Comment on person with unattractive appearance.

Hit's laek a thing you wid set apo neaps.
Disparaging remark about someone resembling a scarecrow.

He girns laek a sheep's head apo tengs.
He has a horrible leer.

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Behaviour

He's taen da mett o me fit
He's taken advantage of me in a deal

Glowerin i da lum never filled da pot
Get up and get on with it!

Dey'll be a nicht i Minnie's hoose
There's a big scene brewing

Der hed a craa's coort apon him
He has been judged and sentenced by some clique with no defence allowed

Whin aa da birds is laid an sittin, dan comes nebbik-nebbie aa be-dritten
Said of a slowcoach - the last to arrive

“Hit’s muckle cry an little oo,” As da man said when he rooed da soo.
A lot of effort has been applied for little reward.

Der never a waar turn as a man does til himsel.
The worst injuries are often those that are self-inflicted.

Shö hed a tongue at wid clip cloots
Said of a sharp, shrewish woman with a biting tongue.

Da moose kens when da cat is oot o da hoose.
Usually said of youngsters who know that no older person is about to restrain them. Can also be applied to older culprits.

He ran lang aroond da midden-daek bit did faa in at last.
Said of someone who took a lot of chances or was involved in wrongdoing, but was caught at last.

You wid tink he had coarn growein.
He’s in no hurry; is prone to idle.

“Trath, I’m no hövin oot der dirty blotts.”
“I will not do their dirty work or clear up somebody else’s mess.”

If du’d no been wi da craas du’d no been shot.
Said to someone who is protesting innocence after being in bad company.

Da loodest claag doesna aye follow da biggest egg.
People who boast the loudest do not always have the most to brag about.

He wid redder be ida lang benk as ida lang rig.
Said of someone who would rather lie in bed than be out working.

Da aald cock craas an da young een learns.
Youngsters pick up the habits and manners of their elders (implied bad traits).

Whin patience aandoos at da bowe, da haal is aftest heavy
Patience often brings the best results in any enterprise

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Caution

Da winter is young on Yöl E'en
Said of those who are at the start of a long undertaking e.g. marriage

Never baal oot da dirty water afore da clean comes in
Hold on to what you have until something better turns up

Never buy a coo till you hae a veggel ta tie her tae.
Don't do things until the necessary preparations have been made. Could be said to someone about to marry but who didn't have a house.

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Character

Shö wid sit apon a weet stane fir he dried
Said of a lethargic person who carried indolence to extreme lengths

Whin Lowrie is no fishin he's mendin his net
Said of a single-minded person, always with his goal in mind

Shö haes a but, but nae ben
She cannot keep a secret or keep her private affairs to herself

He'll fin his breeks a burden
He may find a task just too difficult or irksome

Da back is aye made for da burden
It usually turns out that responsibilities and cares are best carried by the person who has to shoulder them.

Da midder never had a sang but da dochter kent a verse o ‘im.
(Like father/mother: like son/daughter)

He wid tak oot dy een an come back for da hols.
Said of a greedy and ruthless man.

Caff aye flees heicher as göd coarn
Slight, frivolous people often attract more attention than those of more sober quality.

You can lippen naethin o da grice but da groint.
Don’t expect anything but uncouth behaviour from an uncouth person.

I'm maybe da only black sheep but der mony a grey-faced ane. (Burra Isle)
There are others with faults and failings, in varying degrees.

Der mony a pellit röl come ta be a göd horse.
Many a rough youngster becomes a good adult.

He’s aye gyaan wi his shivvel whaar der nae dirt.
Said of one who gets involved needlessly or goes around looking for trouble.

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Comment

Loard hadd His haand aboot da coarn an blaw da bait ida fish's mooth
An old proverb for a good harvest from land and sea

Every shooer o snaa is no da first o an onlay
Do not always expect the worst to happen

You never miss a sheev aff o a muckle loff
If something is sufficiently big, a little from it is never missed

Du's gotten dy maa's egg
You've got something extra and unexpected --perhaps a gift, or even a bout of illness

Der mony a guid man faan haalin up a docken
People who set out to right wrongs can often be harmed themselves

Ane rises up an anidder sits doon: dat's what maks da laand sae dear
Too many middle-men increase the cost of any commodity

Da Nort wind is blaan i Sibbie’s lug afore.
I’ve heard it all before.

A moose was never crushed anunder a seed skroo.
No harm is likely to come to you in such favourable circumstances.

“Owre weel!” is nedder “weel” or “half-weel.”
“Owre weel” is very non-committal, neither one thing or another, and is sometimes used deliberately.

Laek til a laek: an aald horse til a faelly daek.
Comments on tendency for people to seek familiar situations where they feel at home.

Dey hae a reffelled hesp ta redd.
They have a complicated situation to deal with.

You canna draa a strae afore my nose an tell me it was a dokken.
You can’t fool me.

He'll hae him a banks-gaet.
He will find many difficulties or obstacles ahead.

I tink he was da shakkins o da böddie.
He was the last-born of a large family.

Dey can mak a kirk or a mill o it.
Their problem is of their own making: let them sort it out one way or another.

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Contentment

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Courtship and Marriage

It's young Yöl wi dem
Sometimes said of a young couple newly wed or at betrothal stage of their relationship, with the cynical implication that the present enthusiasm may wane

Hit’s no lang fae dey wir swappin trönnies.
Said of a couple recently courting who have now fallen out.

Every weddin is da makkin o anidder
In former days weddings were among the few occasions where young folk met others from distant areas.

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Gossip

Does dis hoose drap?/Der a drap i dis hoose./Does your lum drap söt?
Variants of warning that there is someone listening who should not hear what is being said

You dunna need a looderhorn ta tell a ill tale.
Bad news travels quickly.

Da mair you steer inta dirt da waar da stink gets.
Don't get involved in gossip or pursue slanderous tales. You will find yourself getting into deeper water.

A hen in Skaw is a gös at Moola.
Carried tales have a way of growing.

Der mony a wird said aboot da fire At's no wantit ta be kirned across da mire.
Folk say things in their own homes which they would not wish repeated outside.

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Hard Work

Better ta wear oot as roost oot
It's better to keep active than give up and go into a decline

Be da day ever sae lang, i da end comes Evensang
After a hard day’s work be thankful for the rest of the evening.

He'll feel whaar his liver lies at aandoos wi a leeward tide.
Those having to work hard in adverse circumstances will suffer physically.

You dunna tak ling among da drewie-lines.
If you want to achieve anything you have to make the effort.

Der hoop for a sick man but no for a lazy ane.
Laziness was considered to be one of the worst failings.

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Land

A day in Voar is a week in Hairst
The growing season is short, so get things done in season

Better a green shaef as a shakken ane. Better a green shaef as a treshen ane.
Do not wait at harvest-time; the gales may ruin your crop.

Never look at May breer/ Never coont your crop in May.
There could be many changes before harvest (Don’t count your chickens before they're hatched).

Never sell dy hen apon a rainy day.
Don't sell something when it shows to poor advantage. Await a good opportunity.

Da hairst mön maets da coarn.
It was thought that the moonlight in late August or early September caused the oats to ripen.

Da laand cries 'Hadd dee hand!' but da sea says 'Come again!'
Contrasting the unstinting bounty of the sea with the constant need to feed and fertilise the land.

Hit's nae man ava at canna aet a lamb an drink his brö at Lammas.
At Lammas (12th August) when the first lambs were killed they were quite small and very tender, and fresh meat was not plentiful.

Keep a shaef ida neuk For da seevent ook.
Retain some of your fodder until after seventh week from 26th April – Simmermal day.

A peck o Mairch dust is wirt a king's ransom.
Good, dry weather in March is of great help to the Voar work.

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Living Together

Lockit doors maks honest folk
Do not put temptation in the path of anyone or give the opportunity for stealing

Dey were nedder blyde or bonnie
They were enraged and making it obvious

Better a timmer cup o my ain as a siller ane at's borrowed
Warning against borrowing

Da giean haand is aye gittin
A kindly and generous person is usually treated well by her neighbours

Der owre cosh ta be lang freends
Friendship does not always thrive on excessively close relationships

Der a day at comes efter da moarn
A warning not to be profligate today but to think of the morrow

Da moarn be dy market day!
I wish I were rid of you, once and for all! (Sometimes said of domestic animals or household pets who are being a nuisance).

Ae ill-willied/ill-vicket coo can brak up a hale byre.
It takes just one difficult person (or animal) to create dissension or trouble.

It’s jöst hadd an redd among dem aa da time.
There’s constant aggravation and conflict among them, ending in fighting - verbal or physical.

What’s aabody’s thing is naebody’s thing.
Something that belongs to everyone (common property) is nobody’s responsibility as regards upkeep and maintenance.

Hae a freend but dunna paek oot his een.
Don’t make excessive demands on those who assist you.

A freend i da wye is better as a penny i da purse.
When a need arises a good friend is often better than money.

Da farder ben da wylcomer.
Usually said to a new suitor or potential member of family being welcomed into the family circle.

Hansi brook da bane an Hakki sookit da merki.
One does the hard work and another reaps the benefits.

Da freendship o a flech is aye kinda buddersome.
Said of unwelcome friends.

A shillin oot o da wylk-ebb is as bricht as ane oot o da Hooses o Parliament.
Money has the same value no matter where you earned it.

A bedral is sometimes da blydest body in a hoose.
Those who have health are often too involved in their tasks to have time for hospitality, whereas the one who is bed-bound is often more pleased to have company.

Imbu da fremd. (Old Shetland adage)
Code of hospitality to strangers: give strangers the best that you have available.

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Poverty

I wid redder geng i da wylk-ebb
Referring to unwelcome employment, gathering whelks being a very lowly occupation

Better ta geng ta bed supperless as rise in debt
Avoid debt whenever possible

As bare as da back o Yöl day.
After Yöl and until beginnings of the harvest was the hardest time of the year with little meal and meat to be had.

Better a sweed head as nae brose.
Better to have something you may not be partial to than nothing.

What's a pound o butter among a trave o dogs.
Refers to something that has to be shared among too many.

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Realism

Dem at aans da coo gengs nearest da tail
Those who are likely to receive the greatest benefit should be prepared to do the most awkward jobs

God is a göd provider but we canna lippen Him tae send aathing doon da lum.
Hard work is necessary even with providential help.

Der mony a change in a simmer dim, far less a winter’s nicht.
Things can change very quickly, even in the most favourable circumstances.

If du glowers at da mön du’ll laand i da midden.
1) Keep your attention on what you’re doing. 2) If you set your sights too high you’re liable to have a fall.

Hit's no 'Man, what wis du?' Hit's 'Man, what is du?'
It's not what you were that counts, but what you are now.

Blue klod an mossy paet - Dey aa geng da sam gaet.
Emphasising the inevitability of life and death – when the crucial moment comes, quality is no consideration.

Never greet for onything at canna greet for you.
Don't grieve over the loss of material things.

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Sarcasm

Der nae flee at flees sae heich as da sharny flee
Disreputable people don't mind drawing attention to themselves

His wark is laek da cat's grindin
His efforts come to nothing

Shö'll no hae morroless trunshers
Comment on some obviously well-to-do woman

Der mair as troots i da burn da nicht.
There’s a deeper secret being camouflaged behind the superficial one.

Der no lang awa at comes weel again.
Applied to someone who has made a great fuss about a visit or expedition then makes a quick return.

Da langer du spaeks da better du spaeks.
Said to a voluble person, probably under the influence of drink.

Da flytin wife'll close her mooth Whin da Yöl star is i da Sooth.
Never. The Yule star does not appear in the southern sky.

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Sea

Der little lea anunder a lang-backit sea
The rolling ocean provides no shelter in a storm

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Superstition

Yöl E’en’s trift lays da year’s wark adrift.
Warning against working during the evening before Yöl. It would bring ill luck during the following year.

Da nyuggel is grippit it!
Said when mechanical apparatus stops for no apparent reason, or when things or events are brought to a sudden halt not easily explained.

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Toasts

Yule guid an Yule gaer be wi wis aa year.
Toast at Yule. All things be as it is tonight.

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Thrifty Living

Lockit doors maks honest folk
Do not put temptation in the path of anyone or give the opportunity for stealing

Dey were nedder blyde or bonnie
They were enraged and making it obvious

Better a timmer cup o my ain as a siller ane at's borrowed
Warning against borrowing

Da giean haand is aye gittin
A kindly and generous person is usually treated well by her neighbours

Der owre cosh ta be lang freends
Friendship does not always thrive on excessively close relationships

Der a day at comes efter da moarn
A warning not to be profligate today but to think of the morrow

Da moarn be dy market day!
I wish I were rid of you, once and for all! (Sometimes said of domestic animals or household pets who are being a nuisance).

Ae ill-willied/ill-vicket coo can brak up a hale byre.
It takes just one difficult person (or animal) to create dissension or trouble.

It’s jöst hadd an redd among dem aa da time.
There’s constant aggravation and conflict among them, ending in fighting - verbal or physical.

What’s aabody’s thing is naebody’s thing.
Something that belongs to everyone (common property) is nobody’s responsibility as regards upkeep and maintenance.

Hae a freend but dunna paek oot his een.
Don’t make excessive demands on those who assist you.

A freend i da wye is better as a penny i da purse.
When a need arises a good friend is often better than money.

Da farder ben da wylcomer.
Usually said to a new suitor or potential member of family being welcomed into the family circle.

Hansi brook da bane an Hakki sookit da merki.
One does the hard work and another reaps the benefits.

Da freendship o a flech is aye kinda buddersome.
Said of unwelcome friends.

A shillin oot o da wylk-ebb is as bricht as ane oot o da Hooses o Parliament.
Money has the same value no matter where you earned it.

A bedral is sometimes da blydest body in a hoose.
Those who have health are often too involved in their tasks to have time for hospitality, whereas the one who is bed-bound is often more pleased to have company.

Imbu da fremd. (Old Shetland adage)
Code of hospitality to strangers: give strangers the best that you have available.

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Weather

As da day lentens da cowld strentens
Spring days are often the coldest

Up Helly Aa an da cocks'll craa, Up Helly Aa an da caald winds blaa.
Up Helly aa brings longer days but colder weather

Setterday's mön an Sunday's prime Never cam in a guid time
Bad weather followed a moon which came on a Saturday and was full on Sunday

Never trust a Joolie sky
Don't trust over-fine appearances. July weather can be deceptive

Hit canna dö for Februar ta stael da Voar or May da Simmer.
A good February means a bad Spring and a fine May a poor Summer.

Snaa at faas i da gutter ‘ll no lest
For a continuation of snow the ground would require a touch of frost

He’ll rise ida moarnin wi a wattery head, When da cock craas when he’s gyaan ta bed.
Old weather saying, noting approaching rain.

When Foula Isle wears his hat, Aa da mainland pays fur dat.
Clouds settling across the peaks of Foula usually signify rainy weather

A wasterly röd maksna muckle sook.
West wind is not noted for dry, brisk air, usually bringing damp, misty conditions.

Da Voar nicht comes slowly owre da moss, Bit da Hairst nicht comes gallopin on a horse.
Refers to quality of light in Spring contrasted to Autumn. Can also be used respecting Youth and Age.

A göd maet year is a göd paet year. Bit a göd mael year was never a göd kale year.
Dry sunny weather was best for 'maetin' (ripening) the corn and drying the peats; wet, misty or rainy weather grew best kale.

Mist fae da hill will turn da mill; Mist fae da sea nae rain sall be.
Mist on the hilltop denoted rain approaching, but from the sea dry weather could be expected.

If da klokk afore da bee you see, a weet simmer he will be: If da bee afore da klokk you see, a finer simmer he will be.
Old weather saying, noting that it is better to see the bumble bee before the beetle flies.

A gaa afore is something more, a gaa behind you needna mind, Bit a gaa afore an ane behind is wadder i da sam kind.
A 'gaa' is a spot or ray of a rainbow colour which appears near the sun: if before then a change is expected, if behind then no change.

Da caald in March'll freeze da cock ta da reest.
March brings the chance of extremely cold weather.

Aa da fools o da air curse a fine February.
A fine February is not considered a good weather sign – the rest of the Spring will be poor.

Eftir flukkra comes fair; eftir hail comes mair.
Fine weather follows large, soft snowflakes; more snow follows hail-showers.

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