Icelandic proverbs

Proverbs reflective of conventional wisdom in Iceland.

A bad rower blames the oar.

Arranged alphabetically by author or source:
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  • Af góðu upphafi vonast góður endir.
    • English equivalent: A good beginning makes a good ending.
    • "No man tastes pleasures truly, who does not earn them by previous business; and few people do business well, who do nothing else."
    • Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl Chesterfield (1694-1773), British statesman, man of letters. Letter, 7 August 1749, in The Letters of the Earl of Chesterfield to His Son (1774).
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1994). "190". Dictionary of European Proverbs. I. Routledge. p. 185. ISBN 978-1-134-86460-7. 
  • Allir vilja herrann vera, en enginn sekkinn bera.
    • English equivalent: There are too many chiefs and not enough indians.
    • Ha sempre dimostrato l'esperienza, e lo dimostra la ragione, che mai succedono bene le cose che dipendono da molti.
    • "Experience has always shown, and reason also, that affairs which depend on many seldom succeed."
    • Francesco Guicciardini, Storia d'Italia (1537-1540)
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "1263". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. Routledge. p. 770. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 
  • Aldrei er góð vísa of oft kveðin.
    • Translation: Never is a good verse too often said.
    • English equivalent: Never say never.
    • Saga. Isafoldarprentsmiðja.. 1964. p. 102. 


  • Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi.
    • Translation: Bare is the back of a brotherless man.
    • Meaning: Every man is defenseless unless he has a brother/friend.
    • Source: Hreinsson, Viðar, ed (1997). Brennu-Njáls saga. 3. Translated by Robert Cook. Leifur Eiriksson Publishing. p. 209. ISBN 9979929308. 
  • Betra er einn að vera, en illan stallbróður hafa.
    • English equivalent: Better be alone than in bad company.
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "654". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. Routledge. p. 478. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 
  • Brennt barn forðast eldinn.
    • English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.
    • Meaning: "Somebody who has had an unpleasant experience thereafter shrinks from the cause of that experience."
    • Source for meaning of English equivalent: Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. Retrieved on 30 July 2013. 
    • Dal, Gunnar (2007). Einn heimur: fimm heimsmyndir. Jonas Halldorsson. p. 124. ISBN 9979651032. 


  • Ef ábóti teninga a sér ber, oss munkum leyft ao tefla er."
    • English equivalent: The friar preached against stealing and had a goose in his sleeve.
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "1670". Dictionary of European Proverbs. Taylor & Francis. p. 1179. 
  • Eftir því sem gamlir fuglar sungu, kvökuðu þeir ungu.
    • English equivalent: As the old cock crows, so crows the young.
    • Meaning: "Children generally follow the example of their parents, but imitate their faults more surely than their virtues."
    • Norwegian equivalent: Some dei gamle sungo, so kveda dei unge.
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "544". Dictionary of European Proverbs. Routledge. p. 1389. ISBN 978-1-134-86460-7. 
    • Source for meaning of English equivalent: Kelly, Walter Keating (1859). Proverbs of all nations. W. Kent & co. (late D. Bogue). p. 130. 
  • Engum flýgur sofanda steikt gæs i munn.
    • English equivalent: Birds fly not into our mouth ready roasted.
    • "One cannot (or should not) expect to benefit without making some effort."
    • (Paczolay, 1997 p. 455)
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1994). Dictionary of European proverbs (Volume 2 ed.). Routledge. p. 171. ISBN 0415096243. 


  • Guð hjálpar þeim sem hjálpa sér sjálfir.
    • English equivalent: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
    • "Don't you worry, don't you worry, child
      See heaven's got a plan for you"
    • Swedish House Mafia, Don't You Worry Child (2012)
    • Source for meaning: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 150. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
    • Source: Laxness, Halldór (2000). Smásögur. Vaka-Helgafell. p. 131. ISBN 9979214546. 
  • Góð orð finna góðan samastað.
    • English equivalent: Politeness costs little but yields much.
    • "Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom."
    • Attributed to Theodore Isaac Rubin
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1998). Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs (Abbreviated ed.). Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 0415160502. 


  • Vitur maður breytir hugum sínum, heimskingi vill aldrei.
    • English equivalent: A wise man changes his mind, a fool never will.
    • "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — 'Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.' — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
    • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self Reliance (1841).
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "589". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. Routledge. p. 446. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 
  • Hver er sinnar gæfu smiður.
    • English equivalent: Every man is the smith of his own fortune.
    • Meaning: "In shaping one's own fortune one should not rely on the help of others, as they are also concerned mainly about their own matters."
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 388. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 


  • Linur bartskeri gjörir fúin sár.
    • English equivalent: Mild physician – putrid wounds.
    • Emanuel Strauss (1994). "1465". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. II. Routledge. p. 1090. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 


  • Kemst þó hægt fari.
    • English equivalent: We ride slow, but we ride sure.
    • Source: Íslands, Landsbókasafn (1980). Árbók. Bókasafnið. p. 71. ISBN 9979911107. 
  • Kornbarn, drukkin maðr og dárinn segja sannleikann.
    • English equivalent: Children, fools and drunken men tell the truth.
    • "Children and fools have no inhibition, and alcohol consumed removes the inhibition against telling the truth that occasionally one would like to keep secret."
    • Source for proverbs and meaning: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 272. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 


  • Ofleyfingjarnir bregðask mér mest.
    • Those who get praised most loudly, disappoint me the most.
    • "No elaboration of physical or moral accomplishment can atone for the sin of parasitism."
    • George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists (1903)
    • Albert Stolpe, Herman (1974). Isländska ordspråk och skaldeord. LT. ISBN 978-91-36-00447-2. 
  • Oft hafa fagrar hnetur fúinn kjarna.
    • English equivalent: A fair face and a foul heart.
    • Emanuel Strauss (11 January 2013). "120". Concise Dictionary of European Proverbs. I. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-136-78978-6. 


  • Þá mér klær, þarf ég að klóra mér.
    • English equivalent: If the shoe fits, wear it.
    • "If the statement applies to you, admit it or do something about it."
    • Urban Dictionary (2008)
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1994). Dictionary of European proverbs (Volume 2 ed.). Routledge. p. 998. ISBN 0415096243. 
  • þar liggur hundurinn grafinn.


  • Ragur maður fíflar aldrei fríða konu.
    • English equivalent: Faint heart never won fair lady.
    • "The reason why people, women in particular will tell men, 'be yourself'. (If you are a woman watching this I'm sure you had that feeling - 'I love it when a man is being himself.') It is because the more that you are just yourself you love yourself. Maybe what they should be saying is 'love yourself and then be yourself!'
    • Owen "Tyler" Durden, How To Improve Your Dating Life: Julien & Tyler's Advanced Secrets To Increasing Your Social Status! (2018)
    • Strauss, Emmanuel (1998). Dictionary of European Proverbs. Routledge. p. 130. ISBN 0415160502. 


  • Sá er fuglinn verstur, sem í sjálfs síns hreiður dritar.
    • English equivalent: It is an ill bird that fouls its own nest; Don't wash your dirty linen in public.
    • "Why wantonly proclaim one's own disgrace, or expose the faults or weaknesses of one's kindred or people?"
    • Kelly, Walter Keating (1859). Proverbs of all nations. W. Kent & co. (late D. Bogue). p. 109. 
    • Source for provers: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 466. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
  • Sjaldan er ein báran stök.
    • There seldom is a single wave.
    • Good luck or bad luck is often followed by more of the same.
    • Source: Sigurðsson, Arngrímur (1975). Íslenzk-ensk orðabók. Leiftur. p. 731. ISBN 9979651032. 
  • Sjaldan fellur eplið langt frá eikini.
    • English equivalent: The apple does not fall far from the tree.
    • "Children observe daily and — in their behaviour — often follow the example of their parents."
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 259. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
  • Spónasmiða börn eiga oft versta spæni.
    • English equivalent: Cobblers' children are worst shod.
    • "Working hard for others one may neglect one's own needs or the needs of those closest to him."
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "7". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 65. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
  • Sinn er siður í landi hverju.
    • Each country has its own custom.
    • "When laws, customs, or institutions cease to be beneficial to man, they cease to be obligatory."
    • Henry Ward Beecher, Life Thoughts (1858), p. 34.
    • Sven Grundtvig; Jón Sigurðsson; Pálmi Pálsson (1854). Íslenzk fornkvæði. Brødrene Berlings og S.L. Møllers bogtrykkeri. p. 103. 
    • "The way of the world is to make laws, but follow custom."
    • Attributed to Michel de Montaigne
  • Sá vinnur sitt mál, sem þráastur er.
    • English equivalent: God is with those who persevere; Persevere and never fear.
    • Strauss, Emanuel (1994). "130". Dictionary of European Proverbs. I. Routledge. p. 126. ISBN 978-1-134-86460-7. 


  • Árinni kennir illur ræðari.
    • A bad rower blames the oar.
    • English equivalent: A bad workman blames his tools.
    • Source: Magnúsdóttir, Elín Bára (1993). Halldórsstefna, 12.-14. júní 1992. Stofnun Sigurðar Nordals. p. 116. ISBN 9979911107. 
  • Á misjöfnu þrífast börnin best
    • Translation: Children will thrive best on varied diet/life.
    • "People seldom improve when they have no other model but themselves to copy after."
    • Oliver Goldsmith The Bee no. II (October 13, 1759), On Our Theatres
    • Jón Árnason (1864). Íslenzkar þjóðsögur og æfintýri. J.C. Hinrichs. p. 431.