The Finnish language is full of sayings and wisdom. I feel that Finnish proverbs are the backbone of the Finnish culture because they
- offer a way of saying your thoughts without being too pushy. Finns hate to be pushy!
- help you understand others
- help you do the right thing in surprising or unpleasant situations
Sayings are passed from one generation to the next by oral tradition and I hope this tradition will continue also in the future.
There seem to be hundreds of these nuggets of wisdom because almost every time I have a deeper conversation with an older Finn, I notice a proverb that I haven’t heard before.
As I’m only a humble admirer of the ancient Finnish words and sentence structures, I have used some artistic liberty in the translations.
My goal has been to honor the saying with my translation, not to hurt it. I’m more than happy to welcome any improvements or ideas to make the translations better. After all, language is always a collective effort.
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Famous Finnish sayings
#1 The morning is wiser than the evening.
In Finnish: Aamu on iltaa viisaampi.
If you’re unsure, feeling stressed or discouraged, sleep on it. The following morning shows things from the right perspective.
This saying can be also written in the opposite way. Ilta on aamua viisaampi. = The evening is wiser than the morning.
This can be interpreted to mean that you get wiser through age or experience. It can also mean that delaying something can be a good decision, especially if you are acting sentimentally.
#2 Who asks for the road doesn’t get lost.
In Finnish: Ei kysyvä tieltä eksy.
If you’re unsure, you should ask for advice. In general, we Finns don’t ask much advice because we want to be self-sufficient and also, because we don’t want to disturb others.
This saying reminds Finns that it’s okay to ask. In this sense, there are similarities to the old chestnut in English: “There’s no harm in asking.”
#3 Work teaches the worker.
In Finnish: Työ tekijäänsä neuvoo.
When you start something new (a job, hobby, etc.), it’s okay to not know about anything, be slow and to make mistakes. That’s how you’ll learn. You will get better.
#4 The brave eats the soup.
In Finnish: Rohkea rokan syö.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Fortune favors the brave”.
#5 Emergency finds the way.
In Finnish: Hätä keinon keksii.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Things always get solved, when it’s the last minute or a critical situation.
#6 The forest answers in the same way one shouts at it.
In Finnish: Niin metsä vastaa, kuin sinne huudetaan.
This Finnish saying means the same as “What goes around, comes around” or “You reap what you sow”.
In German, there’s a proverb almost word to word with the Finnish expression: ”Wie man in den Wald hineinruft, so schallt es heraus”. The Finnish and German proverb refer to the forest echo.
#7 What comes singing, leaves whistling.
In Finnish: Mikä laulaen tulee, se viheltäen menee.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Easy come, easy go”. The things that come easy, are easily gone.
#8 A poke in the eye for the one, who dwells on the past.
In Finnish: Joka vanhoja muistelee, sitä tikulla silmään.
There is no use to dwell on the past and hold a grudge. A similar English expression could be “That’s water under the bridge”.
#9 The pot blames the kettle, yet both have a black side.
In Finnish: Pata kattilaa soimaa, musta kylki kummallakin.
This Finnish saying means the same as “The pot calling the kettle black”. The proverb describes a situation in which both parties are equally responsible but one is trying their best to be innocent.
#10 There are many means, said granny when she was wiping the table with the cat.
In Finnish: Konstit on monet, sano mummo kun kissalla pöytää pyyhki.
This Finnish saying means the same as “There are more than one ways to skin a cat.”
#11 A tree is climbed from its base.
In Finnish: Tyvestä puuhun noustaan.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Learn to walk before you can run.” The proverb highlights the importance of learning the basics before diving into more advanced things.
#12 You don’t choose a dog by its hair.
In Finnish: Ei ole koiraa karvoihin katsominen.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
#13 Emergency does not read the law.
In Finnish: Hätä ei lue lakia.
This Finnish saying means the same as “Desperate times call for desperate actions” or “Necessity knows no law.”
#14 It doesn’t help to cry at the market fair.
In Finnish: Ei auta itku markkinoilla.
This Finnish saying means the same as “It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
#15 A strong will takes you through the grey stone.
In Finnish: Luja tahto vie läpi harmaan kiven.
This Finnish saying means the same as where there’s a will there’s a way
In Finnish: Mitä?
Used by a Finnish woman. You have been given one chance to improve your last-spoken sentence. Do it wisely.
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Do you know some other Finnish proverbs? Or do you want to know more about a certain Finnish saying? Let me know and comment below!
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