The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #29 September / October 2017
Proverbs from the World
by Tarja Jolma
September / October 2017 | 
Proverbs from the World:

The world is full of languages, which in turn are full of proverbs. Some of them are very culture related, some instead very universal. The language of choice this time is Finnish, the main language of Finland. In Finnish the language is called "Suomi".

There are about 5.4 million native speakers of Finnish, and it's one of the two official languages of Finland while also a minority language in Sweden. Finnish belongs to the Uralic language family, also called Finno-Ugric. It's related to languages like Estonian, Hungarian, Sami languages, Veps and Komi.

Finland is located in the North of Europe, right between Sweden and Russia and below the arm of Norway. There are four seasons, and the winter is snowy and rather cold. Selecting proverbs that concern snow and seasons feels natural.

1. Uusi lumi on vanhan surma. Literal translation:
New snow is deadly for the old one.

Meaning: The assumption is that when it's snowing on a previously settled layer of snow, that first layer snow disappears. This is not true in all kinds of weather conditions, like in the middle of the winter and not when it's cold and sunny like in the springtime (in Finnish there is this season called kevättalvi, spring-winter). Then the new snow slows down the melting of the old one because the white snow reflects away the sun. Dirty old snow would melt easier. However, wet new snow (in Finnish räntä) may melt what's underneath. There is also the assumption that when new snow arrives, it's light and fluffy. As time passes, the snowflakes change, and the snow becomes more condensed. It might seem like the snow was melting.

2. Kun lumeen kusee, niin jälki jää.
Literal translation:
When you pee in the snow, a mark is left.

Meaning: Pee is yellow and warm, so the result is obvious. What we do has consequences. This saying is very straightforward, like many others in the Finnish language.

3. Etiäpäin, sanoi mummo lumessa.
Literal translation:
"Forward", said the granny (walking) in the snow.

Meaning: The above is a classical example of "sisu," an appreciated characteristic that translates as stamina, perseverance, and guts. No matter how high the snow is, it's best just to continue, no use in whining.

There is also a whole group of proverbs that are directly tied to the seasons and the course of times. To be successful in farming, it's critical to know the calendar, the seasons, the amount of sunlight per day, how the ground frosts and so on.

4. Matista puhteet putoo,
Maariasta ehtoot katoo.

Literal translation:
Since Matti's day the dusk time diminishes,
since Maaria's day the evenings fade away.

Meaning: Matti's name day of the 24th of February and the religious holiday marianpäivä, that is, The Feast of the Annunciation, was previously the 25th of March, but nowadays it is a Sunday close to the original date. In Finland, the change of seasons also means big changes in the amount of daylight: in the far north polar night time (in Finnish, kaamos) when the sun does not rise above the horizon at all, is close to two months long, while in the summer, the midnight sun period is up to 74 days in the same location. Finland is a long country, and in the south of Finland there is neither phenomenon but the change is still rather drastic. A great many of the old proverbs concern calendar days identified by the name days and public holidays.

For those who speak Finnish, here's an interesting collection of proverbial wisdom concerning weather, seasons and farming:

Proverbs from the World - Finnish
Writer: Tarja Jolma
Petey: Girl; Person walking; Sunset
• KUUSI, Matti: Vanhan kansan sananlaskuviisaus. Suomalaisia elämänohjeita, kansanaforismeja, lentäviä lauseita ja kokkapuheita vuosilta 1544–1826, published in 1953, WSOY, Porvoo, Finland
• (Etelä-Suomen Sanomat:)
• (Helsingin kaupunginkirjasto:)

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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