Scottish Proverbs



Though we  may not thought much about it, Scottish proverbs and truisms are scattered throughout our Americanized "English" language. Oh, the Gaelic inflections may not be there, but they have been handed down, generation by generation from our Scottish and Scots-Irish ancestors. Following are a few to "tickle your fancy."




An auld man's a bedfu' o' banes.

Auld age and marriage bring a man to his night-cap.

Auld folk are twice bairns.

Haud your feet, Lucky Dad, auld fouk's no fiery.

(Mind your feet, grandfather, old people are not nimble.)

He's auld and cauld, and ill to lie aside.

There's beild beneath an auld man's beard.




Anger begins wi' folly, and ends wi' repentance.

Anger canna stand without a strong hand.

Anger is the fever and frenzy of the soul.

Anger's mair hurtfu' than the wrang that caused it.

Anger's short lived in a gude man.

Anger maks a rich man hated, and a poor man scorned.

Anger may glance into the breast o' a wise man, but only rests i' the bosom o'

a fool.

Anger punishes itself.

He's ne'er at ease that's angry.

He that's angry opens his mouth and steeks his een.

[The angry man speaks unadvisedly, without investigating the matter.]

He that will be angry for ony thing, will be angry for naething.

Twa things ne'er be angry wi',-what ye can help, and what ye canna help.





Avarice generally miscalculates, and as generally deceives.

He wad fley a louse for its skin.

Mony ane for land, taks a fool by the hand.

(Many marry for money.)

Ne'er let your gear ourgang you.

     (Pride not yourself in your riches.)




Bairns are certain care but nae sma'joy. Bairns maun creep ere they gang.

(Those who don't succeed very well at first may do better afterwards.)

Bairns speak in the field what they hear by the fireside.

Between three and thirteen, thraw the woodie when it's green.

      (Youth is the time for training.)

Gie a bairn his will and a whelp its fill, and neither will do weel.

He's a wise bairn that kens his ain father.

Ill bairns are best heard at hame.

Of bairns' gifts ne'er be fain: nae sooner they gie then they seek it again.

Put anither man's bairn in your bosom, and he'll creep out at your sleeve.

      (Though you cherish another man's child, he will have no natural affection towards you.)

Silly bairns are eith o' lear.

We can shape our bairns' wyliecoat, but canna shape their weird.

      (We can shape our children's clothes, but not their fate.)

When bairns are young they gar their parents' heads ache; when they are auld they mak their hearts ache.




A bonnie bride's soon buskit.

      (For her beauty requires little adornment.)

A bonnie face needs nae band, an ill ane deserves nane.

      (Band = a ribbon.)

A fair face and a foul bargain.

A fair face is half a fortune.

Beauty but bounty availeth nothing.

      (Beauty without goodness is of little worth.)

Beauty's a fair but a fading flower. Beauty's muck when honor's tint.

      (Beauty is of no value when honor is lost.)

Beauty without virtue's like poison in a gowd box.




Beggars breed, and rich men feed.

Beggars shouldna be choosers.

Beg frae beggars. ye'll ne'er be rich.

Gie a beggar a bed, and he'll pay you wi' a louse.

Set a beggar on horseback, and he'll ride to the deil.




A blind man has nae need o' a looking-glass.

A blind man's wife needs nae painting.

A nod's as gude as a wink to a blind horse.

He's blind that eats marrow, but far blinder that lets him.

The blind mare is first in the mire.




A' the corn's no shorn by kempers.

      (All the work is not done by those who excel at it.)

A roan may spit in his loof and do but little.

      (May make a show of working)

A vaunter and a liar are muckle about ae thing.

      (Are much the same.)]




A weel bred dog gaers out when he sees them preparing to kick him out.

Birth's gude but breeding's better.

Dogs bark as they are bred.

Gude breeding and siller mak our sons gentlemen.




Butter and burn trouts are kittle meat for maidens.

Butter is gowd i' the morning, siller at noon, and copper at night.

Butter to butter 's nae kitchen.

Fry stares wi' butter and the broo will be gude.

He that has routh o' butter may lay it the thicker on his bread.


Scottish Truisms 

A bad wound may heal, but a bad name will kill.

A bald head is soon shaven.

A club foot winna mak a gude shinty.

A common blot is nae stain.

A constant guest is never welcome.

A cracket bell will never mend.

A craw is nae whiter for being washed.

A fou heart is aye kind.

A gien horse shouldna be looked in the mouth.

A groat is ill saved that shames its master.

A gude calf is better than a calf o' a gude kind.

A gude cow may hae an ill calf.

A gude word before is worth twa behind.

A gude word finds a gude place.

A gude year winna mak him, or an ill year break him.

      (A beggar will never be bankrupt.)

A guilty conscience needs nae accuser, a clear conscience fears nane.

A hen that lays thereout should hae a white nest-egg.

      ("A man given to extravagant amours in his single life has need to marry a handsome wife to keep him at home."- Kelly)

A lang tongue has a short hand.

I Those who promise most often do least.I

A man canna bear a' his ain kin about on his ain back.

A man has nae mair gudes than he gets gude o'.

A man may woo whare he will, but maun wed whare his weird is.

A man's hat in his hand ne'er did him harm.

A moudiewort needs nae lantern.

A muffled cat was ne'er a gude mouser.

A new pair o' breeks will cast down an auld doublet.

      ("Spoken when an old man marries a young woman"-Kelly)

A raggit coat is armour against the robber.

A scalded cat dreads cauld water.

A short grace is gude for hungry folk.

A taking hand will ne'er want, let the world be e'er sae scant.

A wild goose ne'er laid tame eggs.

A winter night, a woman's mind, and a laird's purpose aften change.

A wonder lasts but nine days, and then the puppy's een are open.

A word is enough to the wise.

Ae man may tak a horse to the water, but twenty winna gar him .drink.

Ae rotten apple spoils its neighbour.

Ae scabbit sheep will smit a hail hirsell.

(Will infect a whole flock.)

Ae swallow doesna mak a simmer.

Ae turn weel done is twice done.

Ae vice is more expensive than mony virtues.

After a storm comes a calm After clouds comes fair weather.

An auld horse may die waiting for the grass.

An auld pock is aye skailing.

An auld sack needs muckle clouting.

An eating horse ne'er foundered.

An honest occupation is the best patrimony.

An ill turn is soon done.

Ane may like a haggis wee] enough that would not like the bag bladded on his chafts.

As ane flits anither sits, and that maks mailings dear.

As gude eat the deil as sup the kail he's boiled in.

As gude merchants tine as win.

As lang lasts the hole as the heal-leather.

(A reply to those who direct attention to a hole in your shoe.)

As many castles hae been ta'en by clemency as cruelty.

As the market gaes, the wares maun sell.

As ye brew sae maun you drink.

Auld tods need nae tutors.

Avoid in yoursel what you blame in ithers.


Bannocks are better than nae bread.

"Because" is a woman's reason.

Bees that hae honey in their mouths hae stings in their tails.

Beef-steaks and porter is gude belly mortar.

Better a bite in the morning than fast a' day.

Better a finger aff than aye wagging.

Better a gude fame than a fair face.

Better a sair tae than a fause friend.

Better a sma fish than a empty dish.

Better be alane than in ill company.

Better be at the end o' a feast than at the beginning o' a fray.

Better be envied than pitied.

Better be friends at a distance than enemies at hame.

Better be kind than cumbersome.

Better be merry and spend a' than sad and hain naething.

Better be merry wi' something than sad wi' naething.

Better be the head o' the commons than the tail o' the gentry.

Better do it than wish it done.

Better eat grey bread in youth than in eild.

Better be fed than bred. Better flatter a fool than fight him.

Better gang to bed supperless than rise in debt.

Better gie the slight than tak it.

Better gude sale than gude ale.

Better hae than want.

Better half egg than toom doup.

(Than an empty shell.j

Better hands loose than in ill tethering.

Better happy at court than in good service.

Better haud wi' the hound than rin wi' the hare.

("Better be able to grapple with a difficulty than to have a probability to escape it."-Kelly.

Better idle than ill employed.

Better keep weel than mak weel.

Better late thrive than ne'er do weel.

Better my bairns seek frae me, than I frae my bairns.

Better play for nought than work for nought.

Better plays the fou wame than the new coat.

j"A child will be more cheerful upon being well-fed than new clothed.°­Kell v. I

Better ride on an ass that carries you, than a horse that throws you.

Better rue sit than rue flit.

Better to remain where we are than to repent of removing.

Better saucht wi' little aught than care wi' mony cows.

      (Better peace and comfort with little belonging to us than care with much wealth.)

Better say `Here it is' than `Here it was.'

Better skaiths saved than mends made.

      (Better damage not done than reparation made for damage inflicted)

Better sma fish than nae fish.

Better spared thafi ill spent.

Better the barn filled than the bed.

Better to leave than want.

Better to sit still than rise and get a fa'.

Better twa skaiths than ae sorrow.

      (Losses may be repaired, but sorrow may break the heart)

Better unborn than untaught.

Better wade back mid water than gang forward and be drowned.

Bitter your foot slip than your tongue.

Better pills may hae blessed effects. Bluid's thicker than water.

Busy folk are aye meddling.

Buy what ye dinna want, and ye'll sell what ye canna spare.


Censure is the tax a man pays to the public for being eminent.

Changes o' wark is a lightening o' hearts.

Charity begins at hame.

Clawing is bad: it begins wi' pleasure and ends wi' pain.

Clippet sheep will grow again.

Come when ye're ca'd, and ye'll no be chidden.

Command your passions, or they will command you.

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