Scottish Proverbs

The dictionary defines a "proverb" as a short saying stating a general truth or piece of advice. The Scots language is full of such pithy phrases and there are many huge collections of them, many dating back hundreds of years. Here's a selection of the best - many with a touch of humour about them too...

  • A bird in the hand is worth ten fleein'.

  • A day to come seems longer than a year that's gone.

  • A fu' purse never lacks friends.

  • A fool may earn money, but it takes a wise man to keep it.

  • A good tale never tires in the telling.

  • Ale sellers shouldna' be tale tellers.

  • A liar shou'd hae a good memory.

  • A light purse makes a heavy heart. (Definitely a Scottish one that!)

  • A misty morning may become a clear day.

  • A's weel that ends weel.

  • A penny saved is a penny gained.

  • A rich man's wooing need seldom be a long one.

  • A thread will tie an honest man better than a chain a rogue.

  • A turn well done is soon done.

  • A wise lawyer never goes to law himself.

  • Be happy while you're living, for you're a long time dead.

  • Beggars cannae be choosers.

  • Be slow in choosing a friend but slower in changing him.

  • Better bend than break.

  • Better keep the devil at the door than have to turn him out of the house.

  • Better the day, the better deed.

  • Better to be alone than in bad company.

  • Birds of a feather flock a' thegither.

  • Choose your wife with her nightcap on!

  • Danger and delight grow on one stalk.

  • Do as the lassies do - say "no" and tak it.

  • Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. (So said Robert Louis Stevenson)

  • Double drinks are good for drouth (thirst).

  • Egotism is an alphabet of one letter.

  • Enough is as good as a feast.

  • Fools look to tomorrow; wise men use tonight.

  • Fools make feasts and wise men eat them,
    The wise make jests and fools repeat them.

  • Forbid a fool a thing and that he will do.

  • Friends are lost by calling often and calling seldom.

  • From saving comes having.

  • Get what you can and keep what you have - that's the way to get rich.

  • Give you an inch and you'll tak an ell. (An ell was a Scottish yard of 37 inches).

  • Glasses and lasses are bruckle ( = brittle, fragile) ware!

  • He can make a kirk (church) or a mill of it.

  • He goes long barefoot that waits for dead men's shoes.

  • He has licked the butter aff my bread.

  • He's as welcome as water in a holed ship.

  • He's the slave of all slaves who serve's none but himself.

  • He that lives upon hope has a slim diet.

  • He that teaches himself has a fool for a master.

  • "It is an ill cause that the lawyers think shame o'"

  • It's an ill wind that blaws naebody any gude.
    (Most bad things that happen have a good result for someone).

  • Learn young, learn fair; learn old, learn more.

  • Little wit o' the head gives the feet much to do.

  • Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

  • Mair by guid luck than guid guidance.

  • Money is flat and was meant to be piled up.

  • Mony cooks ne’er made a gude kail.
    (Too many cooks spoil the broth).

  • Nae fool like an auld fool.

  • Ne'er cast a clout till May be oot.
    (Don't put aside winter clothing until May be out. But Scottish weather isn't that cold
    In this context, "May" is the Mayflower or Hawthorn, which blooms well before the end of May).

  • Never draw your dirk when a blow will do it.

  • Never marry for money. You can borrow it cheaper.

  • "Never show your teeth unless you can bite"

  • Of twa ills, choose the least.

  • One for sorrow, two for joy,
    Three for a girl, four for a boy.
    Five for silver, six for gold,
    And seven for a secret that must never be told.

  • One man's meat is another man's poison.

  • Our business in this world is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits. (Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson).

  • Pay him in his own coin.

  • Penny wise and pound foolish.

  • The cure may be worse than the disease.

  • Time and tide will tarry on nae man.

  • To marry is to halve your rights and double your duties.

  • Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.

  • What may be done at any time will be done at no time.

  • What we first learn we best ken (know).

  • When one door sticks, another one opens.

  • When wine sinks words swim.

  • Whisky may not cure the common cold, but it fails more agreeably than most other things.

  • Willful waste makes woeful want.

  • Wink at small faults - your own are muckle (great)

  • Ye canna make a silk purse of a sow's lug (a pig's ear).

  • You may as well keep your breath to cool your porridge.

  • Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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