French Enlightenment writer, philosopher and historian Voltaire (1694 – 1778) once wrote: “We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation” and he is far from the only man (or woman) to have celebrated Scots wisdom.
As small countries go, we’ve more than a few admirers for our wit and sagacity, and it seems Scotland has more than enough to go around.
Here are 10 of the best Scottish proverbs and sayings on life:
“Mony a mickle maks a muckle” – Old Scots proverb
Very loosely translated as “Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves”, it is an expression which is aimed at educating people on the wisdom of saving and really means “many little things add up to a lot”.
American founding father George Washington (main picture), who was a fan of Scots poets Robert Burns and James MacPherson, famously used the saying in a letter to his to his farm manager during his presidency: “…People are often ruined before they are made aware of the danger, by buying everything they think they want; conceiving them to be trifles, without adverting to a Scotch adage, than which nothing in nature is more true “that many mickles make a muckle.”
However, the correct expression should be “Mony a pickle maks a muckle”, as mickle actually refers to something large, but it is feasible that pickle, which more accurately refers to something small, was substituted for the sake of a more alliterative phrase.
“Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time deid” – Old Scots proverb
One of our favourites, and definitely one of the most apt, a slightly more abrupt version of Carpe Deim, it’s another way to remind people not to sweat the small stuff or waste time on unhappiness as life is too short.
Literally, Don’t take life too seriously, you’ve got plenty of time to be miserable after you die.
“Time and tide for nae man bide” – Old Scots proverb
The Scottish version of the classic line “Time and tide waits for no man” is a powerful message that even those who are rich and powerful cannot escape the laws of nature and that anyone who has the opportunity to better themselves should do so without delay.
“He that keeks through a keyhole may see what will vex him” – Old Scots proverb
Those who eavesdrop will often hear what they expect to hear, risking listening to unfavourable comments about themselves.
Ignorance can often times be bliss while those looking for trouble will often find it.
“If ye like the nut, crack it” – Old Scots proverb
If you like the idea of the reward then you must accept the effort involved to achieve it.
“The hardest thing in life is to know which bridge to cross and which to burn” – Scottish classical guitarist David Russell (1953 – present)
Attributed to world famous classical guitarist David Russell, who was born in Scotland in 1953, this expression points to the fact that deciding the best course of action can often be the hardest part in life.
Similar to the Serenity Prayer of St. Francis, which asks God to grant those speaking the prayer the serenity to accept the things they cannot change and the courage to change the things they can.
“To be kind to all, to like many and love a few, to be needed and wanted by those we love, is certainly the nearest we can come to happiness” – Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542 – 87)
It’s the simpler things in life we should appreciate.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” – Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832)
Originally referring to a love triangle in the play “Marmion” by Sir Walter Scott, this wonderfully poetic and succinct line perfectly encapsulates how complicated life becomes when people start lying to each other.
“Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves”- J.M. Barrie (1860 – 1937)
A man who spent his life delighting the masses with his words, perfectly understood that you reap what you sow, and that when we make other people happy, we often find happiness ourselves.
“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents” – Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919)
The man who once said “Aim for the highest” is also one of the most qualified to show what can happen when you do so. Sporting one of the most impressive CVs of any person of his time, Andrew Carnegie was a true captain of industry.
So when he tells you that no matter how well you can do something, unless your aim is to do it better than anyone else, you will never reach great heights of success, then you should listen.