Basic images and
Laymen are inclined to see every
proverb as its own unique entity: the independent expression
in words of a creative perception. In reality, traditional
ideas, images and schemata have a decisive influence on the
formation of proverbial sayings: the great majority of
proverbs and sayings originate as analogical forms of
The composer of a proverbial saying
naturally derives his symbolic images in part from his close
everyday surroundings. But almost as important a source is
the imagery of earlier proverbs; one could almost say that
the folk aphorist saw his everyday surroundings through the
window of traditional symbology. The dog is, in Finland, a
domestic pet, just as it is in north America, but there it
is irregularly the symbol of faithfulness, in Finland of
wretchedness unreliability. The sheep and lamb are, in
Finland, symbols of the stupidity of the crowd mentality or
antitheses of the wolf: Christian symbology does not appear
to have been successful in usurping the traditional image.
There are hundreds of proverbs about pigs, partridges and
mice, while the elk, the lynx, the rat, the snake and the
bear are either completely absent or very rare. Taboos
explain the avoidance in the two last-mentioned cases, but
otherwise the reason for the plenty or rarity of different
symbolic images is probably traditional role division: the
pig is a slovenly, obsessive glutton, the mouse and the
partridge symbols of extreme smallness and insignificance - Apu hiirestäkin on (Help even from a mouse), Ei pyyssä kahden jakoa (One partridge is not
enough for two). Animals that have not received a leading
role have been unable to compete with the favoured symbols
in the formation of new proverb metaphors. Once the salmon
and the ruff were established as symbols of the great and
small constant, there was no symbolic living-space for, for
example, the pike perch or the bleak. Once the first cricket
proverb had made a connection with eating, later versions
followed. Harvoin on sirkka suuruksella (The cricket
is seldom well-fed), Kun sirkka suurukselle
pääsee, niin se laulaa lakeasti (When the
cricket is well-fed, it sings broadly), Joko sirkan
söi eli säästi (Has the cricket eaten or
saved), Kaunis kakku päält nähden vaikk on
sirkkoja sisällä (The cake is splendid enough,
but there are crickets inside - Outward beauty is not
enough) - although one would have thought that the cricket
would suit other roles even better.
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For example, the similarity of the
following group is much less obvious:
vuosi (A barley [poor] year is like
vähäinen vaimo pikkarainen paskarainen (A
small wife is angry, a tiny one repulsive).
poika (Carefree is a boy without a horse).
vaimo, kunniaton kellariton (Unskilled is a wife
without a house, without honour is one without a
nainen, talon nainen tappelija (A scolding woman is a
doer, the woman of the house a fighter).
tekevän ase, tylsä veitsi tyhmän miehen (Sharp the weapon of an active man, blunt the knife
ot a stupid one).
vähempi härkä, matalampi korkeampi, musta
härkä valkeampi (The greater the bull the
lesser, the shorter the taller, the black bull the
haava (A wound threatened is a wound
velka (A loan paid is a loan forgotten).
Annettu luvattu lahja (A gift promised is a gift given).
Tehty alettu työ (A task begun is a task done).
Ansaittu anottu ruoka,
syöty leikattu pala (Food begged is food earned,
a slice cut is a slice eaten).
Each case could be considered free
improvisation on the part of the inventor. In reality, only
one of the examples can be the first of its kind. The others
are adaptations either of it or each other, just as Kaksi
yhden herra (Two are the master of one), Olut on
viinan täti (Beer is the aunt of liquor) and Huuto on hädän veli (A scream is the
brother of distress) originate from the same foundry as
Homer's 'Slumber and death, the twin brothers', and
Quintilian's 'Greed is the mother of cruelty'. There is one
formula, and then hundreds of proverbs cast in the same
*Reprinted from Mind and
Form in Folklore. Selected articles of Matti Kuusi. Ed.
by Henni Ilomäki. Studia fennica. Folkloristica 3.
Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. Helsinki 1994, pp.