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THE PROVERBIAL FORMULA "MAN SOLL"...

ARCHER TAYLOR

THE PROVERBIAL FORMULA "MAN SOLL"...*

The formula "Man soll" ... as in "Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben" reaches far back in to the history of Germanic proverbs. In our earliest occurrences, moreover, we can see remnants of a very ancient form which had no subject. Gradually shifting habits of speech have obscured this older form. A typical illustration is a law proverb found in the Njalssaga and later without significant change in the old Norwegian code: med logum skal land vart byggja en med ólogum eyda.[1] The modern Danish inscription on the Raadhus in Copenhagen is taken from the Jyske lov, an old Danish code: Maeth logh skal land bygiaes. In this change from the active construction (Icelandic) to the passive (Danish) we see one way of transforming the old impersonal skal into the modern construction with a subject.

Icelandic preserves a number of proverbs in this older form. The following examples are found in Jónsson's and Heusler's collections of Icelandic proverbs from the sagas and the Elder Edda:

At ósi skal á stemma (62, 1); mikit skal til almaelis hafa (63, 8); eigi skal bogna, kvad karl ok skeit standandi (71, 44); svá skal bol baeta at bída annat meira (74, 62); at kveldi skal dag leyfa (74, 63; ZfVk. 26, 42--43 nr. 36); vid eld skal ol drekka (ZfVk. 26, 43 nr. 38); fold skal vid flódi taka (ZfVk. 26, 46 nr. 46); ilt skal illum bjóda (100, 198); upp skal jarli gefa eina sok (101, 200); til fraegdar skal konung hafa meir en til langlífis (103, 218; ZfVk. 26, 51); krjúpa skal ef ekki má ganga (105, 223); nú skal eigi med laufsegli lengr fara (107, 241); pat skal leyfa sem lidit er (108, 246); med logum skal land várt byggja en med ólogum eyda (see above); vid lygi skal lausning giolda (ZfVk. 25, 112 nr. 10); hafa skal gott rád pótt ór refsbelg komi (179, 321; cf. the variant: hafa skal heil rád hvadan sem koma); reidi skal rum gefa (180, 329); skal eigi marka reids manns mál (180, 330); skalat rúnar rista, nema ráda vel kunni (ZfVk. 26, 52 Anm. 1); skalat ulf ala ungan lengi (194, 418); vín skal til vínar drekka (200, 458); skal vinar í porf neyta (200, 458); ekki skal lengi prá till pess er pó skal ekki tjá (203, 478).

Except for three instances (reidi, rúnar, ulf in the preceding list), the sentence is always arranged so that skal shall not stand at the beginning. These three instances are metrical: we may conjecture that they retain an old syntactical form which was no longer employed in prose. It will be noticed, moreover, that two of them use the old suffixed negative -a which disappeared from classical Icelandic prose.




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The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 3:1996 & Issue 4:1996, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

We shall find the English parallels[4] to the Icelandic krjúpa skal ef ekki má ganga instructive. There are various equivalents: First creep, then go (1606); We first must creepe, before we well can goe (1622); You must learn to creep before you can go (1754); Folk maun creep before you can go (1823). The ordinary substitute is the simple impera tive: Praise the fair day at even (Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben); Of two evils choose the least (Von zwei Übeln soll man das kleinste wählen); Don't tell tales out of school (Man soll nicht aus der Schule schwatzen). The use of You in place of the indefinite pronoun is, I suspect, comparatively recent.

The history of the formula Man soll ... can now be given in simple lines. It developed out of an older impersonal formula which is preserved in Icelandic. There may be traces of the older formula in other Germanic languages. It was used in sententious proverbs and (perhaps later) in metaphorical proverbs. Alongside these literal and metaphorical proverbs there arose, particularly in the Middle Ages (Old English and Middle High German), maxims of more or less doubtful proverbial character which show that the formula was present in everyone's mind. A further extension of the formula, an extension which is not found in the Scandinavian languages, created proverbs resembling the Priamel. This extension in use shows that the formula was firmly established in tradition, at least in countries south of Denmark. In later times the use of the formula in proverbs like the Priamel is rare and the disappearance of this type may be caused by the declining popularity either of the formula or of the Priamel. A considerable extension of use has occurred, and apparently in more recent times, by the creation of nonce- proverbs from proverbial phrases by the use of the formula. This is now the most important way in which the formula is used.

Notes

*Reprinted from Wolfgang Mieder (ed.) Selected Writings on Proverbs by Archer Taylor, Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki 1975, pp. 101-105

  1. F. Jónsson, Arkiv f. nord. fil. 30 (1914), III no. 268; K°gel, Geschichte d. dt. Lit. I, 1, 74. Jónsson's collection of Icelandic proverbs is cited henceforth by page and number.
  1. "Althochdeutches", Beitr. z. Gesch. d. dt. Spr. 43 (1917/18), 147.

  2. Simrock s. v. Freunde; Zingerle S. 41; Seiler, Zs. f. dt. Philol. 45, 249 nr. 5 (cf. 47, 384 nr. 6).

  3. Apperson, English proverbs and proverbial phrases (1929) p. 214.

 


 
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