Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Proverbs

Proverbs capture traditional wisdom and common sense, and every culture has their own set of proverbs. Back in 1994, Jon Aske posted a collection of Basque proverbs he had gathered from a variety of sources. With his permission, I collected them and posted the full list of Esaera Zaharrak on Buber’s Basque Page. These proverbs relate to a range of every day experiences, from friendship and relationships to wealth and health. Some of them are even contradictory, indicating that the best advice depends on the circumstances. Here are some of my favorites.

Lunch with family and friends, taken by Blas Uberuaga.
  • A number of these proverbs relate to the role of religion and priests in the community and people’s lives.

Elizatik hurreanena, paradisutik urrunena.
“Those who are closest to the church are farthest from paradise.”

Jaten duten santuekin, ez dago fidatzerik.
“Don’t trust those who eat with saints.”

Abadearen lapikoa, txikia baina gozoa.
“The priest’s pot is small but his supper is tasty.”

  • Friendship and gathering are of course important to Basque culture and several proverbs reflect on friends.

Adiskide onekin, orduak labur.
“Time flies when you are among friends.”

Adiskidegabeko bizitza, auzogabeko heriotza.
“A life without friends means death without company.”

Guztien adiskide dena, ez da inorena.
“One who is everybody’s friend is nobody’s friend.”

Lagun onak, ondu; gaiztoak, gaiztotu.
“A good friend makes one a better person, a bad friend makes one worse.”

  • Basques are also known for, and take pride in, their industriousness and many proverbs warn of the perils of being lazy.

Alferrak, beti lanez beterik.
“Lazy people are always busy.”

Alferrarendako lanik ez, eta astirik ez.
“The lazy person has no work, but has no time for anything else either.”

Geroa, alferraren leloa.
“‘Later’: The lazy person’s motto.”

  • And, related to that, there is the idea of responsibility:

Bi etxetako txakurra, goseak jan.
“A dog which belongs to two homes dies of hunger.”

Idia adarretik eta gizona hitzetik.
“You should hold oxen by their horns and people to their word.”

Ihaurk egin dezakeana ez utzi besteri egiten.
“Don’t let anyone else do what you can do yourself.”

  • And perhaps my two favorites:

Izena duen guztiak izatea ere badauke.
“Everything with a name exists.”

Izenak ez du egiten izana.
“A name doesn’t make something true.”

2 thoughts on “Basque Fact of the Week: Basque Proverbs”

  1. Love this. Thank you. Am revisiting a novel which has as section in Gurenika and Bilboa and had trouble finding proverbs. The one I had was, off the top of my head is: What is seen at home is what the child learns.

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