North Dakotan German-Russian Proverb


“Always give the meanest dog two pieces of meat”


The country of Germany as we now know it is of course a relatively modern sovereign state. Prior to the unification of the German states in the late 19th century, Germany existed as a myriad of different “mini-states” all with their own governing bodies and economic models. Unfortunately, this led to many Germans becoming demoralized due to religious, economic, and political hardships, and many emigrated to Russia in the 18th and 19th century. To make try and make the historical background as succinct as possible, many of these Germans living in Russia were eventually forced to leave Russia, with many settling in the northern plains of the United States.

This was the case for my ancestors on my mom’s side of the family, with my great-great grandparents settling in North Dakota. In North Dakota, there’s a heavy concentration of German-Russians living within the state, who through a combination of their prior ethnic and national heritage, as well as an amalgamation of their new American life created a unique culture and folklore.

According to my informant, this proverb was spoken in her home mostly by her parents, but also by other family members and family friends on occasion. The proverb basically means that sometimes to avoid extra trouble, it’s pertinent to sacrifice a little bit. Growing up on a farm, my informant and her family were constantly working, with little time for excess leisure or rest. And thus, while it’s not always perhaps “fair,” it saves everybody the trouble of, for example, the youngest child screaming and becoming difficult if they don’t get an extra piece of chocolate, or an animal on the farm being unruly if not given special treatment. My informant remembers this proverb quite well, and it being used relatively often when she was a child, but mentioned that it was a proverb she didn’t utilize in her adult life very often.

My Analysis

My analysis of this particular proverb basically mirrors the analysis that my informant gave me of the proverb. Sometimes – even though it isn’t fair – it’s easier for everybody involved to abate an unruly dog by throwing him an extra piece of meat (to employ the proverb quite literally). I felt like the proverb itself was perhaps rather clunky in its delivery and cadence, and wondered if it were perhaps an English translation of a German-Russian proverb. However, my informant informed me that she had only heard the particular proverb expressed in English, though it were possibly the original proverb was said in German several generations back.