North Dakotan German-Russian Proverb


“You can’t pull hair from a frog”


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, she first heard this proverb uttered by her siblings, but also occasionally heard it from other family members including her mother and aunt. This particular proverb is one my informant says she rarely uses personally, but still hears every once in a while when with friends or family members. Her analysis of the proverb is basically that one shouldn’t waste time bothering themselves with fruitless tasks. Like the proverb implies, there’s no hair on an amphibian creature like a frog, and thus one’s only wasting their time trying to “pull hair” from one. My informant said she often heard this proverb being by family members in regards to other persons. If a person was being difficult or steadfast in a particular view or belief, it was often said that “well, there’s no use pulling hair from a frog” or “you can’t pull hair from a frog.”

My Analysis

My analysis of this proverb mirrors my informant’s. There are times when it’s simply impossible to get through to another person. While it would be nice for everybody to see things through one’s own personal perspective, that’s not always possible, and thus as the proverb goes “you can’t pull hair from a frog.” The wording of this proverb is similar to other German-Russian North Dakotan proverbs in its relative uniqueness and bizarreness, both in terms of the subjects of the proverb (frogs and hair) as well as the sentence structuring of the proverb itself.