The informant, in this case, is my mother, M, who was a first generation immigrant born to an Estonian family in the North-East of Canada. Her family had escaped from occupied Estonia, and had settled in Canada before she was born. She moved with my father to Los Angeles, in the United States, to take a job as a university professor. My brother and I were born a few years after.
I mentioned collecting folklore to my mother, who I regularly call on the phone now that I have moved out of our house, and she told me that she wanted to help. I told her yes, and she emailed me the following.
- Original: “Kes hiljaks jääb, see ilma jääb.”
- Translation: He who is late, will go without.
M: “My mother used to say it all the time when we were kids and taking our time about coming back inside when she rang the dinner bell to summon us to dinner. She sometimes added an extra line of her own – “ja raua rohtu saab” – which meant “and will get cod liver oil” (a vile-tasting medicine that used to be given to children as a vitamin D supplement).”
M: “This is harsh, but reasonable in some circumstances. Even though she often said it, I can’t remember my mother ever actually enforcing it. She understood that we were busy playing and that we had often wandered quite far away from home, so it took time to get back.”
This seems like a pretty standard proverb to me. It gets across a lesson, in this case in the form of a warning, about being punctual, most likely aimed at children, as seen by it’s use in my mother’s example. It also contains a threat, that if one is not punctual one will be denied something, in this case food. Denial of food was a fairly common means of punishment for children throughout history, and even in some stricter households to this day, so this makes sense as well. In this case it seems more like a light warning intended to get the message across without really intending to enforce the punishment.