Tag Archives: punishing children

“Kes hiljaks jääb, see ilma jääb.” – Estonian Proverb

Informant’s Background:

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.

Informant’s Context:

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).”

Informant’s Thoughts: 

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.

Dont hit your elders

The informant, C, is an 18 raised in South Central Los Angeles, California. His parents are both Mexican and he considers himself Mexican as well. He is studying Astronautical Engineering.


C-“Ok so once long ago in a small town, like a rancho, there were these two kids who would always mess with their grandpa and like f***K with him essentially. And these two kids were one day playing after school and they decided to be funny to throw rocks at the grandpa who was sitting at the porch. And so these kids do end up throwing rocks, and they find it hilarious and they are laughing and as the grandpa angrily yells at them, they run away. But you know, they live in this desert so they are pretty much running to the horizon, and then this great earthquake occurs and the floor opens up and swallows the two kids so the gap that was once created by the earthquake swallows the kids and closes again. And so the moral of the story is that you know don’t hit your elders because the earth may open up and consume you. And punish you for hitting your elders. “

Where did you first hear this?

C-“So my mom told me this when I was younger, because I was a trouble maker and would sometimes hit her”

Have you heard this story other times from other people?

C-“I have heard different alterations of the story but it’s pretty much the same moral of don’t hit your elders”

Analysis- The story can be seen as a representation of how the informant’s culture behaves. It is a culture that respects its elders and that shows there will be consequences for bad behavior. By having the characters getting punished be children, the elders are able to teach the values of the culture early on. The story is also set on a place that is known to many people of the same Mexican background, a ranch and a desert. The earthquake, as stated by the informant, is also evidence that it is nature that will punish and not the elders, which gives the story greater validity