30 Medieval Sayings You Need to Know

Are you wanting to talk more like someone from the Middle Ages? We have a list of 30 great sayings and proverbs that you can use in your conversations.

It seems that medieval people were just as likely as us to use common sayings and proverbs to help get their point across. These can be found in various chronicles and literature, and some of them are uncannily similar to those that are common today. The 19th-century historian Henry T. Riley, who is well known to medievalists for his many translations of chronicles, made a collection of ancient and medieval “quotations, proverbs, maxims, and mottos.” Here are 30 of our favourites from the Middle Ages:


The miller does not see everything which is carried past by the stream.

There is no need to spur a horse at full speed.

No misfortune comes singly.

Once an abbot, always an abbot.

To drink like a pope.

By much laughter you may distinguish a fool.

The cowl does not make the monk.

A belly well filled is not readily inclined to study.

He falls not from the bridge who walks with prudence.

If you live with him who is lame, you will learn to limp.

Not every one is a huntsman that blows a horn.

To seek a needle in a bundle of hay.

When one yawns, another yawns too.

To the word and to the letter.

The voice of the people is the voice of God.

All that meal is not out of your own sack.

A cat loves fish, but is wary to wet her feet.

Either a clerk, or learning to be one. – to describe one very knowledgeable

From mass to table. – this was a little insult against monks, to say that all they did was pray and eat

Hard and hard do not make a wall. – the idea behind this saying is that bricks require a soft substance to unite them, so proud men will never agree without the mediation of a mild and equable disposition.


The damsel is more tempting who smells of wild thyme than she who is scented with musk.

In the Lord’s name every evil begins.

The greatest scholars are not the wisest men.

Take, have, and keep, are pleasant words from a pope.

My fault, O God.– in Latin it is ‘Mea culpa, Deus.’

Believe Robert, who speaks from experience. – the original Latin is more snappy: ‘Experto crede Roberto.’

lf a man is in love with a frog, he will think his frog a very Diana. – Diana was a Roman goddess

Honey in his mouth, words of milk, gall in his heart, fraud in his deeds. – a phrase to describe a hypocrite.


Where there are three physicians, there are two atheists.

A hungry belly has no ears.

Henry Thomas Riley’s work, Dictionary of Latin quotations, proverbs, maxims, and mottos, classical and mediaeval: including law terms and phrases, with a selection of Greek quotations, was published in 1859. You can read it on

See also: Ten Phrases that Originated in the Middle Ages

Top Image: British Library MS Yates Thompson 13  fol. 171r