Working as a Swede in international settings is pretty fun. Here's a list of Swedish idioms which I'm sure we let slip into English every now and then.
Reading time: 4 minutes
Working as a Swede in New York with lots of other Swedes is quite fun — especially from a language perspective.
I think Scandinavians often use English quite well, but we often mess things up without even knowing it. And our American friends will have a good laugh, for sure.
Here’s a list of typical Swedish idioms — directly translated into English:
Swedish Idioms Translated into English
1. “You just took a crap in the blue cupboard.”
What it means: There will be hell to pay and you really did it this time.
2. “Having something land between two chairs.”
What it means: When something gets forgotten because no-one is responsible for it.
3. “There’s a dog buried here.”
What it means: Suspecting that something’s not right.
4. “Make a hen out of a feather.”
What it means: Turning something that isn’t an issue into one.
5. “You look like you sold the butter and then lost the money.”
What it means: When a person looks both sad and a bit guilty.
6. “Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no-one.”
What it means: Don’t think you’re popular just because you’re known.
7. “All ways are good, except for the bad ones.”
What it means: Some idioms don’t really mean anything, but Swedes just say things like this anyway.
8. “I sense owls in the bog.”
What it means: Something’s not right and if we’re smart, we could probably figure it out. And yes, this Swedish idiom pre-dates Twin Peaks.
9. “He must be behind the float.”
What it means: That guy doesn’t come across as very smart.
10. “I will be the one carrying the dog’s head.”
What it means: Taking the blame for something.
11. “Take off to the forest!”
What it means: Go to hell!
12. “Pull everything over the same comb.”
What it means: To be generalizing.
13. “Pull one’s nose.”
What it means: Pull one’s leg.
14. “Burning fires for crows.”
What it means: Doing something completely unnecessary.
15- “I will get you for old cheese!”
What it means: Revenge will be mine!
16. “He must be born in the vestibule.”
What it means: That guy isn’t very smart.
17. “Sliding in on a shrimp sandwich.”
What it means: Sometimes, you don’t really have to struggle.
18. “Like a cat around hot porridge.”
What it means: Being restless and slightly nervous up until the point it becomes annoying for the people around you.
19. “Having an un-plucked goose with someone.”
What it means: Having a score to settle with someone.
20. “Jumping into a crazy barrel.”
What it means: Do something completely irrational.
21. “Holding a box.”
What it means: Talking so much no-one else gets a chance to talk. Maybe “standing on a box” would have made more sense?
22. “Staying on the carpet.”
What it means: To practice self-restraint.
23. “I got it from the horse’s mouth.”
What it means: Having first-hand information. I think this works in English, too. Still weird.
24. “No danger on the roof.”
What it means: It’s safe even though we thought it wasn’t.
25. “The Interest Club is taking notes.”
What it means: Sarcastically pointing out that something is obvious, superfluous or just plain.
26. “Throwing cash in the lake.”
What it means: Spending unnecessary money.
27. “Cooking soup on a nail.”
What it means: Being creative with nothing.
28. “Buying the pig in the sack.”
What it means: Not doing proper research before a decision.
29. “Now shame walks on dry land.”
What it means: When immorality takes over and you feel that you can’t stop it anymore.
30. “It’s the dot over the ‘i’.”
What it means: The final touch.
31. “The thing is beef.”
What it means: When something’s completely done.
32. “Performing magic with the knees.”
What it means: Being creative with nothing—even if it takes some faking.
33. “He’s out bicycling.”
What it means: When someone is making out-of-the-blue assumptions that are also wrong.
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