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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.

by JERRY SILVER // Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Digital PR specialist and CEO at Spin Factory

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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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. His fascination for corporate communication and human psychology runs deep. Via his own agency Spin Factory, every day's spent on coaching people and organizations on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, journalist and television host, and their two-year-old son, Jack.

Interested in Jerry’s services or speaking engagements? Learn more.

Add your comment:

kazarnowicz

Lovely. It’s always hilarious with literary translations. I’m sure I’ve been guilty on occasion to use swenglicisms like these.
 
One thing though: “Alla känner apan, apan känner ingen” to me means that everybody recognizes/knows the name of a person who’s well known, but the person in question doesn’t know anyone in the crowd. Your translation makes it seem a bit like something you’d use to snub someone, and I’d never use it like that.

Reply
Jerry Silfwer

 @kazarnowicz Maybe it’s me who has an evil streak? ;)

George

Infact in my opinion it means that the person thinks that he knows the people well, but in fact he has no idea what they really think of him and that they don’t like him.

carnicula

@_jorgen_e Kul! Saknade “No cow on the ice”. :)

Reply
_jorgen_e

Hahaha! “@carnicula Kul! Saknade “No cow on the ice”. :)” ping @doktorspinn

Radiologynurse

@_jorgen_e “Some idioms don’t really mean anything, but Swedes just say things like this anyway.” bästa. Kul länk:)

Reply
_jorgen_e

@Radiologynurse Gillar den typen av reflektioner! :)

Jerry Silfwer

 Marcus Carlsson found some more here: http://www.albinholmqvist.com/Swedish-sayings

Reply
TorLowkrantz

Jerry, Remember to hold your thumb not to wake up the sleeping bear.

Reply
TorLowkrantz

Jerry, Remember to hold your thumb not to wake up the sleeping bear.

Reply
Jerry Silfwer

 @TorLowkrantz LOL, got it, clear as sausage liquid.

ditte

Ha this is fun. Being a Dane most of these idioms translates into Danish as well. In Danish there’s another one I find hilarious ‘Standing with your hair in the letter box’ meaning ‘you are getting into serious troubles’.

Reply
Doktor Spinn

That’s very funny! We have a similar saying in Swedish, but we don’t get stuck with our hair in the letter box, we stuck with our beards.

ditte

Ha this is fun. Being a Dane most of these idioms translates into Danish as well. In Danish there’s another one I find hilarious ‘Standing with your hair in the letter box’ meaning ‘you are getting into serious troubles’.

Reply
Doktor Spinn

That’s very funny! We have a similar saying in Swedish, but we don’t get stuck with our hair in the letter box, we stuck with our beards.

Andre Dotseth

I was trying to brush up on my Swedish after almost 30 years…. and I remembered the old proverbs. We were suppose to go out and mingle and learn the idioms. The only one I know is “driving the bus”… HUNGOVER!

I’ve heard the young people use a lot of slang terminology unless they are in government , school classes or something formal like a church setting. Most of the Swedes we met were eager to try their English. My parents taught school and I always spoke proper English… but I did reluctantly fill them in on an assortment of venues. Most of us balance our “street” expressions with proper English and some of the Swedes would go a little overboard with them. I didn’t become fluent enough in Swedish to use idioms and slang but I want to learn them before I go back to visit next time.

I’m working on an MBA and I have no idea if work visa are available but I want to stay for a few years while my DAD is in good health. I am studying public administration and they may want somebody trained in this country perhaps.

Of course, these days they have the internet , so who knows??

Reply
Doktor Spinn

Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your MBA. Hope you get back to Sweden in the future!

Andre Dotseth

I was trying to brush up on my Swedish after almost 30 years…. and I remembered the old proverbs. We were suppose to go out and mingle and learn the idioms. The only one I know is “driving the bus”… HUNGOVER!

I’ve heard the young people use a lot of slang terminology unless they are in government , school classes or something formal like a church setting. Most of the Swedes we met were eager to try their English. My parents taught school and I always spoke proper English… but I did reluctantly fill them in on an assortment of venues. Most of us balance our “street” expressions with proper English and some of the Swedes would go a little overboard with them. I didn’t become fluent enough in Swedish to use idioms and slang but I want to learn them before I go back to visit next time.

I’m working on an MBA and I have no idea if work visa are available but I want to stay for a few years while my DAD is in good health. I am studying public administration and they may want somebody trained in this country perhaps.

Of course, these days they have the internet , so who knows??

Reply
Doktor Spinn

Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your MBA. Hope you get back to Sweden in the future!

Patrik

This is funny stuff but the meaning of the monkey thing is wrong. Its meaning is when everybody knows someone but that person doesn’t know anybody.

Reply