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As a Swede working in New York, I say strange things. Here's a list of Swedish idioms and proverbs translated into English.

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

Working as a Swede in New York, I’m often guilty of “Swenglish.”

In general, I think Scandinavians often use English rather well, but we often mess things up, too. And our American friends will get a good laugh out of it, for sure.

Here’s a list of typical Swedish idioms and proverbs — directly translated into English:

Swedish Idioms Translated into English

swedish idioms

Maybe our Viking ancestors talked funny?

1. “You just took a crap in the blue cupboard.”

What it means: You really did it this time — and there will be hell to pay, for sure.

2. “Having something land between two chairs.”

What it means: When something gets overlooked 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: When something succeeds with the use of unconventional methods.

8. “I sense owls in the bog.”

What it means: Something’s not right and if we’re smart, we could probably figure it out1.

9. “He/she must be behind the float.”

What it means: That person doesn’t come across as very smart.

10. “I will be the one carrying the dog’s head.”

What it means: When someone has to take 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/she must be born in the vestibule.”

What it means: That person 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 unplucked 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 information2.

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 boring.

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.

Do you know any strange idioms or proverbs in your language? Please share in the comments!

Notes:

  1. And yes, this Swedish idiom pre-dates Twin Peaks.
  2. I think this works in English, too. Still weird.

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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. Via his agency Spin Factory, Jerry is advising brands 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, news anchor and television host, and their three-year-old son, Jack.


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Reader reactions:

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Michael 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
Doctor Spin

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

George

In fact 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

Kul! Saknade “No cow on the ice”. :)

Reply
Jörgen E.

Hahaha! ping @DoctorSpinPR

Tor Löwkrantz

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

Reply
Doctor Spin

Found some more here: http://www.albinholmqvist.com/Swedish-sayings

Reply
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
Doctor Spin

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 get 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
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