Swedish idioms in English quickly becomes strange.
As a Swede living and working in New York, I’m often guilty of using “Swenglish”.
In general, I think Scandinavians use English rather well. But we do mess things up, too.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve directly translated Swedish idioms into English. I understand what I’m saying, obviously, but my American friends — not always.
They do get a good laugh out of it, though.
Here’s a list of typical Swedish idioms and proverbs — directly translated into English in the way that I would accidently use them:
Swedish idioms and proverbs translated into English
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 shouldn’t be 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 at the same time.
6. “Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no-one.”
What it means: While everyone might know who you are because you’re different, it doesn’t mean that everyone wants to be friends with you.
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: A person that 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 (in a encourages faulty deductions).
13. “Pull one’s nose.”
What it means: Pull one’s leg. I guess we went facial there!
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 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: Adding 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.
34. “There’s no cow on the ice.”
What it means: Something might seem risky or hazardous, but it’s fine.
35. “Getting caught with the beard in the mailbox.”
What it means: To be caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing — and you know it.
36. “Don’t cry over spilled milk.”
What it means: What is in the past is in the past. Pick yourself up and move on.
37. “Close shooting, but no hare.”
What it means: Close, but no cigar.
Well, that was fun! I’m sure that there are some correlating idioms in English that I just don’t know about — yet.
Now, I think that was all the Swedish idioms in English that I could think of. If you know of more, please drop me a line here.
Keep learning languages!
PS. Can’t get enough of Sweden? Make sure to check out my Instagram feed for some Swedish moods.
- And yes, this Swedish idiom pre-dates Twin Peaks.
- I think this works in English, too. Still weird.