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 not our American friends.
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: Don’t think you’re popular just because you’re making a clown of yourself.
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.