As a Swede working in New York, I’m often guilty of using “Swenglish.”

However, in general, I think Scandinavians often use English rather well. But we do 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 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.

Photo by Linda Söndergaard on Unsplash.


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