10 Swedish sayings in English

Sayings can become very amusing when they are translated literally, and Swedish ones are no exception. Last year, the Twitter hash tag #swedishsayings did exactly this and gained a lot of popularity and laughters, even among people who knew no Swedish at all. The Local published a list of 10 odd sayings a while back, including some commentary about them, and here is the complete list.

  • Ingen ko på isen – There’s no cow on the ice. “This is a popular saying in Sweden, which quite simply means “Don’t worry”. It remains unknown how often Swedish cattle are milling about on frozen lakes, but it’s no stretch of the imagination to understand that a cow on ice would be definitely worth worrying about.”

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  • Nära skjuter ingen hare – A close shot will never get you the rabbit. ” “Close but no cigar” gets a lot more violent in Swedish (and it has a much nicer ring to it!). The Swedes talk about how how a close shot will never get you a hare, and that’s fair enough. In fact, it makes more sense at a glance than the one about the cigar anyway.”
  • Skägget i brevlådan – Caught with your beard in the letterbox. “While their English-speaking cousins are messing around getting their hands stuck in cookie jars, Swedes are getting their beards caught in letterboxes. Don’t ask what they’re doing with their faces so close to the letterboxes in the first place…”
  • Det ligger en hund begraven – There’s a dog buried here. “There’s something fishy going on here… There’s nothing fishier than a buried dog, right? Well, that’s what a Swede would say. Perhaps it’s the stench of a buried mutt, perhaps it’s the idea of a missing canine companion, or perhaps it’s just the absurdity of it all, but it’s definitely fishy.”

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  • Att ana ugglor i mossen – Suspecting owls in the bog. “You may think there is nothing fishier than a buried dog, and that’s a perfectly logical assumption. But what about owls in the bog? Yes, those crazy Swedes are at it again. When something strange is afoot, they’ll whisper to each other about those fishy owls and and their boggy surroundings.”
  • Smaken är som baken, delad – Taste is like your bum, divided. “While English speakers sometimes rather crudely compare opinions to arseholes (everyone has got one), Swedes take things one step further. They liken opinions to bottoms as both are often perfectly divided down the middle, not unlike the potato below. As with many opinions, potatoes, and behinds, it’s not always a perfect division.”

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  • Finns det hjärterum så finns det stjärterum – If there’s room in the heart there’s room for the arse. “Nothing can make a guest feel more welcome than talking about their arse, and Swedish proverbs certainly do give a quick aside to a behind (see above). When Swedes are accommodating for extra guests, they’ll often use this beautifully rhyming proverb to welcome them. And their arse.”
  • Gå som katten kring het gröt – To walk like a cat around hot porridge. “Don’t beat about the bush, an English speaker might warn. But not so in Sweden, here it’s all about cats and porridge. Swedish felines are not world renowned for their aversion to porridge, hot or otherwise, but at least they have a proverb to their name.”
  • Göra en höna av en fjäder – To make a chicken out of a feather. “We’re all familiar with the idea of making a mountain out of a molehill, but the logic surrounding the idea of making a chicken out of nothing but feathers contains several immediate flaws. But it’s a ticklish idea.”
  • Köp inte grisen i säcken – Don’t buy the pig while it’s still in the bag. “This proverb warns you off rash decisions. Just like you wouldn’t buy a car before taking it for a spin, Swedes seem to be very particular about their swines, warning each other about the perils of purchasing pouched pigs. Note: Pigs are not usually sold in bags in Sweden.”

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10 thoughts on “10 Swedish sayings in English

  1. The last one is really exactly like the English saying “To buy a pig in a poke” – which refers to buying a pig in a bag without examining the pig by opening the bag and looking at it first. This also gave rise to the saying, I believe, “To let the cat out of the bag” – if a mendacious peddler were trying to sell you a pig in a poke that was actually a cat in a poke, and someone exposed their duplicity, they would be letting the cat out of the bag quite literally. I would imagine the origins of the Swedish and English sayings are the same.

    • Thanks for your question! There is an expression that translates into ‘walking over dead bodies’ (gå över lik), which kind of has the same meaning, that you will do something regardless of what it takes. Although I think the Swedish expression has a tone of ruthlessness, which is perhaps a little bit more negative than the ‘come hell or high water’. I think it is fair to say that it is not generally seen as a nice trait, if someone would ‘walk over dead bodies’ to get what they want… But it’s the closest I could come up with! 🙂 /anneli

      • Thanks for the reply, Anneli! I have a Swedish character in the book I’m writing, and she was having a little outburst and stated she was going to do X come hell or high water – but in English it’s such a cliche. To have her say it in Swedish is pure awesome – thank you!

  2. https://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugler_i_mosen
    We have the same saying “der er ugler i mosen” in danish, but ugle is derived from ulv (wolf), meaning wolfs been spotted in the moor/bog = danger; likewise we have ugleset = ulve-set -meaning evil eyes -looking in a lesser kind way…

    http://holte-roklub.dk/gl-website_2004-2013/2009/2009_035.htm
    Danes are also able to “fange en ugle” “catch an owl” when rowing a boat -do swedes have a likewise term? If not, maybe swedes are just better rowers 😉 (although we got metal at the olympics! 🙂 jaaaahhh)
    Fange en ugle: You miss a stroke and might accidentially hit yourself with the oar. Can be painful…

  3. I think you Swedes have adopted this from danish 🙂 Wikipedia claims that :
    “Ugler i mosen er en talemåde som bruges, når der sker noget mistænkeligt.
    Udtrykket er en forvanskning af det jyske “der er uller i mosen”, som henviste til ulve. Talemåden spredtes til København med jyske studeprangere, som benyttede den om tvivlsomme handler. På øerne fandtes der ikke ulve mere, men i Nørrejylland var de stadigvæk talrige. [1]” which basically means that ugler/owls is a later adaptation from ulve/wolves which was pronounced “uller” in the dialect in NW Jutland, where the last danish wolves were living in the 19th century.

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