43 Strange Swedish Idioms in English

Who knew that Swedish idioms in English was so much fun?

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


Translating Swedish idioms into English is … weird and fun.

As a Swede liv­ing and work­ing in New York, I some­times use Swenglish. Scandinavians might speak English well on aver­age, but we love our nat­ive idioms and proverbs. 

I often use lit­er­al trans­la­tions of Swedish idioms daily when I speak English. And when I use these lit­er­al trans­la­tions, like “there’s no cow on the ice,” my American friends have no idea what I’m talk­ing about. 

They do get a good laugh out of it, though. 

A cow on the ice, visual art, highly detailed - Swedish Idioms in English
AI art. Prompt: “A cow on the ice, visu­al art, highly detailed.”

Here’s a list of typ­ic­al Swedish idioms and pro­verbs — dir­ectly trans­lated into English in the way that I would acci­dent­ally use them.

Here we go:

Strange Swedish Idioms in English

1. “To take a crap in the blue cupboard.”

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

2. “To have something land between two chairs.”

What it means: When some­thing gets over­looked because no one is responsible.

3. “There’s a dog buried here.”

What it means: Suspecting that something’s not right.

4. “To 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 every­one wants to befriend you.

7. “All ways are good, except for the bad ones.”

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

8. “To sense owls in the bog.”

What it means: Something’s not right, and if we’re smart, we could prob­ably fig­ure it out. 1Yes, the owls are not what they seem. Still, the Swedish idiom “I sense owls in the bog” pre-dates Twin Peaks.

9. “To be behind the float.”

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

10. “To carry the dog’s head.”

What it means: When someone has to take the blame for something.

11. “To take off to the forest!”

What it means: Go to hell! (This is strange because all Nordic nations love their forests. Our ver­sion might be kinder where we just want to be rid of someone for a while.)

12. “To pull everything over the same comb.”

What it means: To over-extend a generalisation.

13. “To pull one’s nose.”

What it means: To pull one’s leg. I guess we went facial here!

14. “To burn fires for crows.”

What it means: Doing some­thing com­pletely unnecessary.

15. “To get someone for old cheese!”

What it means: Revenge will be mine!

16. “To be born in the vestibule.”

What it means: They are rather stupid.

17. “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.”

What it means: Sometimes, you don’t have to struggle.

18. “Like a cat around hot porridge.”

What it means: Being rest­less and slightly nervous until it annoys the people around you.

19. “To have an unplucked goose with someone.”

What it means: Having a score to settle with someone.

20. “To jump into a crazy barrel.”

What it means: Do some­thing com­pletely irrational.

21. “To hold box.”

What it means: Talking so much, no one else gets a chance to talk. “Standing on a box” would have made more sense.

22. “To stay on the carpet.”

What it means: To prac­tise self-restraint.

23. “To get something from the horse’s mouth.”

What it means: Having first-hand inform­a­tion. 2 I’m pretty sure this works in English, too. Still weird..

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 some­thing is obvi­ous, redund­ant, or dull.

26. “To throw cash in the lake.”

What it means: Spending unne­ces­sary money.

27. “To cook soup on a nail.”

What it means: Being cre­at­ive with nothing.

28. “To buy the pig in the sack.”

What it means: Not doing prop­er research before mak­ing a decision.

29. “Now shame walks on dry land.”

What it means: When immor­al­ity takes over, you feel 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. “To perform magic with the knees.”

What it means: Being cre­at­ive with no resources — even if it takes some faking.

33. “To be out bicycling.”

What it means: When someone makes out-of-the-blue assump­tions that are also wrong.

34. “There’s no cow on the ice.”

What it means: Something might seem haz­ard­ous, but it’s okay.

35. “To get caught with the beard in the mailbox.”

What it means: To be caught doing some­thing you shouldn’t do — and you know it.

36. “Don’t cry over spilt 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.

38. “A dear child has many names.”

What it means: Something or someone loved is often called by many names or nicknames.

39. “To blow on cold porridge.”

What it means: To be overly cau­tious, often unnecessarily.

40. “To paint the devil on the wall.”

What it means: To ima­gine or anti­cip­ate the worst pos­sible out­come, often unnecessarily.

41. “To have pointy ears.”

What it means: To pay close atten­tion, often with an air of sus­pi­cion or scepticism.

42. “To have hens to pluck with someone.”

What it means: To have unfin­ished busi­ness or a score to settle with someone.

43. “To have a finger involved in the game.”

What it means: To have an influ­ence or stake in a situ­ation, often secretly.

43. “To make a mountain out of a molehill.”

What it means: To exag­ger­ate a prob­lem or issue, often mak­ing it seem more sig­ni­fic­ant than it is.

43. “To throw pearls at swine.”

What it means: To waste valu­able resources, time, or effort on someone or some­thing that doesn’t appre­ci­ate or deserve it.

Well, I hope that was as good for you as it was for me! 

I’m sure many more Swedish idioms deserve a lit­er­al English trans­la­tion. If you know more funny Swedish idioms that belong on this list, please let me know.

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

1 Yes, the owls are not what they seem. Still, the Swedish idiom “I sense owls in the bog” pre-dates Twin Peaks.
2 I’m pretty sure this works in English, too. Still weird.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations obviously; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that it's good to have hobbies outside work.

The cover photo has



Subscribe to SpinCTRL—it’s 100% free!

Join 2,550+ fellow PR lovers and subscribe to Jerry’s free newsletter on communication and psychology.
What will you get?

> PR commentary on current events.
> Subscriber-only VIP content.
> My personal PR slides for .key and .ppt.
> Discounts on upcoming PR courses.
> Ebook on getting better PR ideas.
Subscribe to SpinCTRL today by clicking SUBSCRIBE and get your first free send-out instantly.

Latest Posts
Similar Posts
Most Popular