The PR BlogCreativityStorytelling & Writing37 Strange Swedish Idioms in English

37 Strange Swedish Idioms in English

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

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

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 rather well, 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:

Swedish Idioms and Proverbs in English

1. “You just took a crap in the blue cupboard.”

What it means: You 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 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 out. 1Yes, the owls are not what they seem. Still, the Swedish idiom “I sense owls in the bog” pre-dates Twin Peaks.

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! (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. “Pull everything over the same comb.”

What it means: To over-extend a generalisation.

13. “Pull one’s nose.”

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

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: He/she is rather stupid.

17. “Sliding 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 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. “Standing on a box” would have made more sense.

22. “Staying on the carpet.”

What it means: To practise self-restraint.

23. “I got it 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 just plain dull.

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 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. “Performing magic with the knees.”

What it means: Being creative with no resources — 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 hazardous, but it’s okay.

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 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.

Well, I hope that was as good for you as it was for me! I’m sure there are many more Swedish idioms that deserve a literal English translation.

If you know more funny Swedish idioms that belong on this list, please let me know.

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 Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.


  1. Ha this is fun. Being a Dane most of these idioms translates into Danish as well. In Danish there’s another one I find hilarious ‘Standing with your hair in the letter box’ meaning ‘you are getting into serious troubles’.


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