Swedish Phrases

In each episode, we give you a Swedish phrase, idiom or utterance, that may or may not be common, odd or historical. We then translate it and try to understand its meaning!

  • Tur i oturen
    • Translation: Luck in bad luck. Figuratively: to be fortunate even in an unfortunate situation
  • Skita i det blå skåpet
    • Translation: Poop in the blue cupboard. Fig: used when someone has gone too far and/or made a fool of himself. “He has pooped in the blue closet now!”
  • Handfallen
    • Translation: hand fallen. Fig: to be helpless or perplexed
  • Släng dig i väggen
    • Translation: Throw yourself into the wall. Fig: Take a hike, Get lost
  • Lägga lök på laxen
    • Translation: To put onion on the salmon. Fig: It describes an act of making something that was already bad even worse
  • Ana ugglor i mossen
    • Translation: To suspect that there are owls in the bog. Fig: To suspect that something isn’t right, that there’s something off. Similar to the English expression ”to small a rat”
  • Lägga näsan i blöt
    • Translation: Put the nose where it’s wet. Fig: Means to care about things that is not your business
  • Sätta i främsta rummet
    • Translation: To place something in the first room. Fig: to make something the most important
  • Ingen ko på isen (så länge rumpan är i land)
    • Translation: No cow on the ice (As long as the butt is on land). Fig: “it’s not a problem” or “don’t panic” or “no hurry”
  • Mycket skrik för lite ull – som bonden sa när han klippte grisen
    • Translation: A lot of screaming for not a lot of wool – as the farmer said when he sheared the pig. Fig: had to put a lot of work, pain and hardship into something that in the end didn’t yield that big of a result
  • Köpa grisen i säcken
    • Translation: To buy the pig in the bag. Fig: to buy something without having enough information about something
  • Smedens märr och bondens gluttar går bägge barfötta in Skånska or Skomakarens hustru och smedens märr äro alltid sämst skodda in Swedish.
    • Translation: The blacksmith’s horse and the cobbler’s children both walk barefoot. Fig: you neglect the ones nearest to you
  • Med en dåres envishet
    • Translation: With the stubbornness of a fool. Fig: to persistently pursue a thankless or impossible task
  • Flisan i din broders öga
    • Translation: The splinter in your brother’s eye, but not the log in your own. Fig: to call out that you notice flaws, sometimes minor ones, in others, but you ignore your own shortcomings, even if they’re similar
  • Kärt barn har många namn
    • Translation: A dear child has many names. Fig: there are many names for something that is popular.
  • Nu går skam på torra land
    • Translation: Now shame walks on dry land. Fig: to have enough of something, like “the straw that broke the camel’s back”
  • Tårta på tårta
    • Translation: Cake upon cake. Fig: tautology
  • Vi har så de understa ruttnar
    • Translation: We have it so that the undermost rots. Fig: We have enough, or too much, of something
  • Har man satt fan i båten får man ro honom i land
    • Translation: If you’ve taken the Devil onboard in your boat, you have to row him to shore. Fig: if you’ve started something, you have to finish it, no matter how difficult it might be
  • Alltid något, sa Fan när han fick se Åmål
    • Translation: That’s always something, said the Devil when he saw Åmål. Fig: well, it’s at least something
  • Man tager vad man haver, sa Kajsa Varg
    • Translation: You take what you have, said Kajsa Wolf. Fig: you make do with what you have
  • Finns det hjärterum, finns det stjärterum
    • Translation: If there is room in the heart, there is room for the butt. Fig: there will always be room for someone that you hold dear
  • Grädde på moset
    • Translation: That was the whipped cream on the mash. Fig: “that was the cherry on the cake”, or “the icing on the cake”
  • Från ax till limpa
    • Translation: From ear to bread loaf (and that’s ear in the sense of the bulb on a straw, not ear as in what you hear with). Fig: to do something from beginning to end
  • Alla känner apan, men apan känner ingen
    • Translation: Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no one. Fig: people know you, but you don’t know them
  • Står och faller
    • Translation: It stands and falls with. Fig: one person’s participation is essential
  • Eget beröm luktar illa
    • Translation: Praise for oneself smells badly. Fig: Do not boast about your own achievements.
  • Fredagsmys
    • Translation: Friday cuddles. Fig: to have a nice cozy time on a Friday.
  • Allt går utom små barn och tennsoldater
    • Translation: Everything walks except small children and toy soldiers. Fig: Anything is possible, except a few things…
  • Sent ska syndaren vakna
    • Translation: Late shall the sinner awaken. Fig: that it takes a long time for people to realise their mistakes and change their ways, perhaps too long and it’s then too late
  • Ja, vad fan, man var ju nykter i morse, men nu börjar det ordna upp sig. (from the movie Sällskapsresan)
    • Translation: Well, what the heck, I was sober this morning, but that seems to be sorting itself out. Fig: A phrase used jokingly when you start to feel tipsy, deliberately referencing the film
  • Talar man om trollen så står de i farstun.
    • Translation: Speak of the trolls and they stand in the hall. Fig: When you talk of something, it appears. Like the English phrase “Speak of the devil”
  • Skjuta mygg med kanon
    • Translation: To shoot mosquitoes with a cannon. Fig: use unnecessarily complicated methods to reach a goal
  • Stockholm Syndrome
    • Translation: A condition in which a hostage forms psychological ties with their captures, sometimes displaying a sense of emotional bond or even sympathies with their captors
  • Bättre en fågel i handen än tio i skogen
    • Translation: Better one bird in the hand than ten birds in the forest. Fig: It’s better to have a little and be sure of it, than a lot that’s uncertain.
  • Var ska sleven vara om inte i gröten
    • Translation: Litt: where shall the spoon be if not in the porridge. Fig: a person seeks out the place or the company where he or she feels at home
  • Först till kvarn för först mala
    • Translation: First to the mill gets to grind first. Fig: that who ever does something, or says something or gets somewhere first, gets to do or say or receive whatever is in question
  • Finns ingen dålig väder
    • Translation: There is no bad weather, just poor clothing. Fig: you can be outside no matter the weather, as long as you’re dressed appropriately
  • Gå åt skogen
    • Translation: Go to the forest. Fig: To end badly
  • Som man bäddar får man ligga
    • Translation: how you make the bed, that’s how you have to lie in it. Fig: however you prepare, that is the result you will get. Like the English “you reap what you sow”
  • Björntjänst
    • Translation: A Bear’s favour, or A Bear’s Service. Fig: when someone does something that is intended to be nice, but actually the result ends up hurting, or negatively affecting the person who receives the favour
  • Ord och inga visor
    • Translation: words and no folk songs. Fig: a firm directive, an order-statement, that something is serious
  • Dans på rosor
    • Translation: A dance upon roses. Fig: something going well
  • Sälj inte äggen innan älgen är skjuten (Alternatively, Sälja skinnet innan björnen är skjuten.)
    • Translation: Don’t sell the egg before the moose is shot (Or don’t sell the hide before the bear is shot). Fig: don’t take something for granted before the thing that needs to happen first has happened
  • Ei saa peittää (the one Finnish phrase all Swedes know, which is written on the all radiators in Sweden!).
    • Translation: Litt: Do not cover. No figurative meaning other than being a well-known Finnish phrase in Swedish.
  • Det ligger en hund begraven
    • Translation: There is a dog buried. Fig: “something’s not right” or “someone’s trying to hide something”
  • Man ska inte ropa hej förrän man kommit över bäcken
    • Translation: You should not shout hello until you are over the brook. Fig: you should not take anything for granted or announce anything before you are certain. Like the English “don’t count your chickens until they hatch
  • Spela Allan
    • Translation: To act like Allan. Fig: to act tough, or cocky, or sort of full of yourself
  • När katten är borta dansar råttorna på bordet
    • Translation: When the cat is gone, the rats dance on the table. Fig: When the person in charge of something is gone, then the people don’t care about doing to thing they’re meant to do.
  • Hett bakom öronen
    • Translation: Hot behind the ears. Fig: to end up in trouble, or to find yourself in a difficult, precarious or vulnerable situation
  • Annandag Bandy
    • Translation: Boxing Day Bandy. Fig: Lots of Bandy is played on Boxing Day in Sweden, so the day is called that!

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If you want to send us some suggestions of phrases to cover, let us know!