Something Swedish

Fun Swedish Idioms: Kul Svenska Idiom


Idioms are not only phrases or figures of speech, but they are cultural references. There are over 25,000 idioms in the English language (According to Wikipedia). Just like accents or dialects in a language idioms are not only different cross culture but even cross region. Sort of like the informal slang of a language, idioms are used to become more comfortable and confident in a new language or place. It is also the most likely part of language to be misunderstood, not only because of metaphoric references but because these phrases do not translate well. This results in some funny and interesting figures of speech that I want to share with you all. Add any that I missed and enjoy!

First, some idioms that we can relate to, the meanings are the same:

  • To Kick the Bucket: Trilla av pinnen = “To fall off the stick”
  • Easy as Pie: Lätt som en plätt = “Easy as pancake”
  • To have luck on your side: Ha millimetrarna på sin sida =“to have millimeters on your side”
  • To keep your fingers crossed: Hålla tummarna = “to hold your thumbs”
  • Heard it through the Grapevine: Höra via djungeltrumman = “Heard it though the jungle drum”
  • I’m giving you gold: Kasta pärlor för svin = “To cast pearls before swine”
  • Written like chicken scratch: Kråkfötter = “Crows feet”
  • To run for it: Lägga benen på ryggen = “To lay the legs on the back”
  • All bark and no bite: Mycket snack och lite verkstad = “Lots of talk and no shop”
  • To go too far: Måla fan på väggen = “To paint the devil on the wall”
  • To knock on wood: Ta i trä = “To touch wood”
  • To turn a blind eye: Se genom fingrarna= “To see through the fingers”
  • Now you’ve done it!: Skita i det blåa skåpet = “To shit in the blue locker”
  • To kill two birds with one stone: Slå två flugor i en smäll = “To hit two flies with one slap”
  • All talk: Stor i orden = “Big in the words”
  • Raining cats and dogs: Stå som spön i backen = “Stand like whips in the ground”
  • Speak of  the Devil: Tala om trollen = “Speak of the trolls”
  • To smell a rat: Ana ugglor i mossen = “To sense owls in the marsh”
  • Have a bone to pick: Ha en gås oplockad = “Have a goose to pluck”
  • To know like the back of one’s hand: Känna som sin egen ficka = “Know like one’s pocket”
  • The straw that broke the camels back: Droppen som fick bägaren att rinna över = “The drip that caused the beaker to overflow”
  • When the cat’s away the mice will play:  När Katten är Borta Dansar Råttorna på Bordet  = “When the cat’s away dancing rats on the table”

Now to some Swedish idioms we don’t have equivalents for:

  • Glida in på en räkmacka: “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich” = Refers to someone who has it easy
  • Ingen ko på isen: “No cow on the ice” = No stress or danger
  • Ha en räv bakom örat: “To have a fox behind the ear” = To be cunning
  • Göra en höna av en fjäder: “To make a hen out of a feather” = To exaggerate
  • Lägga en pizza: “To lay down the pizza” = To vomit
  • Låtsas som att det regnar: “Pretend as if it is raining” =  To act innocently, inconspicuously
  • Skilja agnarna från vetet: “Separate the wheat from the chaff” = To distinguish good from the bad
  • Falla mellan två stolar: “To fall between the chairs” = When two authorities can’t cooperate, someone will be forgotten by the both.

16 thoughts on “Fun Swedish Idioms: Kul Svenska Idiom

  1. Hi

    I’m a new reader and I have a request. Since you’re using WordPress, I wonder if you’d be willing to go into the dashboard, then Settings > Reading, and under “For each article in a feed, show” check “Full text”? 😉

    Personally I find it frustrating when I don’t see the whole posts in my news reader, but have to open each individual web page on the blog in question in order to read. 🙂 Yes, I’m a bit lazy 😛

    I like your blog!

  2. bondtur – farmer’s luck: when you do something stupid but things end up ok anyway
    inget att hänga i julgranen – not something you’d hang in the christmas tree: something underwhelming

  3. To shit in the blue locker?? What goes on over there???

  4. These are great. Here’s another one I learned recently. Just between us = mellan fyra ögon (between four eyes).

  5. I don’t speak Swedish, but I love comparing idioms in different languages. Some of them– “know like one’s pocket” and “hold your thumbs” — are the same in Finnish.

  6. How fun! Thank you. I’ve typed all of these into Anki (a flash card program that I’m using to help me memorize Swedish words and phrases).

  7. Came across your blog while researching for a degree paper on idioms. Love it! By the way,
    Göra en höna av en fjäder = make a mountain out of a moleskin.

  8. I just wanted to point out that separating the wheat from the chaff is also an English idiom with the same meaning, even if it doesn’t see a lot of use.

  9. I really enjoyed your blog.


    My all time favorite Swedish idiom is “Kissa i byxan för att hålla värmen”. I’ll leave the literal translation to you but this idiom addresses the issue of short-term solutions to a problem not necessarily being good solutions in the long term.

    Isn’t “fall between the chairs” a pretty close match for the English idiom “fall through the cracks”?

    Also, I think “separate the wheat from the chaff” is already an English idiom.

  10. To fall between two stools is also an English phrase.

    Separating the wheat from the chaff comes from the Bible.

    Lay down the pizza is a funny way of putting it but probably refers to street pizza which I believe is originally American slang for vomit.

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