Q

Our favourite Nordic idioms

Posted by Bronte Aurell | Fun stuff, Scandi Life

Quite a few years ago we wrote a list of our favourite sayings and idioms. It was very popular and since then, we have added a lot to the list, so we thought we’d share it.

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Enjoy!

Feel free to comment below of any extras we have forgotten….


  • That’s life when the skirt is striped (Sånt är livet när kjolen är randig). (Swedish) Meaning: Such is life.
  • If a Swede says “something landed between two chairs” he means that something has been forgotten and nobody is taking responsibility for it.
  • The Finns don’t “get diarrhoea”… they “have poop flying out of their bums like flocks of sparrows” (paska lentää kuin varpusparvi).
  • If a Dane says “Taking the bus is the sausage of dearth” (“Det er dødens pølse at tage bussen”) he simply means it’s boring or annoying. “Sausage of death” is everything trivial.
  • If there’s room in heart there’s room for the arse (Finns det hjärterum så finns det stjärterum) (Swedish saying) Meaning: Everybody can fit in here).
  • If someone is caught with your beard in the mailbox (Skägget i brevlådan) (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish) Meaning: “To be caught with your pants down.”

  • If someone ‘slides in on a prawn sandwich’ in Sweden (“Glida in på en räkmacka”) it means someone who didn’t have to work to get where they are in life.
  • In Finland, if someone is “like a bear shot in the ass” (kuin perseeseen ammuttu karhu), it means they are cranky.
  • In Iceland, they don’t say “I’ll get my revenge”, instead they’ll say ‘I’ll find you at the beach’ (Ég mun finna þig í fjöru).
  • Made a fool of yourself? In Norway, you say that you “shat on your leg” (Nå har du bæsjet på leggen).

  • I suspect there are owls in the bog (Jeg aner ugler I mosen) (a versatile saying used in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian). Meaning: Something fishy is going on.
  • In Denmark, if something is really expensive, you can say ‘it costs the white bits out of the eyes’ (det koster det hvide ud af øjnene).
  • If a Dane tells you he is ‘angry in the garbage’ (gal i skralden) he means to tell you he is furious.
  • If a Swede tells you to go to the forest, he is telling you to get lost (Dra åt skogen).
  • If a Dane makes a mental note of something, he ‘writes it behind the ear’ (at skrive noget bag øret).
  • If you’re sitting in meeting with some Danes and one of them says that everything has gone to goat (gå I ged), they are merely trying to explain that it fell through (or failed), as in “that project went to goat”.

  • If a Swede says he is going to ‘throw a goat’s eye at it’, it means he’ll have a quick glance at something (att kasta ett getöga).
  • Some people in Norway mighty say you have ‘pooped in the drawer’ if you have been caught out in a difficult situation (Å bæsje i skuffen).
  • In Sweden, if a person looks like he’s sold all the butter and lost all the money (Ha sålt smöret och tappat pengarna), it means he looks both sad and guilty at the same time.
  • If a Finn tells you that you are “shooting flies with a cannon” he simply means to tell you that you are overcomplicating things, putting a lot of effort into achieving something impossible (ampua tykillä kärpäsiä).
  • If an Icelandic accuses you of Jumping onto your own nose (Að stökkva upp á nef sér), they mean to tell you that you get angry and worked up too quickly.
  • If a Finn tells you ‘Let me show you where the chicken pees from’ (Näytän sulle, mistä kana pissii) he simply means “Let me show you how it’s done”.

  • A Danes might say he feels like an egg yolk (‘Jeg har det som blommen i et æg‘) which and he means that he feels comfort and fulfilment.
  • In Finland, instead of saying “And that’s that”, you say “And because… onion” (Ja sillä sipuli).
  • Swedish saying: “What is hidden in snow, is revealed at thaw” (Det som göms i snö, kommer fram vid tö). Meaning, things will be revealed, secrets will out.
  • A Dane might say “one more time for prince Knud” (en gang til for prins Knud) – this refers to the former king’s (Frederik IX) brother, who was known to need an explanation more than once.
  • If a Dane says he has his ass in the surface of the water (Røven i vandskorpen), it means things are not going that well.
  • The Finns don’t say something “fits well”… they say it “fits like a fist in the eye” (sopii kuin nyrkki silmään).
  • If a Dane tells you that you are ‘pouring water out of your ears’ (at hælde vand ud af ørerne), he means to tell you that you’re talking rubbish, of stuff of no importance, or just moaning a lot.
  • In Iceland, if someone tells you they are off to play chess with the pope (Að tefla við páfann) they are telling your they need to go for a number 2.

  • The Finns don’t say something “disappeared without trace”… they say it “vanished like a fart in Sahara” (kadota kuin pieru Saharaan).
  • If you see an Icelandic baby that is super cute and adorable, you can try telling the mother that you think her off spring is “just such a butthole” (rassgat). In Icelandic, this means you are praising the baby’s adorableness.
  • If a Dane tells you that you’re laughing like a torn pair of clogs, he means you are laughing out loud (grine som en flækket træsko).
  • In Finland if someone says: “The forest answers in the same way one shouts at it” (Niin metsä vastaa kuin sinne huudetaan), he means ‘what goes around, comes around’. The proverb refers to the echo from the treeline.
  • A Swede is not “dressed to the nines”… he is “dressed up to his teeth.” (Klädd up till tänderna).

  • In Finland, if someone isn’t quite that clever, a Finn might say “He doesn’t have all Moomin trolls in the valley” (Hänellä ei ole kaikki muumit laaksossa). Okay, its trolls, but Moomins sounds better.
  • If a Dane tells you he doesn’t have a red prawn (ikke en rød reje) it means he is skint.
  • “To step in the spinach” (At træde i spinaten) (Danish, Norwegian (although in Norway it’s salad instead of spinach!) Meaning: To make a mistake.
  • If a Swede thinks you are stupid he might say you “don’t have all the hens at home.” (Att ha alla hönsen hemma).
  • It’s blowing half a pelican (Det blæser en halv pelican) (Danish) Meaning: It’s really windy.
  • To be born behind a brown cheese (Født bak en brunost) (Norwegian) – Meaning: the person is a bit slow.
  • In Denmark, when someone hurries up, he ‘takes his legs on the back of his neck’ (Han tager benene på nakken’.

  • If a Dane is ‘pulling cod fish to the shore’ (at trække torsk I land) it means he is snoring VERY loudly.
  • In Swedish, you don’t say ‘Speak of the devil’, instead you say “Speak of the troll and he appears on the porch” (När man talar om trollen så står de i farstun).
  • If a Swede says “Now shame walks on dry land” (Nu går skam på torra land’ ) it means immorality has taken over and you cant do anything to stop it.
  • If a Dane tells you that you are earthing-up potatoes (hyppe kartofter), it means you are pushing your own agenda too much.
  • In Iceland, they don’t say “I’ll get my revenge”, instead they’ll say ‘I’ll find you at the beach’ (Ég mun finna þig í fjöru)
  • Pretend that it’s raining (‘Låtsas som att det regnar’) (Swedish) – Meaning: To act normally, so as not to attract any attention.
  • Let me show you where a chicken pees from (Näytän sulle, mistä kana pissii) (Finnish) Meaning: ‘Let me show you how it’s done’.
  • In Scandinavia, we don’t have a bone to pick with people – instead, we have a hen to pluck with you (Jeg har en høne å plukke med deg / I have a hen to pluck with you).

  • If a Dane is ‘standing like herring in a barrel’, it means he’s feeling a bit squashed (Stå som sild i en tønde).
  • In Norway and Denmark, if you make cabbage of something (å gjøre kål på), it means you are ending something, even maybe destroying it. For example: “We made cabbage of all those leftovers in the fridge” or even “She made cabbage out of him.
  • I’m cold in the ass (Jeg er kold i røven) (Danish) – Meaning: I don’t care.
  • Go where the pepper grows (Dra dit pepparn gror) (Swedish) Meaning: Go to hell.
  • In Finland, you don’t dip your toe to test the water. Instead, you test the ice with a stick (kokeilla kepillä jäätä).
  • If a Norwegian ‘has blood on his teeth’ (Å få blod på tannen) it means he’s inspired to do something.
  • Even small saucepans have ears (Även små grytor har öron) (Swedish, Danish) Meaning: the kids might hear.
  • There is a dog buried here (Det ligger en hund begraven här)(Swedish, Danish, Norwegian) Meaning: there’s something fishy going on.
  • If a Finnish person tell you it’s “like the snow of last winter”, he means it’s “like water under the bridge” (Menneen talven lumia).
  • A Swede doesn’t “beat around the bush”… he “walks like the cat around hot porridge.” (Gå som katten kring het gröt).
  • Hello jump in the blueberry forest! (Hej hopp i blåbärsskogen!) (Swedish) Meaning: A cheerful expression to be used when you are a bit surprised.
  • In Norway, if you float using your own body fat (flyte på flesket), it means you rely on own experience or resources. As in “You can float on your own body fat now, you really know this project”.
  • If a Dane is laying his head in water (at lægge hovedet i blød) it means he’ll think something over really hard.
  • If someone is arrogant and full of oneself, in Norwegian you can say “he’s high on the pear” (‘Høy på pæren’) – as in ‘Stop being so high on the pear, now..’
  • Your own cow is in the ditch ( Oma lehmä ojassa) (Finnish). – Meaning: Someone has an ulterior selfish motive behind an action.
  • A Danes doesn’t kill two birds with one stone; instead he ‘kills two flies with one swat’.

  • In Sweden, there is a classic idiom: “Everyone knows the monkey, but the monkey knows no-one.” (alla känner apan, apan känner ingen). It sort of means don’t think you’re popular just because you’re known to others. That everybody notices the one who sticks out, but he knows nobody.
  • To put onion on the salmon (Att lägga lök på laxen) (Swedish)- Meaning: To make things even worse…
  • To poop on your calf (Bæsje på leggen) (Norwegian) – Meaning: Make a mistake.
  • In Iceland, instead of saying ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Carry on’, people will say “On with the butter!” (Áfram með smjörið).
  • If something in Danish goes completely wrong, Danes will say ‘it has gone completely to fish” (gå helt i fisk).

  • Now you have shat in the blue cupboard! (Nu har du skitit i det blå skåpet) (Swedish) – Meaning: When you really have made a fool out of yourself.
  • Not for all the butter in Småland (Inte för allt smör i hela Småland) (Sweden) -Meaning: Equivalent to the English expression: “Not for all the tea in China”.
  • To swallow some camels (Å svelge noen kameler) (Norwegian) – Meaning: to give in.
  • Almost and close to doesn’t knock a man off his horse (Ligeved og næsten slår ingen mand af hæsten)(Danish) – Equivalent to the English saying: “Close, but no cigar”.
  • To be in the middle of the butter eye [melting in the porridge] (Å være midt i smørøyet) (Norwegian, Danish) Meaning: to be in a very favourable place or situation.
  • To pace around hot porridge like a cat (kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa) (Finnish) – Meaning: To beat about the bush.
  • To be under the ice (Under isen) (Swedish) – Meaning: feeling a bit depressed.
  • To jump on the gluestick (at hoppe på limpinden (Danish) – Meaning: To take the bait.
  • No danger on the roof (Ingen fara på taket) (Swedish) Meaning: No worries.
  • He took his legs on the back of his neck (Han tog benene på nakken) (Danish) – Meaning: He hurried up.

  • There are no cows on the ice (Der er ingen ko på isen) (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian) – Meaning: Nothing to worry about. The full saying is “No cow on the ice when the back half is on the ground”.
  • In Norway, if someone ‘smiles in the beard’ it means they are chuckling quietly about past events (Å smile i skjegget).
  • If a Scandinavian tells you that someone has ‘a good nasal bone’, they are merely trying to say that the person is strong and determined (at have ben i næsen).
  • If an Icelandic tells you that it “isn’t enough to fill a Cat’s nostril”, it means it is very small. (Ekki upp í nös á ketti).
  • If a Norwegian tells you that he is speaking directly from the liver, he simply means to tell you he’s telling the truth. As in “I’m telling you, straight from the liver, I love you!” (Å snake rett fra leveren).
  • In Danish, if you ‘pass the monkey on’ (at sende aben videre) it means you’re passing on a problem to someone else.
  • If an Icelandic or Danish person tells you ‘that something is the raisin at the end of the sausage (Það er rúsínan í pylsuendanum/rosinen i pølsenden), it means there is an unexpected good surprise at the end of something.
  • If a Swede says ‘Pretend it’s raining’ he simply means act normally, so as not to attract any attention (Låtsas som att det regnar).
  • In Sweden, if someone tells you that “Now the boiled pork is fried” (Nu är det kokta fläsket stekt), what they are really saying is ‘now things are really, really bad’.
  • If an Icelandic person tells you that peeing in your shoes will only keep you warm for a short while, he simply means to tell you short term solutions don’t often work (Það er skammgóður vermir að pissa í skó sinn). Idioms rock, don’t you think?

  • A Swede doesn’t seek revenge – instead, he “gives back for old cheese.” (Ge tillbaka för gammal ost).
  • A Norwegian won’t say ‘upping the game’ instead he’ll say ‘the buns have changed’ (Nå blir det andre boller).
  • In Iceland, they don’t say they will sleep on it or think it over, instead they say they’ll put their head to soak in water (Að leggja höfuðið í bleyti).
  • In Finland, you don’t have a finger in every pie – instead, you have a ‘spoon in every bowl of soup’ (Lusikka joka sopassa).
  • You’re completely out cycling (Du er helt ude og cycle) (Danish) – Meaning: You’re completely wrong.
  • Go where the pepper grows (Dra dit pepparn gror) (Swedish) – Meaning: Go to hell!
  • If a Scandinavian says you need to “have ice in your stomach” (is i magen), it simply means you need to play it cool, be in control.

  • If a Dane or Norwegian tells you that ‘the toilet’s on fire’ it means the shits about to hit the fan big time (Lokummet brænder).
  • You’ve really shot the parrot (Du har virkeligt skudt papegøjen) (Danish) – Meaning: You’ve been lucky.
  • He’s got rotating farts in his cap (Han har roterende fis i kasketten) (Danish) – Meaning: He’s not quite all there.
  • A Swede doesn’t tell someone to “take a hike”… he tells someone to “throw themselves in the wall.” (Släng dig i väggen).
  • If a Dane says he isn’t quite orange free (Ikke helt appelsinfri), he means to tell you that he is not completely sober.

  • Is it the horse’s birthday? Er det hestens fødselsdag? (Danish) Meaning: the rye bread is too thick for my open sandwich.
  • To be up on the liquorices (at være oppe på lakridserne) (Danish) – Meaning: to be very attentive or busy.
  • If a Dane says you can both ‘blow and have flour in your mouth’, he means to say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. (Man kan ikke både blæse og have mel i munden).
  • Nothing to hang on the Christmas tree (Ingenting att hänga i julgranen) (Swedish) Meaning: not special enough.

Phew! Did we forget any? Comments below, please.

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