Sweden and Unique Swedish Phrases

Let’s explore 10 of Sweden’s more curious sayings!

We’ve talked about fika and we’ve talked about lagom on the blog already, which are the two most important Swedish words you need to know to understand Swedishness. I’ve also shared with you some key Swedish words you may want to learn before your next visit here (like hej, kaffe, and kanelbullar). But today we are going to focus on Sweden’s more curious sayings….The ones that don’t necessarily translate word-for-word to phrases in the English language.

Bang on the Beetroot |Pang på rödbetan

Meaning: Get straight to it. Don’t beat around the bush.

History: Why the beetroot? Well, this red and juicy vegetable used to be a Swedish symbol of sex without foreplay. Get right to it, indeed!

Filthy Lobster |Snuskhummer

Meaning: Pervert.

History: Snusk is “filth” and hummer means “lobster”, but is apparently also old Swedish slang for “hand”. So while you are saying someone is a “filthy lobster”, what you really mean is that they are putting their dirty hands where they don’t belong.

Get Your Fish Hot |Få sina fiskar varma

Meaning: To be in trouble.

History: While I might say “Be in hot water”, the Swedes choose a more food-orientated approach. Stay out of trouble so you don’t get your fish hot!

Similarly, fastna med skägget i brevlådan means to get your beard stuck in the post box – aka, to be in a tight spot.

Onion on the Salmon |Lök på laxen

Meaning: To make something worse.

History: I mean, I love onion on salmon – especially on a bagel! But the Swedes apparently use this saying when a bad thing becomes worse.

Blubber Herring |Lipsill

Meaning: Cry baby!

History: Simple and sweet. I love this one – especially the English translation!

Get Up in the Butter |Komma upp sig i smöret

Meaning: Enjoy life. Have it good.

History: Legend is that Swedes shared a big bowl of porridge around the table and who ever got their spoon into the hidden knob of butter in the middle had it good. They were literally uppe i smöret (up in the butter)!

Buy the Pig in the Sack |Köpa grisen i säcken

Meaning: Buy something without checking it first.

History: You don’t want to go whole hog without doing at least a little research, right?

Sail in on a Shrimp Sandwich |Segla in på en räkmacka

Meaning: Have it easy. To get something without obstacles.

History: If you sail in on a shrimp sandwich, you’ve got it good and you probably didn’t have to put much work in to get to the top. Perhaps nepotism is in play? Apparently this saying has roots in 1970s Sweden when räkmackor (shrimp sandwiches) started being served on Swedish airlines. Räkmackor then came to represent a more posh and jet-set lifestyle!

Similar Swedish expressions include halka in på ett bananskal (slide in on a banana peel – to succeed by chance) and leva loppan (live the flea – to have fun and party).

Take Cabbage of Something |Ta kål på något

Meaning: To destroy or finish something off.

History: And by “finish off”, Swedes mean murder. So if a Swede threatens to take your cabbage, watch out!

The Poodle’s Core |Pudelns kärna

Meaning: The heart of the matter. The core of the issue.

History: This Swedish phrase has German roots. Faust is said to have uttered the words “Das also war des Pudels Kern” (“that’s all there was to it”) when the poodle following him into his office turned out to be Mephistopheles.

While those are 10 of my favorite Swedish sayings, there are many more! If you want to hear some other curious Swedish phrases in action, watch this fantastically hilarious video with one of Sweden’s biggest claim to fame, actor Alexander Skarsgård:

Fun Facts:

  • The red beetroot might just be Sweden’s most sensual, yet straightforward, fruit.
  • The Swede’s love their food-related phrases, especially fish!

Tess’ Tips:

  • Want to let someone know you think they are stupid the Swedish way? Let them know that they have gnomes in the attic (Du har tomtar på loftet).
  • If you want to let someone know you are drunk the Swedish way, tell them you are glad i hatten (happy in your hat)!
  • Interested in learning more Swedish saying? I can’t recommend the book Sail in on a Shrimp Sandwich by Anita Shenoi enough.

Hope you learned some new Swedishness today and I’ll see you in the next post!

8 thoughts on “Sweden and Unique Swedish Phrases

  1. Yay! I searched “Swedish Language” in the WordPress reader and your blog popped up. I am of Swedish and Danish descent, but I know no Swedish except what I’ve learned in the past few weeks while trying to translate letters written in Swedish by my great grandfather to my grandfather in late 1910s and through the early 30s. I am actually a retired Spanish teacher inCalifornia, and have a “working knowledge” of written Punjabi. Some Swede, huh? 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi! You are very welcome here and I’m glad you found this blog! What an interesting way to learn some Swedish! I had no ties to Sweden before moving here! Now I have deep emotional ties to Sweden 🙂 It sounds like you have a knack for languages so try your hand at Swedish! Lycka till!

      Liked by 1 person

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