Swedish Idioms Round Two, Go to Hekla and Fox Sleep Posted by Chelsea B on Oct 29, 2020 in Culture, Literature, Living in Sweden, Swedish Language, The Swedish blog team
Last week, I wrote about some common idioms that you’re bound to hear in every day Swedish. In doing research for that post, I discovered some rather obscure ones too. I’ll share some of those in this post as well as share the origin stories behind a couple of classic idioms. Nu kör vi! Let’s go!
Because I’m not svensk myself, I didn’t grow up learning the nuances of these phrases. So if you’d like to add an anecdote about an idiom, I welcome you to do so in the comments below. You can even correct me…most of the time I know what I’m talking about, but I have been ute och cyklar (had my head in the clouds) a time or two! 😉
For the list of common idioms on my favorite list, see last week’s post. Again, the reference book I’m using is Svenska uttryck och deras ursprung by Kerstin Johanson. The book is super detailed, but she adds a few sentences of explanation for each phrase in the book.
In the list below, I have provided the Swedish, followed by the literal translation, followed by the explanation or equivalent saying in English.
- Ropa inte hej förrän du är över bäcken → Don’t yell hello until you’re over the stream → Don’t speak too soon
- Sova räv → Fox sleep → pretend sleep 🦊💤
Listig som en räv, sly as a fox is, where this saying comes from. Pretending you’re asleep but really wide awake is definitely listig.
- Dra dit pepparn växer → Go to where the pepper grows → To wish someone away far away”
In Swedish, you’ll hear Dra åt helvete / Go to Hell. But this one is a more creative take “Go to where pepper grows,” in this case peppercorns, is far, far away from Sweden.
- Now I know this next one is pretty common. But what I did not know is how it originated. Ana ugglor i mossen is a phrase that means “something isn’t quite right.” It comes from the Danish det er ulve i mosen literally “there are wolves in the moss.” Here’s where, insert Swedish joke, the Swedes heard it wrong. You see, the Danish ulve sounds a lot like the Danish word for ugler (owls), which is the same in Swedish – ugglor.
So you’ll find no wolves in Swedish moss, only owls.🦉🤪
- Dra åt Häcklefjäll! → Go to the Mountain Hekla → Go to hell! 🌋
Dra åt helvete is what you’ll say nowadays, but this phrase is also used when you want to send someone to Hell. Hekla is a mountain-volcano in Iceland. No one wanted to summit Hekla until the late 1700’s because it was thought to be a meeting place for witches, creepy creatures, and the entrance to hell.
- Det var som katten sa → It’s as the cat spoke → Wow, incredible! This one has a particular soft spot with me. When I was living in Småland, my friends used this phrase. The first couple of times, I thought I heard wrong, but then I realized it was some type of idiom. When I asked what it meant and why it was used, folks chuckled and kind of shrugged, because idioms are hard to explain! But I came to learn that because cats don’t speak, you used this phrase to express surprise over something unbelievable.
- Livet på en pinne → Life on a stick → Living the good life
According to SAOB, this saying comes from the 1800’s to describe living an exciting life. Johansen cites its usage in the 1920’s ditty made popular by Ernst Rolf:
Jag är ute när gumman min är inne
jag är inne när gumman min är ute
Ja, det är det som är livet på en pinne
och vår kärlek ja den tar aldrig slut.
Listen to the song and see if you can roll your r‘s as well as Ernst!
8. Inte värt ett ruttet lingon → Not worth a rotten lingon → It’s not worth the trouble
- Ge bagarbarn bröd → Give the baker’s child bread → Do something unnecessary This is used do describe doing something superfluous, there’s not point in giving the baker’s child any bread, they have plenty. Johansen notes that this is the same phrase in British English as “Carry coals to Newcastle” in English. U.K. friends help me out – do you all use this one?
- Inte sälja skinnet förrän björnen är skjuten – Don’t sell the skin before the bear is shot. Similar to Don’t put the cart before the horse, As in “don’t get ahead of yourself.”
Any favorite from this week’s list? And what other phrases do you have to add? Get the conversation going below!