Saturday, 1 September 2012

10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions

Fart bumps, poison marriage and eating barbed wire...

Caution: Posionous marriage!
Any Swedish speakers who have read ‘How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy' (of which I’m sure there are many!) will have noticed that on a few occasions the book takes inspiration from the Swedish language.  So continuing with the Swedish theme I thought it would be fun to write a post on ten of my favourite words and expressions from the Swedish language, starting with a word seemingly invented by an apparent love cynic…

1) Poisonous marriage

In Swedish, the word for married is 'gift' and this is also the word for poison.  Whoever invented Swedish can’t have had the most optimistic outlook on marriage.

2) Black sickness

‘Svartsjuk’ is the Swedish word for jealous and this literally translates as ‘black sickness’ which is an interesting way to describe jealousy.

3) Teeth meat

In Sweden your gums are known as ‘teeth-meat’ so if you ever see a Swedish toothpaste advert referring to ‘teeth-meat’ now you know why.  The actual Swedish word is ‘tandkött’ (‘tand’ meaning teeth and ‘kött’ meaning meat) which sounds a bit weird the first time you hear it but once you think about it, teeth-meat makes perfect sense.

4) Cool but minging

‘Kackerlacka’ is a totally cool Swedish word until you learn that it means ‘cockroach.’  It seems a waste to use such a cool word as ‘kackerlacka’ to describe something as minging as a cockroach.

In Sweden they don't carry coals to Newcastle or
sell snow to eskimoes.  They instead
offer bread to the baker's children.
5) Coal, snow and bread

Being from Newcastle I’ve heard older Geordies use the expression ‘to carry coals to Newcastle’ which is a bit like saying ‘to sell snow to eskimoes.’  In Sweden the equivalent expression would be ‘bjuda bröd till bagarbarn’ which literally means ‘to offer bread to the baker’s children.’

6) A thief of sounds

‘Tjuvlyssna’ is another Swedish word which I like.  It literally translates as to ‘thief-listen’ but in English we would more commonly say to ‘eavesdrop.’  ‘Thief-listen’ is a much cooler way to describe eavesdropping though, if you ask me.  It’s another one which sounds a bit weird at first but once you think about it makes perfect sense.

7) Chickens and streams

The Swedish expression ‘Ropa inte hej förräns du är över bäcken’ literally means ‘Don’t shout hello before you are over the stream’ and is the equivalent of the English expression, ‘Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.’  I’m not quite sure how ‘Don’t shout hello until you are over the stream’ originated but maybe they had a lot of streams in Sweden in the olden days.

Swedish road campaign to reduce in-car flatulence.
8) Fart control

While driving along a road in Sweden you might see a sign declaring ‘fart hinder.’ This might sound like a Swedish road campaign to reduce in-car flatulence, but in actual fact ‘fart hinder’ is the Swedish expression for speed bumps. It makes more sense once you realise that ‘fart’ is Swedish for speed and ‘hinder’ is an obstruction or hindrance.

9) Every language needs this saying...

A cool saying which I really like is the Swedish expression, ‘Har du käkat taggtråd eller?’ which roughly translates as, ‘Have you been eating barbed wire?’  We don’t really have an English equivalent expression for this but as you might guess this is something you would say when someone is saying nasty things about people. I like the logic in this expression and also the way it attempts to shame nasty people into being nice, so if I had to pick a Swedish expression to be introduced into the English language then ‘Have you been eating barbed wire?’ would get my vote.

10) Pregnant belly

Pimsleur New Low Pricing MP3
Finally, I don’t know if this is an official Swedish word but I’ve heard a mother’s pregnant belly referred to as her ‘bebimagen.’  This literally translates as her ‘baby stomach.’  That’s an expression I’ve never heard used in English but it’s another one I think would be cool to introduce into the language.

That was ten of my favourite Swedish words and expressions, but Swedish is a totally cool language and there are loads more expressions which I love, so I’ll feature a few more in a future post.  And if anyone knows any more cool Swedish words feel free to leave a comment.

. . . . . . . .

Charles Fudgemuffin is the author of the free short story 'Small Pots Also Have Ears' which is based on the theme that children listen in to adult conversations and take in more than you realise.  You can download it for free from iBooks, Kobo, B&N, Payhip or Smashwords.  You can also read it online at Wattpad.

Update: You can find more of my favourite Swedish words and expressions in these follow-up posts:
10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions (Part 2)
10 Cool Swedish Words And Expressions (Part 3)
Modern Swedish Words


  1. I'm Swedish myself, and didn't realise until now how strange the meaning of some of these words are, what with using them regularly and all. I've never heard #10 before!

    Interesting article.

  2. Tack så mycket! Yes, things like teeth-meat sound a bit strange for English speakers the first time we hear them, but it makes perfect sense once you think about it. I love the logic behind 'tjuvlyssna' as well.

    A Swedish friend used the word 'bebimagen' in her comments on a couple of facebook photos, but I did get the general impression at the time that this might just be her own expression rather than a commonly used proper word. It's a nice expression though and better than saying a pregnant belly like we would say in English.

  3. I like learning about other countries sayings. My father was from Sweden. On very cold days when he entered the house and he was trying to warm up, he'd say something in Swedish. He told me it meant, "it's nice to have a house that's hollow."


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About The Author

The 'How To Save The World' books
by Charles Fudgemuffin
Charles Fudgemuffin is the author of the alien comedy 'How To Save The World' books which are available for Kindle from Amazon.  The first book in the series is available from the following link:
How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy

As with all Kindle books, you can also download a free sample of the first few chapters.

Please note, the 'How To Save The World' books contain material suitable for ages 18+ and are not recommended for prudes or squares.