Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Swedish/English idioms

A frozen Lake Mälaren

As I've mentioned before, I'm half-Swedish but have always lived in England. (A matter of significant regret right now, as I've got no chance of qualifying for a Swedish passport.)

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm apt to regard English culture as a bit mundane and, on the contrary, to idealize Swedish culture because it reminds me of childhood memories and holidays. It's therefore been a salutary experience, now that I'm making a daily effort to read the news in Swedish, to discover that the two languages share many of the same idioms and clichés.

A Swedish politician is as likely to slip on a "bananskal" as an English one on a banana-skin.

The pithy phrase "slowly but surely" is in Swedish the equally pithy "sakta men säkert".

Words used in the same figurative way in both languages:

Hörnsten: cornerstone
Målat in sig i ett hörn: painted her/himself into a corner
Grönt ljus: green light
Gör sig hemmastadda: make her/himself at home
Ett steg längre: one step further
Lämna stafettpinnan vidare: hand on the baton
Lejonparten: the lion's share
Klämtade klockan: the bell tolled
Tappa mark: lose ground
Banérförare: flag-bearer, standard-bearer
Tummen ner: the thumbs down

And finally, it isn't just British politicians who say this:

Det är helt oacceptabelt att resenärer drabbas så fort det blir lite vinterväder.
It's completely unacceptable that travel is disrupted as soon as there's a bit of winter weather....

What classes as "a bit of winter weather" might vary between the two countries, but the sentiment remains the same!


Of course there are many picturesque Swedish expressions that don't translate directly to English equivalents:

"mota Olle i grind": counter Olle at the gate. I.e. stop something before it gets out of hand, nip it in the bud. [There's something about the name Olle that means it gets used in comic or folky contexts.]



At 5:52 am, Anonymous Freya said...

Hi Michael,
It's a pretty interesting.
I run a website of English idioms dictionary - and after reading your this post I've got an idea of having a separate section of Swedish idioms too.

I am really thankful of you for being my inspiration.

Thank you!

At 8:13 am, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

Thanks Freya, I am impressed by and I wish you much luck with it! It would be great if you added Swedish idioms too!


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