29 May 2024
Owls in the Swamp: Swedish Expressions (part 1)
Community Swedish Culture

Owls in the Swamp: Swedish Expressions (part 1)

Ever sensed there are owls lurking in the swamp or that the cat knows more than it lets on? Ape-hungry Swedes with poultry down their throats have you confused? We’re here to help! Check out the YLC top five animal expressions you may come across while in Sweden!


Blame it on the cat

If Swedes don’t know the answer to a question – they immediately blame the cat. The “cat knows” or “det vete katten”, is used to show/feign ignorance with regards to a question. Whether the cat should be insulted or flattered to be the fount of all (Swedish) knowledge is anyone’s guess.  Also, saying “the cat too!” or “katten också!” is a better choice than a profanity when one stubs one’s toes or drops coffee on one’s IKEA catalogue.

Swede 1: The cat too! That’s this years catalogue ruined! Where did we put the other 3 we picked up last time we visited IKEA?

Swede 2: The cat knows!

Owls in the swamp and buried dogs

A Swede who is “sensing owls in the swamp” or “anar ugglor i mossen”  is suspicious of foul play (of whatever kind). If it is really bad they may even think that a dog is buried in the vicinity. (“Här ligger en hund begraven”.)

Swede 1: “I sold  my entire ABBA collection to my neighbour and he promised to pay today. But I haven’t heard from him. I think I sense owls in the swamp!”

Swede 2: Yes, that doesn’t sound good at all. There is definitely a dog buried here! 

Giant monkey business

When Swedes – and especially Stockholmers – really want to put emphasis on something they add the word “ape” (or “ap”) as a prefix. It works on almost anything and it indicates that it was more than usually tiresome/heavy/boring/cold/wonderful. This works just as well with giant or jätte.

Swede 1: I am really apetired  today! We really did have a great time at the ABBA-museum.

Swede 2: Yes, it certainly was giantfun! And luckily dinner was excellent too – I was apehungry!

Swallowing poultry

With the Swedish weather the way it is, it happens quite regularly that one contracts a cold. With affected vocal cords, don’t get too surprised -when your voice breaks mid-sentence – if someone tells you that you have a “cockeril in your throat”. This person isn’t trying to accuse you of indecently handling animals – to have a “tupp i halsen” is quite natural in Sweden.

Swede 1: I am seriously worried that I will get a cockeril in my throat when we sing karaoke tonight!

Swede 2: Don’t worry! You sound just like Agnetha Fältskog!

Poodling along

Don’t fret if your (native) spouse/friend/colleague mentions that his/hers employer was forced to publicly “do a poodle”  (or “göra en pudel”). There is no need to inform authorities, all he/she means is that the employers had to admit that they where wrong and apologize. You can do a whole/full poodle – admit being wrong and apologize – or a half poodle – to apologize but not accept full responsibility.

Poodles are otherwise treated very well when expression-wise. To be as “clever as a poodle” (“klok som en pudel”) is great praise indeed in Sweden.

Swede 1: You should have seen it! Andersson, the union rep, had the employers do a poodle in front of the staff!

Swede 2: He isn’t half bad that Andersson geezer, he is as clever as a poodle!
Featured Image: Mark A Coleman/Flickr


  • carolina 18 Apr 2013

    I love it! Idioms are so funny in English…and I wasn’t familiar with

    these idioms in Swedish–Thanks!

  • Jan 19 Apr 2013

    I think a better translation would be “to do a FULL poodle”.

    • Rebecca 19 Apr 2013

      I would agree with you. But as the Financial Times used “whole poodle” when they wrote about it – I thought it best to use that. However, have amended to having both in there, now that I have someone agreeing with me! 🙂

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