20 Funniest Norwegian Expressions

  1. To buy a cat in its bag (å kjøpe katta i sekken) does not mean you bought yet another cat to your home. What are you? A cat lady? No it means that you wanted to buy one thing but were lured into buying something else.  If you “let the cat out of the bag” (slippe katta ut av sekken) is a more modern version, and illustrated a total fraud. You bought a baby pig but you were sold a cat.
noun_excellent shit_2046393 (1).png
Det selges som hakka møkk.

2. Norwegians don’t say that something sells very well, they say it sells like minced shit (det selges som hakka møkk). It comes from fishermen in Norway who used to work the feces from birds and make it some kind of fertiliser they sold for an expensive price. So, in other words, glorified poop.

3. To express that something is not quite right, they say that there are owls in the moss (ugler i mosen) or pigs on the forest (svin på skogen). Owls in the moss comes from the Danish expression “ulver i myren” (wolves in the marsh”) which Norwegians supposedly misunderstood because of their accent. Obviously if there are wolves in the moss, something is wrong (because it is not their natural habitat). But the expression became something even more absurd: owls in the moss. Svin på skogen comes from the time when Danes occupied Norway and the taxmen came to collect tax from Norwegian farmers. To avoid paying tax on all their pigs, Norwegians would send their pigs in the forest to hide them from the taxmen. Hence the meaning “something is hidden here”. Yep, the pigs are.

noun_creative idea_2269459.png
Lyset er på, men ingen er hjemme

4. One of my absolute favorite expressions. If a Norwegian thinks you are a bit dumb, he or she will say about you that “the lights are on but nobody’s home” (lyset er på, men ingen er hjemme).

5. If someone thinks another person is not that smart, the person might say he or she is “tight in the forehead” (tett i pappen) or not that sharpest knife in the drawer (ikke den skarpeste kniv i skuffen).

noun_adam and eve_62147 (1).png
Hvor lenge var Adam i paradis?

6. To say that something did not last very long, Norwegians can say it was short, or refer to the expression “How long was Adam in paradise?” (hvor lenge var Adam i paradis), or in its Northern Norwegian version “How long was Adam in Eve” (hvor lenge var Adam i Eva).

7. To be on a berry trip (å være på bærtur) can mean going to pick berries in the forest, but it also probably means to be out of track in an idea, being spaced out.

noun_Lady_382088 (1)
Å ha bein i nesa

8. When a Norwegian man tells you he wants a woman with a bone in her nose (å ha bein i nesa), this does not mean he wants a lady from a far away country who has a bone in her nose, it means he wants a woman who is strong-willed and who is independent.

noun_Pot porridge_1678649.png
Å gå rundt grøten

9. If Norwegians ask you to stop walking around the porridge (gå rundt grøten) it means you should go straight to the porridge. Sorry, straight to the point.

10. To create a storm in a glass of water (storm i et glass vann) means to create a big problem out of a small affair.

Å ha lua i hånda

11. When a Norwegian has their woollen hat in their hand (å ha lua i hånda) it does not mean they just took it off because it was warm, it means that they are being humbled by someone or by a situation.

12. If a Norwegian says they have painted themselves in a corner (å male seg i et hjørne) it describes a situation where one has put oneself in a situation with no exit.

13. When a Norwegian says of someone that he/she had to swallow a few camels to get there, it has nothing to do with Middle Eastern transportation (or food), it has to do with the amount of things one has to do or say against one’s principles to calm a situation or get more power etc. (often said of politicians: They had to swallow a few camels to keep the majority in parliament).

Å nappe løken.

14. When Norwegians say they are plucking the onion (nappe løken) it means that they are … masturbating.

15. No roses without thorns (ingen roser uten torne) is an expression one uses to talk about something good which also has some negative sides. Nothing is perfect. Another expression involving roses is “livet er ikke en dans på roser”. Life is not a dance on roses, life is not easy.

16. Kjerringa mot strømmen is an expression meaning literally “the old lady against the stream”. It comes from an old tale and is used in Norwegian to talk about people who do things bravely against all odds, or to describe women heroes.

Det er Texas.

17. When Norwegians say “it is Texas” it does not mean it is actually like Texas. It just means it is a crazy situation with, for example, lots of work and chaos. The expression even made it to the Washington Post.

18. “We have been Shanghaied “Vi har blitt Shanghaiet” is a slang expression which means that you have been convinced, a little bit against your will, to do something. Like Vi har blitt shanghaia til å lage quizz til julebordet. (We have been Shangaied to write a quizz for the office’s Christmas party)


19. Norwegians are often surprised, it seems, as they have many ways of expressing that feeling: to have a long mask (lang i maska) or to say “you big alpaca” (du, store alpaca). Why an alpaca and not a lama? Who on Earth knows.

is i magen
Illustration: Tori Lind Kjellstad @hyggeligdrittsekk

20. “You need to have ice in your stomach” does not mean you need to eat or swallow any kind of ice. It means you need to be patient. Man trenger å ha is i magen for å lære seg norsk.

Want more Norwegian crazy words? Here are 8 Unbelievable Strange Norwegian Words Foreigners Cannot Guess the Meaning, like morkake and trollrumpe.


13 thoughts on “20 Funniest Norwegian Expressions

  1. Spot on! But you forgot one big one..
    «Skjegget i postkassa» (to have the beard in the mailbox)
    And in the worst scenario, that be when the devil is loose (fanden er løs), to have the beard you dont possess/have in the mailbox you dont owe. (Det skjegget du ikke har i postkassen du ikke eier). Ofcause you might be unlucky to have mailboxes in you beard too.

    Thank you for another great post!!

  2. “Å selge som hakka møkk” is actually a distortion of the proverb. Such tings happen sometimes (ref. “bøyer meg i hatten”.) The correct proverb, is “(det) spres som hakka møkk”, referring to farmers who spread chopped dung as fertilizers on their fields.

  3. Just FYI, many of these are actually not Norwegian, but just translated into our language.

    Here are the original sources from your list:
    1) Cat in the sack: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cat+in+the+sack

    4) Lights are on, but nobody’s home: https://www.theidioms.com/lights-are-on-but-nobody-is-home/

    5) Not the sharpest tool in the shed: https://www.theidioms.com/not-the-sharpest-tool-in-the-shed/

    10) Storm in a teacup: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+storm+in+a+teacup

    11) Hat in hand: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/hat+in+hand

    12) Paint oneself in a corner: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/paint_oneself_into_a_corner

    15) Every rose has its thorn: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/every_rose_has_its_thorn

    18) To be shanghaied: https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/shanghai

  4. Å bli tatt på senga burde også vært nevnt under punkt 19. Ellers en veldig bra oppsummering av norske uttrykk.

  5. Great post! But erfaring #1: “Slippe katta ut av sekken” means that one shares a piece of news, reveals (without meaning to) something secret, that was not meant to be shared (yet).

  6. The norwegian expressions are somewhat imprecise. it is not “du, store alpaca”, but “du store alpakka”. It originates from the Stompa books and series, and was lector Tørrdal’s favourite expression.

    Also, it is not “det selges som hakka møkk”, but “det selger som hakka møkk”. The (former) language expert Per Egil Hegge from Aftenposten wrote in an article 28 July 2017 that this expression orginates from farming. When cow shit was too fluent, it was mixed with straw to make it manageable, and this mixture is called “hakka møkk”. So I don’t really think it originates from fishing. There is a related expression “det henger ikke på greip”, which you probably have heard.

  7. I’ve never heard the Shanghai one before! Intersting. And I’m 29, Norwegian born and raised.

    It’s funny that I take all these for granted when they may not make much sense to foreigners.

  8. “På bærtur” is originally reated to football (soccer) goalkeepers running too far away from their goal.
    When I grew up we were playing football on all kind of fields, often with no clear border, so it made sense to claim that someone were out picking berries if they went too far out.
    When watching games on football team the same expression was then used when the goalkeeper went too far out, and evolved into an expresson that was used every time a goalkeeper made a mistake.
    And now it is a general expression for all kinds of mistakes, especially when arguing with a misunderstood concept.

  9. “Kaste armen i svingen”, to throw an arm in the curve.
    Most young Norwegians today will have problems with this , at least to understand the backgound for this idiom.
    When my generation was young, for many the most important of all sports events were speed skating. When extra speed was needed the skater would “kaste armene”, throw his arms vigorously back and forth to get more power.
    To “kaste armene” makes the skating much more exhausting, so to save energy the skater would normally let his arms rest on his back, except on sprints and on the very last part of longer runs.
    However, to use the outer arm to gain speed when running through the curve was more effective. Nowadays, speed skater do this normally on the long runs, but earlier “throwing an arm in the curve” was a very clear sign that a skater increased his speed and looked like a potential winner.
    Hence this expression was used when someone put some extra efforts to makes things faster.
    The expression appeared even more confusing because “kaste” can mean both “throw” and “throw away”.
    “Du får kaste armene i svingen” could easily sound to stupid to the one not knowing the expression. (You better throw away your arms in the curve.)

  10. Uttrykket “du store alpakka!” er som nevnt i en annen kommentar mest trolig fra Stompa, eller Jennings som han het på originalspråket. I de engelske bøkene var det tilsvarende uttrykket “cor-wumph!”, og jeg synes den norske oversetteren skal ha ros for å ha kommet opp med et så fengende uttrykk.

    Forøvrig håper jeg du en dag poster en tilsvarende liste for franske uttrykk med norsk oversettelse. Ne fais pas la tête, raconte-nous des salades!

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