- 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.