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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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).

  2. 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?

  1. 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).

  2. 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

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  1. 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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  1. 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.

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  1. 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.

  2. “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)


  1. 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

  1. “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.

A Frog in the Fjord: One Year in Norway Book

33 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.

    1. No, the proverb is correct as is. It refers to selling chopped guano (bird dung). It was a very good fertilzer, but came in very hard chunks, so people preferred the pre-chopped variant. It was especially popular as fertilizer for flowers etc in gardens. Especially popular among the finer ladies in Bergen who bought the stuff at the market at Bryggen to use on their roses.

      1. Another one for “å ha is i magen” (to have ice in the stomach) is to lubricate/smear with patience, “å smøre seg med tålmodighet.

        This isn’t an expression(you could call it a saying?), but have you noticed the senarios of sentences ending with a “but…”?
        “Yeah, I could do that, but…”(ja, jeg kan gjøre det, men/’meneh’…) and no following up with what’s after the “but”.

        It’s often used when talking about a problem(often/most with nagative situation/case), and the person saying “but” expect or believe you could guess what he/she wants to say after “but”.

        The “but” in these cases means losely ‘no’.
        “I could do that, but.. (I don’t think it would do any differance/ i’m too lazy/ I don’t really want to/ etc)”

        Or ending the almost done/done discussion with “jaja”/”men jaja”? (It pretty much mean “oh well”/”oh well, there’s nothing we could do about it” or along the way)

        I actually use these pretty often and found out that that my foreign friends didn’t know about these ending with them confused or thinking I’m waiting for them to say “but…? What?” Before continuing the sentence when I was done with the sentance.

  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.

    1. In the old days when sailships where used, they now and than lost members of the crew. to get new crew they sendt people ashore to the nearest pub and “hijacked” a suitable stone drunk person who than woke up next morning on a new ship bound for someplace else.

  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.)

    1. That made me think of “Hjallis”! The greatest skater ever. Lucky enough to meet him in L.A. a long time ago. He still had his arm intact!

  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!

  11. “The lights are on but nobody’s home”. In my house, the sun…light is always on, does it mean I’m dumb???

  12. “Gå rundt grøten”, “Walk around the porridge” is a short form of “gå som katten rundt den varme grøten”, “Walk like the cat around the hot porridge”

  13. “Stand on [your|my] head and shit at an angle” (“Stå på hue og drite i vinkel”)

    The practical use of this expression refers to having to go through a complex rigmarole in order to achieve a (often simple) result.

    The closest English expression I can think of would be “jumping through hoops”.

    “Jeg skal klare dette, om jeg så må stå på hue og drite i vinkel!” (I’m gonna nail this, even if it means having to stand on my head and shit at an angle!)

    “Det er vel ikke meningen at man skal stå på hue og drite i vinkel for å få til dette?!” (You don’t seriously mean you’re supposed to stand on your head and shit at and angle to accomplish this?!)

    People in the IT industry often use and/or encounter this expression.

  14. The term “det selges som hakka møkk” is related to fertiliser, but I’ve learned that it’s not in the way you describe, or even as mentioned in another comment. The island state of Nauru was one covered in guano and it did “sell as chopped up manure” as it was sedimentary and had to be chopped up in order to be used. It was and is a very effective fertiliser, sold all over the world, and very popular in Norway at the time. Nauru is now devoid of it and their fortune that came with it as well.

  15. Being “Shanghaied” has it’s origin in sailor tales where someone got into trouble, as it often happened with young men with their hormones running, on shore leave after weeks onboard their ship. Shanghai was often a destination for these ships from Norway, transporting goods or oil from Europe and the Arabian peninsula.

  16. «Det er helt Texas» relates to western movies in the 50s/60s, which were very popular at the time. They were above and beyond anything you could experience at home (or in Texas for the sake of it). Wild fistfights, gunslingers who shot first and asked questions later, heavy drinking and trashed saloons are all examples of something «helt Texas».

  17. And then you have “Det går så det griner!” Which was misused for “Det går så det gviner!” by a popular radio entertainer in the 1950/-60’s and still used på some not-so-popular entertainers.

  18. Kjærringa mot strømmen does not always signify a heroic woman, in the original tale – the woman was so stubborn and strict, that even after she was dead, she defied everything – even the rivers current. And the way she is described there, she is more stubborn and nasty, than actually something to look up to – even though it is kind of impressive to run against the stream the way she did.

  19. As far as i know , to be shanghaied is an expression sailors used . If a ship was short of crew , some men from said ship went to dockside bars found dead drunk ‘scandinavians’ or any other sailor , kidnap them to the departing ship so when the sailor woke from his drunken stupor the ship was far out on the ocean …so one is shanghaied into work one may be did not want or anticipate …

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  21. All of this is great, but I think you have misunderstood part of the first:

    “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”

    In fact that expression has nothing to do with buying the cat in the bag (kjøpe katta i sekken) at all. It has to do with letting on something that was previously a secret, or which someone had intended to keep hidden. Often it is something people have been speculating about already, it doesn´t come completely out from left field, or out of the blue (ut av det blå) as a Norwegian would say. You can “let the cat out of the bag” and tell people that you´re pregnant, that you are coming out as gay, that you and your partner has separated, that you are quitting your job after 15 years, and so forth. In other words it is usually somewhat big news, not just any odd thing.

  22. “(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”.

    Dette er ikke helt korrekt. “Å slippe katten ut av sekken” betyr heller at man sier en ubehagelig sannhet slik som den er. Dvs. man pakker ikke den ubehagelige sannheten inn i eufemismer eller i diplomatisk språk. Amerikanerne har noe lignende som for eksempel: “tell it like it is”.

  23. Utrolig flott og morsomt perspektiv fra noen som ikke har bodd i Norge hele ens liv. Og jada, vi har visst mange pussige ord og uttrykk, ja… fastlege som i “quick doctor” var en fin en… hva da med å være værfast? Jeg ser at du har med uttrykket “kjerringa mot strømmen” som jo bygger på enten et dikt, eller et eventyr. Og hvor diktet bygger på eventyret. Ser du ikke har med “God dag, mann… – økseskaft”, da, som jo også bygger på et eventyr. Her i hvert fall diktet om Kjerringa mot strømmen.


    Av André Bjerke.

    I denne tid da frihet aktes lite,
    kan det for nordmenn være godt å vite

    at vi har fostret her på hjemlig mark
    en frihetshelgen, større enn Jeanne d’Arc.

    Hun var av dem hvis nese det er ben i,
    for hun var født prinsipielt uenig.

    Hun har – fordi hun var så vrang og vrien –
    fått evig plass i folkepoesien.

    Og sjelden var en dame som fikk plass i
    et eventyr, så eventyrlig trassig!

    Hun lot seg ikke engang overmanne
    da hun ble holdt med hodet under vannet.

    Da var det bare stemmen vannet kvalte.
    For hun stakk hånden opp. Og hånden talte!

    To fingre dannet klippende en saks.
    Så drev hun opp mot strømmen som en laks.

    Og over fossen lå hun samme aften
    i suveren protest mot tyngdekraften.

    Hun holdt på sitt. Hun var den bedre del
    av det vi kaller Norges folkesjel.

    Hun er vår adel, hun er frihetsdrømmen
    hvis norske navn er: Kjerringa mot strømmen.

    Hun er av dem jeg gjerne skulle kjenne.
    Det beste i oss er i slekt med henne.

    Og jeg kan dessuten tenke meg at nokså mange av visene til eksempelvis Øystein Sunde kan by på litt vansker for folk som ikke har bodd her altfor lenge?…? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEG2bXHAOBM

  24. “Å slippe katten ut av sekken” is an old sailor expression. Referring to the cat o’nine tails, that was usually kept in a bag. In English you also have not enough room to swing a cat. It is not about animal abuse, but again the dreaded cat o’nine tails.

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