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Lesson Transcript


Alisha: What are some common Swedish idioms?
Jesper: And how are they used?
Alisha: At SwedishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following scenario, Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks her friend Henrik Hakansson,
"What does 'skinn på näsan' mean?"
Karen Lee: Vad betyder "skinn på näsan"?
Karen Lee: Vad betyder "skinn på näsan"?
Lars Lundin: Det betyder att vara tuff, bestämd och viljestark.
Alisha: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Vad betyder "skinn på näsan"?
Alisha: "What does 'skinn på näsan' mean?"
Lars Lundin: Det betyder att vara tuff, bestämd och viljestark.
Alisha: "It means to be tough, determined, and strong-willed."

Lesson focus

Alisha: In this lesson, we'll talk about idiomatic expressions, or
Jesper: Idiomatiska uttryck
Alisha: Idiomatic expressions, or idioms for short, are expressions with a meaning that's very different from the individual words that compose them. We use idioms if we want to convey what would be a long message using as few words as possible. When translated directly, they can be both confusing and hilarious, especially to non-native speakers. It's important to learn idioms when studying a new language like Swedish, as they provide a window into better understanding a culture and its people.
[Recall 1]
Alisha: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue to make things easier to understand.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says, "What does 'skinn på näsan' mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Jesper as Karen Lee: Vad betyder "skinn på näsan"?
Alisha: If we're going to translate the expression literally, we would get "skin on the nose." If you're just learning Swedish and hear this for the first time and do not know that it's an idiom, you would think that there's dirt on your face. But what this expression really means, as Lars Ludin explains, is
Jesper as Lars Ludin: Att vara tuff, bestämd och viljestark.
Michael: or "To be tough, determined, and strong-willed." This idiom is derived from an old Danish expression about having bones in the nose, which means to stick to one's opinion and not lose heart.
Alisha: In this lesson, you've learned that idiomatic expressions, or
Jesper: Idiomatiska uttryck
Michael: are expressions with a figurative meaning used to help the speaker get their message across better. While many Swedish idioms might be similar in meaning to that of English and other cultures, they use expressions that are unique to the Swedish culture and context. Take this idiom, for example:
Jesper: Skägget i brevlådan.
Alisha: It means "the beard in the mailbox." In Swedish, to be caught with your beard in the mailbox means to be caught doing something wrong. It pretty much means the same thing as the English saying "get caught with your hand in the cookie jar," only that they use "beard" instead of "hands." That makes sense considering that Swedish men grow beautiful beards. Most Swedish idioms are also more hilarious than their English counterparts, just like this one:
Jesper: Gå som katten kring het gröt
Alisha: Anything with the word "cat" in it can be funny, and this one is not an exemption. This is literally "to walk like a cat around hot porridge," and is equivalent to the expression "to beat around the bush," or to say a lot of things to avoid talking about what's important.
Alisha: Idioms are important to any language because they help you communicate more effectively. We've compiled a short list of the most common Swedish idioms to help you brush up your vocabulary. Let's start with
Jesper: Ingen ko på isen.
Alisha: which literally means "There's no cow on the ice." If you're worried that you don't know what this idiom means, well, don't worry because that is what this expression really is about—don't worry. It's pretty understandable considering that seeing a cow sliding across frozen waters would really be troubling. Anyway, our next idiom on the list is
Jesper: Det ligger en hund begraven.
Alisha: which means "There's a dog buried." But how do you know that there's a dog buried nearby? Right! It stinks! The same is true when there's something fishy hidden somewhere. And that's what this expression means—something fishy is going on, or someone is not completely telling the truth. On to the next item, we have
Jesper: Göra en höna av en fjäder.
Alisha: or "To make a chicken out of a feather." This one sounds very similar to the expression "To make a mountain out of a molehill." Well, that's because they mean the same thing, and that is to make too big of a deal of a minor issue. Now, I don't want to "make a chicken out of a feather" of this idiom, so let's just move on to the next one on our list, which is
Jesper: Grädde på moset
Alisha: This one literally means "The cream on the mash," which is the equivalent of "The icing on the cake" in English; this refers to that thing that intensifies one's appreciation of something, or the dot above the "i," the cream on the mash, the feather in one's cap...the...okay, you get what I mean. Next!
Jesper: På tal om trollen
Alisha: This means "speaking of the trolls," and means the same thing as "speaking of the devil." No need to explain this one further, so let's move on to the next idiom, which is
Jesper: Inte för allt smör i Småland
Alisha: "Not for all the butter in Småland." This does not mean that there is more butter in Småland than any other place in the world. It's just that the word for butter in Swedish, which is
Jesper: Smör
Alisha: starts with the same two letters as Småland. And, if you're wondering, yes, it means "Not for all the money in the world." Next, we have
Jesper: Inte skottat ända fram.
Alisha: "Not shoveled all the way." This expression refers to snow and how you're supposed to shovel it all the way when you're clearing a path. And not shoveling snow all the way when you're supposed to is simply not the smartest thing to do. And that's what exactly this expression means—to not be the smartest around. Next on our list, we have
Jesper: Lätt som en plätt
Alisha: This means "easy as a pancake," and, yes, it's equivalent to the English expression "easy as pie." Let's try another one:
Jesper: Han har satt sin sista potatis
Alisha: This one is literally "He has planted his last potato." This expression is said of a person who has done something for the very last time. And that's what I'm going to do with this next idiom— I'm going to be planting my last potato. Without further ado, here's the last idiom on our list.
Jesper: Ge järnet
Alisha: or "Give the iron." This one means "to give it your all," and originated from the expression "to go full throttle on a motorcycle." And, if there's one piece of advice I would give you when studying the Swedish language, it's this one. Cheers!


Alisha: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Jesper: Vi ses!
Alisha: See you soon!

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