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Five Norwegian sayings that don't translate well

Frazer Norwell
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Five Norwegian sayings that don't translate well
Norway's forward Erling Haaland shoots and scores a goal during the international friendly football match between Norway and Luxembourg at La Rosaleda stadium in Malaga in preperation for the UEFA European Championships, on June 2, 2021. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

Whether it's separating the snot from the moustache or telling the closest where it should stand, these Norwegian phrases don't make quite as much sense in English.


Every language has its own sayings and idioms. Unfortunately, these can often leave you scratching your head a bit if you take them too literally.

Norwegian is, of course, no different in this regard, and there are quite a few sayings that can leave you lost in translation. Here are five picks on sayings that don't make much sense when translated into English.

READ ALSO: Six essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Norway

Stå med skjegget i postkassa

Directly translated as "stand with the beard in the letterbox". This saying has its roots in the 1950s but is still commonly used both casually and at work.

The expression describes when somebody is caught in a pinch or hasn't achieved quite what they set out to do.

Similar expressions in English that are comparable to skjegget i postkassa are "caught in a jam" or "stuck between a rock and a hard place".

Fortelle hvor skapet skal stå 

This in English means to "tell the closet where it should stand". For context, it means telling or showing someone who's boss, laying down the law, or putting someone back in their place if they act out of line.

The meaning behind this is that by directing the metaphorical furniture around, you are taking control of the situation.


Skille snørr og barter

If you hear someone say they need to separate the "snot from the moustache in Norway", they aren't asking for a tissue in overly graphic detail.

Instead, it means to separate important information from the frivolous details when having an argument or discussion, i.e. removing the snot, or useless information, from your pristine moustache or the conversation.

This is obviously best deployed when the conversation is getting off-topic.


One that may have left sports fans learning Norwegian scratching their head. Taken super literally, målkåt means "goal horny".

The media here will typically refer to superstar Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland as målkåt

This doesn't mean literally that footballers are aroused at the prospect of finding the back of the net (at least we hope). It instead means they are in prime scoring form. A much clearer and more appropriate translation of målkåt would be "goal-hungry".

Nesten skyter ingen mann av hasten 

Norwegians seem to enjoy conjuring images of the wild west when it comes to their idioms. If something is out of control or isn't being regulated, then it's "helt Texas", or totally Texas, and if you come close to achieving something but still miss out none the less then it's a case of "Nesten skyter ingen mann av hasten". 

This translates to: "Almost" doesn't shoot a man off his horse. For context, it is used to describe situations where it doesn't matter how close something is, It doesn't matter because a narrow miss is still a miss.

A similar, and probably as difficult to translate into other languages, the expression would be "close, but no cigar".


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