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Norwegian expression of the day: Hulter til bulter

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
Norwegian expression of the day: Hulter til bulter
Our latest Norwegian word of the day is all over the place. Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

This expression is neither here nor there, but it could be everywhere.

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What is hulter til bulter

We usually begin our word of the day explanations by providing translations of the words that make up the expression or compound word that is the focus of the day’s article.

That’s a bit difficult to do with hulter til bulter, because apart from the preposition til (‘to’ or ‘for’ depending on context), the words don’t mean anything.

Neither hulter nor bulter appears independent of each other as a word with a distinct meaning or in any other expression, anywhere in the Norwegian language.

The phrase is thought to have originated from nonsense words that were paired together, possibly in German or Dutch, because they make a funny sound.

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Getting around to the meaning: when something (usually a group of things) are described as hulter til bulter, they are very untidy or disorganised. Objects in a room can be left hulter til bulter, as can a piece of work that requires well organised elements to be gathered together.

Why do I need to know hulter til bulter?

It’s a good way of expressing your dissatisfaction with a scene of chaos that needs tidying and reorganising without sounding overly agitated.

There are other expressions that use nonsense, sometimes onomatopoeic words to form an expression in this way. A possible example in English is ‘helter skelter’.       

In Norwegian, you can say på må og få (‘at random’), her og der (’here and there’) and ditten og datten (‘this and that’).

These make similar use of nonsensical words to form a phrase, but are a bit easier to trace to real words and so their meanings are perhaps a little more obvious if you’ve not come across them before.

Examples

Kan vi rydde kjøkkenet? Det ligger ting og tang hulter til bulter.

Can we please tidy up the kitchen? There are bits and bops lying around everywhere.

Alt ligger til hulter til bulter. Det kommer til å ta en evighet å rydde opp.

Everything is strewn all over the place. It will take forever to clean up.

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