Ten Swedish insect-related expressions you should master

Why? Idiomatic expressions are useful in many ways. First of all, the will teach you something of the local culture or history. Second, remembering and knowing an expression by heart will help you to integrate syntactic and lexical rules and patterns, that you can use for your language learning. I have noticed that remembering common expressions seem to be much easier than any generic sentence. Last but not least, this is a way to impress Swedes and other language learners.


1. The bright side

If you believe that mosquitoes is a torment belonging to tropical climates only, you have never been to Norrland. This is a generically defined region with the southern border somewhere between Uppsala and Stockholm, and the northern border somewhere in polar-bear-land, un-referred to by its own inhabitants. The locals – as usual – know better that we are in fact talking about several, diverse regions. The local stereotypes is often described as laconic, underwhelmed and able to withstand, and function in, extreme conditions. As temperatures go under the minus 20’s (twenty degrees below zero, or -5 degrees Fahrenheit), they define the weather as myggfritt. Mosquito-free.


2. Get your vowels right!

A popular tongue twister, that I make my poor students practise on a bad day, is Flyg fula fluga flyg! Och den fula flugan flög. This is particularly painful (teacher’s term for useful) if you find the distinction between Y and U tricky to master. Or Ö.


3. Internet är en fluga

A pre-stage to a meme from 1996. Ines Ullman, a politician who, at the time, was minister of communication and IT, did not – contrary to popular belief – coin this term. In fact, this was the title in a newspaper that interviewed her, but, according to herself, an accurate summary of her views at the time. A fly, in this context, refers to something that is extremely popular but only temporarily. People love to quote this, with a broader meaning of – you were so wrong.


4. Two for one

Att slå två flugor i en smäll is the equivalent of killing two birds with one stone. Does this reflect our killing methods or our victims? Is it a syndrome of our agricultural history or political correctness? Please correct me if I am wrong, but I have a vague memory of the German version being the same as the Swedish one, whereas in southern Europe, pigeons are killed with beans. In Russia, hares are singled out for this purpose.


5. Not entirely sure this has the same meaning as the American ants in your pants

The Swedish myror i byxorna means you just can’t sit still, but you have to move all the time. Feedback on the American equivalent would be much appreciated.


6. Sätta myror i huvudet på någon

In contrast, filling someone’s head with ants, means you give someone something to think about, make them baffled, confused.


7. Fjärilar i magen

Nervous. Or in love. Apparently, there is a scientific explanation to butterflies in your stomach. Personally, I always confused this with hunger.


8. Angry or hard-working bees?

Flitig som en myra – hard-working and conscientious as an ant, and angry as a bee – arg som ett bi. Another version, more coherent with other European languages, is that the bees are the hard-working ones – flitig som ett bi. You can guess which expression we prefer.


9. Spindeln i nätet

One of those clichés from job adverts. The spider in the web is that one person everyone asks, and relies upon. This person always knows what is going on. Must be present at meetings. A link between different networks. Holding all the threads. You looking for a job as a project manager? This is what you should call yourself.


10. Moths party hard

The life of en nattfjäril – a moth, or literally, a nocturnal butterfly, is not something me, an exhausted parent, can identify with.


BONUS – literal translations of our favourite insect names:

nyckelpiga – ‘key maid’ – ladybird

skalbagge – ‘shell ram’ – beetle

vårtbitare – ‘wart biter’ – katydid/leaf bug

bärfis – ‘berry fart’ – stink bug