My recent post, “The year the mountains were so steep” and other Norwegianisms, inspired one of my colleagues at UiB, Kjartan, to volunteer a number of other Norwegian idioms! I checked in with my dear Norwegian buddy in order to get a broader context for what these mean and when one might use them and I’m excited to share them with you! So without further ado, 7 more Norwegianisms (6 thanks to Kjartan, one thanks to my pal)!
1) Full pupp
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: Full boob.
My friend’s practical version: “Full speed”. Give it all you’ve got. Max intensity.
I wonder if this expression relates in some capacity to the English “fult tilt” or, since apparently “pupp” refers to breasts (“full pupp” can mean “full tit”), maybe “balls out” or “balls to the wall” (*edit: the first one has come to refer to testicles, although neither originally did – as a commentor helpfully pointed out below) would be more appropriate. If you’re not familiar, these are rather extreme (in some circles and contexts it would be considered extremely rude) versions of “maximum intensity”.
2) Helt på viddene
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: totally out in the open country.
My friend’s take: “Completely lost”. The person in question has no idea what they’re talking about or doing.
3) Ta en spansk en
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: take a Spanish one.
My friend’s take: “Take a shortcut”. Potentially a shortcut that includes not following rules. He gave the example of driving your car through a red light when nobody’s watching: if you do that, you’re “taking a Spanish one”.
I’m trying to think of a good equivalent of this one… what’s coming to me at the moment is only my Dad’s favorite: “the Chicago stop”, this one, however really specifically refers to rolling through stop signs in a car (you look both ways, of course, you just keep going ’cause nobodies there). But perhaps a more broad English language colloquialism would be “cutting corners”.
As is true in many languages, certain phrases have fascinating origin stories. It sounds to me like “taking a Spanish one” is used somewhat casually in Norway today, however, Kjartan provided an article that tells a more explicit story about the origins of ‘taking a Spanish one’, if you want the lurid details, get your translator ready and click here. And, sorry to any Spanish folks, I do not in any way mean to equate you with rule-breaking and sex-acts.
4) Å gå over bekken etter vann
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: walk over the stream to get water.
My friend’s take: Doing something in a more impractical or complicated way than necessary. He gave the example of the “good old story of the US vs Russian solution to zero gravity pens”. You know, that one. Oh? You don’t? Well, neither did I – so I looked it up. Apparently, there is a common urban legend that indicated that NASA (America’s space program) invested heaps of time and money into creating an anti-gravity space pen, and Russians just used pencils (the “urban legend” part of this is that NASA spent millions… apparently the private sector spent millions instead).
I am having trouble thinking of the perfect American equivalent phrase, but certainly trying to herd cats and beating your head against the wall denote a level of difficulty, if not the ironic fruitlessness of crossing a stream to get water. Apparently there is a British idiom, “to carry coal to Newcastle”, that denotes the same flavor of haplessness as the Norwegian “walk over the stream to get water”, this is because Newcastle was historically a major coal exporter.
5) Sy puter under armene på noen
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: To sew pillows under someone’s arms.
My friend’s take: To spoil someone, to shield them from the realities of the world. He mentions that the implication that this shielding is a disservice (“bjørnetjeneste” in Norwegian) as the shielded person will not be ready for the real world.
In English, there is a similar phrase, “to wrap in cotton wool” but I really don’t think anyone says that anymore. Perhaps “coddling” someone would be similar enough, but I’m still not sure that this would commonly be used.
6) Høy i hatten
Kjartan’s (literal) translation: High in the hat.
My friend’s take: Arrogant, conceited. He said he thinks “high in the hat” is a phrase in English too – if not one that is often used. I’ve never heard “high in the hat” before. I have, however, heard “High on the hog.” which seems to be more indicative of “living the high life” rather than confidence or arrogance.
My friend elaborated that “high in the hat” is not necessarily negative, it can just mean the person in question has a lot of confidence. Alternately, it can also mean a lack of confidence. He gave the example of a visibly scared first-time skydiver – such an individual may be described as not “høy i hatten”.
Images (left to right): https://www.cappelendamm.no/_barn-og-unge/bildeb%C3%B8ker/h%C3%B8y-i-hatten-ragnar-aalbu-9788202439316, https://www.flickr.com/photos/hvarfredriksen/8233724053, http://img13.deviantart.net/c524/i/2012/097/8/4/horse_in_the_hat_by_chickenmobile-d4vaoh3.png
7) Helt bak mål
My friend’s contribution, he mentioned this as another good phrase meaning, “completely behind the goal”. He says it’s a bit like saying “that’s crazy”, it is a phrase you can use when someone does or says something absurd. Perhaps an English equivalent is saying that’s completely “mental” (like, for example, dressing your dog up in summer clothes). My coworkers clarified for me that “helt bak mål” has the specific flavor of doing something with a lack of talent or an evident misunderstanding of the situation, in other words, “you’re wrong – and in a stupid way” (so, a bit like dressing up your dog in summer clothes?).
Share your favorite Norwegian phrases by commenting below!
Also, special thanks to a commentor on the last Norwegianisms post, “The year the mountains were so steep” named Elisabeth who pointed out that there was a hit song called “it was the year [it] was so steep” by Øystein Sunde (1971) – but the song has nothing to do with mountains.