Watching TV this morning, I heard an expression I have never heard before in Swedish. It was an idiom – ‘att lägga rabarber på nåt’. Translated into English directly that is ‘to put rhubarb on something’.
This is a great example of an idiom and the fascinating thing about idioms is when translated directly, they mean nothing to those who are not initiated. But they have a clear and obvious meaning to those who understand its context. ‘Att lägga rabarber på nåt’ in English idiom would be something like ‘to stake a claim on something’ – in itself an idiom.
But why are Swedes putting rhubarb on things when they want them for themselves? Isn’t that a bit weird? Not when you understand where the saying comes from.
From the beginning, the expression was ‘att lägga embargo på nåt’ – embargo not rhubarb. The word embargo at that time was an unknown, strange word borrowed from Spanish and it meant ‘confiscate’. As it was an unusual word, it became quickly switched out for a more familiar similar-sounding one and ’embargo’ became ‘rabarber.’