Danish expression of the day: Købe katten i sækken

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Danish expression of the day: Købe katten i sækken

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash and Nicolas Raymond/FlickR

Don’t buy today’s expression under false pretences.


What is købe katten i sækken? 

At købe katten i sækken translates as “to buy the cat in the bag” or “to buy the cat in the sack”.

Neither of the two most common words for “bag”, pose and taske are in use here, so “sack”  (sække) is the most accurate translation. It’s perhaps only because of the English saying “don’t let the cat out of the bag” that it feels tempting to say “bag”.


Unlike the English expression, where letting a cat out of a bag means to give away a secret, in Denmark you don’t want to find a cat in your sack at all, metaphorically speaking. 

The expression describes a scenario or situation where you’ve bought something that is different to advertised, underwhelming, or if you’ve been ripped off and paid way more than the item is worth. 

Why do I need to know at købe katten i sækken?

This phrase can get confusing in its similarity to “letting the cat out of the bag”, so it’s important to remember they mean different things. In English, the closest expression to købe katten i sækken is “A pig in a poke.” 

Other Danish phrases that can mean buying something that is not as good as you believed or were led to believe, or being disappointed by a purchase, include trække nitten (roughly, “draw the short straw”) and stå med håret i postkassen (literally, “stand with your hair [stuck] in the post box”, with connotations of helplessness).

Unlike these other phrases though, buying the cat in the bag implies you failed to carry out due diligence and check the quality of the goods yourself before parting with your money.

Buying cats in bags is thought to date back to the Middle Ages, where inferior meat might have been sold under pretences it was something of higher quality (hence “a pig in a poke”).

Several languages use the term or have their own version of the expression. Some languages will refer to a pig in the sack, while others use cats as metaphors for the unwanted item.


Vi købte vores bil brugt for to år siden og har aldrig haft problemer med den. Der købte vi i hvert fald ikke katten i sækken.

We bought our car second-hand two years ago and have never had problems with it. We definitely didn’t buy a dud there.

Jeg købte en telefon på DBA. Det fungerer slet ikke, så jeg er bange for jeg har købt katten i sækken.

I bought a phone on DBA. It doesn’t work at all, so I’m afraid I might have been duped.


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