All Nordic languages: coffee bean

Hans Molenslag

Senior Member
Dutch (standard Dutch & Brabant dialect)
"... a detailed breakdown of your total income, including every euro, insurance and coffee bean."

This is from a text about an online salary management system. It's almost certainly written by a non-native speaker, presumably a Scandinavian. The coffee bean must be a metafor, meaning the smallest possible detail or something like that, but as far as I know it's not a common one in English. Does anyone recognize this as a literal translation from one of the Scandinavian languages?
  • Bean counter may not be a term I've ever used actively, but I've heard or read it before. In fact, there's a similar compound noun in Dutch with pretty much the same meaning. But I simply didn't think of it. Maybe it's just me, but turning a fairly common term like bean counter into coffee bean sounds far-fetched to be honest. (Why coffee in particular, by the way, not just bean?) Oh well...
    You might be overthinking it. Plus, Swedes drink a lot of coffee, and eat far less 'regular' beans (than some), so I think that if a person wanted to take the 'concept' of a "Bean counter" and slightly alter it to talk about the beans being counted, coffee beans might come to mind more easily than brown beans. I've lived in the US for some time now so to me "beans" could mean anything, but back home we didn't eat beans often at all. Not sure if that was just me, but compared to other countries where rice and beans are staple products it's just very different in Sweden from what I can recall.

    So perhaps I'm wrong but I just can't think of any other explanation for the translation given the context.
    From a Norwegian perspective, I think Mattias' explanation is plausible. But if that is the case, this would be a metaphor created directly from the English term "bean counter", rather than a literal translation from any Scandinavian expression. If there is a Scandinavian element here, it would be that Scandinavians are more familiar with coffee beans than brown beans, as Mattias has explained.

    As far as I know, there is no parallel expression to "bean counter" in Norwegian. I am familiar with the English term, but the literal Norwegian translation "bønneteller" is not an established word. Actually, if I had come across the word "bønneteller", I would probably have understood it as "prayer counter" (a rosary, maybe?).

    But this is a Norwegian perspective, and it may be different in other Scandinavian languages. Mattias, is a version of "bean counter" used in Swedish?
    I don't really recall hearing a Swedish version of "bean counter". To me it sounds like a translation by someone who takes an English term, translates it into Swedish, and then "freely" back again. And at that point it's a bit different. It's as they heard "Bean counter" and understood the gist of it, but thought "oh, counting all the coffee beans" because they're Swedish, and then it became counting coffee beans.

    That'd be my guess.
    han ejer ikke en bønne, is a well-established metaphor in Danish
    for bønne meaning something of little or no value, check Ordbog over det danske sprog at bønne — ODS
    Even Holdberg is quoted.