New words for Icelandic

Posted on 19. Nov, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic grammar


Rainbow by Sigurður Þ Sigurjónsson at Flickr.

On the 4th August this year Samtökin ’78 declared a competition to find new words for the Icelandic language called Hýryrði, Gay Words. By this they meant it was time to find Icelandic equivalents for words that were only used as loanwords from English because – well, as many of you readers probably know already, Iceland will not be having with English loan words. Protecting the language is serious business over here and includes finding an entirely Icelandic version for any foreign word, which is why you can order yourself a flatbaka (= flat bake) the moment you notice you’re all out of bjúgaldin (= bendy fruits). Naturally all these Icelandic words don’t always catch on, which is why most people use the words “pizza” and “bananas”.

Regardless, the most important part is that these words do exist in Icelandic. If there are no Icelandic words the language will just automatically adopt foreign ones, and in many times that means English creeping over the original language, for both good and bad results. The 16 words that the language was deemed lacking were:

Androgynous – Butch – Femme

Agender – Androgyne – Bigender – Gender fluid – Non-binary – Pangender

Asexual – Aromantic

Non-gendered versions for: Frænka/frændi – Kærasti/kærasta – Mamma/pabbi – Sonur/dóttir – Vinkona/vinur


? by Margrét Jóna at Flickr. It seems to be raining rainbow!

How did it go?

Alas, not all of them were successfully and/or acceptably translated, but thirteen words chosen from over 400 suggestions isn’t that shabby (link)! Here are the words that were declared winning ones on the 16th:

androgynous: dulkynja (= secret gender), vífguma (= not entirely sure of this translation, but it might be woman-man)

Androgynous received two suggestions, but with a slightly different nuance behind: dulkynja refers more to a person whose gender is not immediately obvious whereas vífguma refers to a combination of masculine and feminine features – almost the same but not entirely.

asexual: eikynhneigð/ur, ókynhneigð/ur

There were two suggestions for a particular word, such as asexual which now has two suggestions, ókynhneigður and eikynhneigður: ó/ei = turns the word to its opposite or negates it, kyn = gender, hneigður = inclination. Homosexual would be samkynhneigð/ur (= same gender inclination) and bisexual tvíkynhneigð/ur.

bigender: tvígerva (tví = two, kyngervi = gender)

For the following words, the originally grammatically masculine gervi has been changed to gerva, which does not refer to masculine or feminine gender at all.

genderfluid: flæðigerva (flæði = flowing)

pangender: algerva (al = all)

non-binary: frjálsgerva (frjáls = free)

agender: eigerva, ógerva (ei/ó change the meaning of the word to an opposite or negate it entirely)


Regnbogi yfir Reykjalundi by Gúnna at Flickr.

Non-gendered words for:

kærasti/kærastakærast, unnust (= darling)

When using Icelandic you sometimes have to refer to the person’s gender by selecting a gender exact noun. This can be difficult if your date does not find themselves within the binary genders though, so what to do? One suggestion are the above versions where the gendered word ending is removed entirely. Another way would be to go around the problem and use a word that, despite its grammatical gender, does not refer to the gender of the person being talked about, such as elskan. Elskan is feminine by grammatical gender, but can be used for men, women, and everyone in between whereas kærasti/kærasta tell you exactly which gender the darling is.

Interestingly the word kærast has already been in use for a while before the competition was launched!

sonur/dóttirbur  (= son/daughter)

For the biggest grammar nerds, the word bur will probably be the most interesting since here we’re taking an Old Norse word and redefining it for modern use. At its origin the word meant only son, but it stems from the verb að bera (= to carry) just like barn (= child) does. Besides the grammatical gender of bur is neutral, which further allows its use for children of all genders.

(It bears mentioning though that these words aren’t yet official, but they have a good likelihood of that considering that all these English words do need translations in the name of language protection.)


Garðskagaviti by Sigurður Þ Sigurjónsson at Flickr.

Iceland emoticons?

Posted on 12. Nov, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic customs


Emoticon army by gacabo at Flickr.

In the recent news the foreign ministry of Finland is releasing Finland-specific emoticons as a Christmas calendar. These include scenes and things so Finnish that the current emoticon lists don’t have anything even remotely similar on them such as a Nokia phone and people having sauna. Naturally it struck me that it’s unfair to let Finland have all the fun so here are some ideas I had for Iceland-specific emoticons!


Naturally, the Atlantic puffin was at the top of the list as a bird that’s very close to the hearts of both Icelanders and foreign visitors. Especially useful for people from the Vestmannaeyjar (Westman islands) for whom puffins are an integral part of life, especially during the season when the summer’s puffin chicks, pufflings, leave nests and occasionally make their way downtown by accident instead of swimming out to sea. Puffin emoticons could also be made in sets for all possible puffin feelings!

Raven, golden plover

Two more birds right after because both are heralds of a changing season: the ravens move to towns during the start of autumn and spend the winter among humanfolk. The golden plover likewise heralds a season, the spring. These two might not be as obvious for non-Icelanders but I guarantee here their arrivals are very much noticed. Additionally the Ásatrú people could probably use emoticons portraying not just one but two ravens.



Volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajökull glacier by Daníel Örn Gíslason at Flickr.

Erupting volcano

This one would have so many uses. It could portray explosive, overflowing emotions, extreme keenness on some matter, anger, or simply to denote an actual volcano erupting – “Hi mum, this Hekla-hike just turned really exciting!” *erupting volcano emotion*

Erupting Strokkur

The use could be similar to that of the erupting volcano except used for slightly more temperate emotions. To really annoy your friends you could also use it to mark every time Strokkur erupts – about every seven minutes.


For the times when you just have to let things flow. A massive burst of inspiration has caught you by surprise, some amazing person has swept you off your feet, that last drink was one too many, “Please tell me the queue to the toilets isn’t really long right now”.

Horizontal rain

Typical Icelandic weather phenomena, rain that attacks you from all sides at once. Some people refer to weather like this as “walking through a car wash” but in fact, for a full Icelandic weather experience you’d also have to stand knee deep in buckets of ice and slush with a randomly rotating wind machine tossing you this way and that. Someone throwing a trampoline at you would be extra points for accuracy.
As for what it could be used… well, most likely just for airing out your feelings about the weather maybe? I know that’s what the locals would use it for…



Twisted trampoline by Klobetime at Flickr.

 A flying trampoline

Like the previous one it would be really handy and no doubt popular when discussing just how windy it is today. To make one thing clear, Iceland is always windy, the only variation is in how windy it is. Trust me on this, the wind can also change in a moment’s notice from “slight breeze” to “trampolines flying around everywhere”.

Hot dog

Another one that might not seem so Icelandic unless you live here and know just how big a deal Icelandic hot dogs are for the locals. Any moment is a hot dog moment. However, because people’s hot dog tastes differ greatly I’m also going to suggest one for each possible toppings combination!


The token Reykjavík emoticon, that one building everyone recognizes the capital city for.



Hallgrimskirkja Reykjavik Iceland HDR by Jack Torcello at Flickr.

These are just the first ones that came to my mind though, so I think I’ll let you readers have the ball now – what emoticons would you suggest for Iceland? I’d also love to hear about your own home country, what kind of emoticons would best portray it?

Leifur’s Icelandic, thanks Obama.

Posted on 05. Nov, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Icelandic history


Leif Eriksson by Thomas Quine at Flickr.

The president of the United States has recently insulted the whole nation of Iceland, at least if going by the public outcry. His offence? He recently referred to Leifur Eiríksson, also known as Leif Eriksson in the English-speaking world, as a Norwegian.

Leifur was born to an Icelandic mother in Iceland and grew up here; it’s true that his father Eiríkur rauði, or Erik the red as he’s better known, was Norwegian but due to some unfortunate murdering and becoming an outlaw he had to leave country long before Leifur was born. Later in life Leifur too moved out of Iceland, first to a settlement in Greenland, continuing westwards from there to “finding” America, although even the sagas that tell of his travels to Vínland note there already were people living there so definitely Leifur was not the first person to find the new continent. He might regardless have been the first European to do so.


Leif Eriksson statue by mike at Flickr.

There’s some discussion on whether Leifur would have identified himself as Norwegian just the same because of his ancestry, but this is unlikely. Going by every saga reference I can think of people did not think of their ethnicity in the same way it’s thought of presently, as a sum of ancestor roots. Rather people identified so specifically by their own area that Leifur would likely have named his own village as his original home, not Iceland and even less likely a faraway land he only saw when he was already an adult. Sagas such as Gunnlaugs saga Ormstungu also make a clear difference between Norwegians and Icelanders, and make a point of only referring to a man as a Norwegian if his present home was there (if he was visiting Iceland he was still a Norwegian, if he moved to Iceland he would be known by the specific area he lived in in Iceland).


Leifur Eiríksson by TonyParkin67 at Flickr.

To say that Icelanders are proud of him is an understatement, just look at the huge statue of him standing proudly in front of the other well-known landmark of Reykjavík, the Hallgrímskirkja. Did you know though that that statue is actually by an American artist, Alexander Stirling Calder? It was a gift from the USA to Iceland in 1930, a year that marked the 1000th anniversary of Alþing in Iceland. More importantly the foot of the statue bears the text “Leifr Eiricsson, son of Iceland, Discoverer of Vínland”, which has been seen as USA acknowledging the fact that he’s Icelandic and not Norwegian. This did not stop the local people from using the backside of the statue as a urinal though, resulting in guards being placed all around the statue (electric current was also suggested); to this day no other statue has ever had guard protection!

The statue did cause other kinds of scandals as well. For example its current location was not selected by Icelanders but the people presenting the gift, who insisted it had to be put where it is so that it would “crown Reykjavík”, a notion many Icelanders thought quite rude. People were also worried because there were other plans for the hill, namely a large church that was not yet built there. Eventually a compromise was found and the statue was put to the front side of the hill instead of the middle, and although that meant destroying the School Cairn, the old landmark of Reykjavík (the road leading to Leifur’s statue is still called Skólavörðustígur, School Cairn Street) this at least allowed enough space for the church… that was to be Hallgrímskirkja. Still, Leifur was there first!

And he was definitely Icelandic.


Hallgrímskirkja and the statue of Leif Eriksson by Andrea Schaffer.

You can read more about the statue here.
Obama’s gaffe (link).