Filling in your Icelandic.

Posted on 21. Jul, 2015 by in Icelandic customs, Icelandic grammar

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Iceland by Rog01 at Flickr.

The one big difference between written and spoken Icelandic it would probably be this: spoken Icelandic has more words. Well – non-words, actually, more like fillers and exclamations of various types. Some are used for the typical purpose of a filler word, to patch a pause in conversation while the speaker is thinking of how to continue, some are used to strengthen whatever message is to follow and some actually have a very specific meaning, exclamations that can only be used in certain situations. Regardless, the most typical use for them is to pad the discussion to avoid awkward pauses, so let’s have a look at some of the things you can use to hide your thinking moments!

Typical fillers

Sko

Doesn’t really mean anything, just used to fill in pauses in speech, could probably be translated as “look”. You’ll hear it a lot if you’re talking with an absent-minded type of an Icelander, which can get a little annoying if you’re talking with them on the phone…

Hérna

Would mean “here” if translated according to meaning, but often just used as a tool to wedge yourself in to some conversation you find interesting. “I heard that they’re planning to build yet another hotel on Lækjargata -” “Hérna – are you sure they can even fit another one on it now?”

Þúst (= þú veist)

Technically speaking this means “you know”, and it’s used in a similar manner as the English you know – you know, to, you know, just slip it in you know, with no one actually being interested in what you know. You know. Both Þú veist and þúst are used but the shortened version is more common, especially among the young people.

Naturally nothing stops you from using all three, and there’s a type of a person who would do exactly that, a lot and often: “Sko – hérna, sko, þúst…” At worst you’re looking for a few minutes of skohérnaþúst-ing before the person actually manages to say what they wanted to tell you. 😀

Strengthening exclamations

Æ –

This one just means “oh” and has a wide variety of uses, all depending on the tone of your voice. Someone ran into some misfortune? Æ-eee with sympathy. You really want to pick a fight with someone? Æ þegiðu (= oh shut up) usually does it. It may not sound that bad but it’s actually quite a rude thing to say in Iceland, not that that ever stops anyone from using it as this example shows.

Exclamations with specific meaning

Heyrðu

“Hear, you.” Another good word to use when you want to hop into a conversation, or just plain old getting someone’s attention. A very typical way of starting any conversation, especially with a stranger.

Oj (also oj barasta)

“Ew”, no other meanings. If you say Oj/oy/oi in Iceland people will immediately think you ‘re voicing your disgust over something, so be careful if this exclamation works differently in your own language! Finns especially, while saying “oi, parasta!” (= oh, this is the best!) about food in Finland is totally fine doing the same in Iceland will backfire – oj barasta is the epitome of grossness.

Jæja

This one has to be divided into two different versions, both of which can have a very specific meaning. The first one comes with stress on the latter syllable – jæJA – and typically carries the meaning “well then”. It can be used as a friendly way of interrupting people from whatever they’re up to, or interrupting a conversation to announce something that’s not the topic. The other one has the stress in front – ja – and tends to mean “NOW you’ve really done it”.  If you hear this version, drop whatever you’re doing and look as apologetic as possible, because whatever you just went and did did not go well with the person addressing you. Mothers have their own version of this latter jæja that has high destructive force behind it and can sweep the legs off of even the baddest, most troll-like people this country has (works best if it’s their own mother).

Filler words are quite handy by the way! If you get stuck trying to remember how to say something in Icelandic, skohérnaþúst a little and see if the extra time you won for yourself helped out. Another thing it’s useful for is figuring out what you’re going to say if you’re in a quick situation, someone asks you something and it catches you entirely unprepared; jæja for a while in a steady tone while you go through your memory storage on possible answers. However, if nothing comes up it’s good to give up before the other person begins to look pained or starts inching away from you sideways… 😀

Icelandic kennings.

Posted on 16. Jul, 2015 by in Icelandic history

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Oseberg ship by jorn_pettersen at Flickr

What is “a wave’s horse”? If someone’s talking of “Ymir’s skull”, what are they talking about? What or who is being called Hringaná in the old song Hættu að gráta Hringaná? And who is “the possessor of the fallen slain and the owner of Sessrúmnir”?

Kennings, or circumlocutions, form a large part of traditional Icelandic poetry, so important that without a certain amount of cultural knowledge they’re all but impossible to understand.  Snorri Sturluson saw it best to write down information on old gods in Edda as a guide for poets to come, though in fact he was a Christian himself, and at the last minute too: the skill of composing poetry in the traditional way was fast dying out and the only people who still held the knowledge were almost all in Iceland. This became such an Iceland-specific thing that Medieval Icelanders were often hired in high positions in the European courts to write poetry for (and of) the king they served.

Edda played in this by offering people knowledge that was in danger of being forgotten. Old legends of the Norse gods held so much information that without knowing them many poems were entirely nonsensical. If you came across the description “Flesh of the mother of the enemy of giants” you probably would not immediately think of earth/soil, unless you knew that the enemy of giants refers to Þór, whose mother’s name was Jörð – earth. Thus her flesh is the soil.

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Magnate’s residence at tissø by mararie at Flickr.

Some kennings are easier to understand than others. A “spears’ crash” is a battle, the “wave’s horse” is a ship. Likewise, it you know your sagas and Eddic poems you won’t find “Baldur’s bane” too hard to understand: Baldur was killed by an arrow made of mistletoe, the only thing in the world that could harm him. “Ymir’s skull” is the sky, since that’s what Óðinn and his two brothers used to create the sky. “Hanged god” is none other than Óðinn, the only one of the Norse gods that actually spent a good while hanging from a tree. “Wolf’s father” and “father of the sea-serpent”… well, when suspicious children are mentioned you know it’s about Loki.

Then there are kennings that today sound so illogical they border on hilarious. Would you call a sword an “icicle of blood” or a “war-onion”? Or if you’d like to go for a really unnecessarily fancy and long kennings, how does “fire-brandisher of blizzard of ogress of protection-moon of steed of boat-shed” sound like if you know that it simply means “a warrior”?

Kennings can indeed be complicated and occasionally they have several parts that each explain another part that appears with them, or are used to pinpoint to a specific meaning if the first part can mean several things. An example of the former could be “feeder of war-gull”. War-gull would be the first kenning to crack, and since it refers to birds present at a battle it no doubt means ravens. Ravens come to eat on the battlefield, so who is it that feeds them? Yup, this kenning also means “a warrior”. Of the latter kind of kenning we can look at “the possessor of the fallen slain and the owner of Sessrúmnir”. The first part is a little vague since there are two possessors for the fallen slain, Óðinn and… someone else. Half of the chosen einherjar are chosen first, and then the rest continue to Valhalla to feast at Óðinn’s table while the first group stays in Sessrúmnir which is owned by the goddess Freyja.

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Viking trade gold by Arild Finne Nybø at Flickr.

Kennings were by no means something that Icelanders forgot after the Medieval times. The song I mentioned, Hættu að gráta Hringaná, actually uses a kenning! Firstly the word hringaná is made of two parts: hringa + ná. The first part translates as “…of rings”, and as for the second we have Ná that’s actually a name. She’s maybe better known as Gná, a servant girl of Frigg, Óðinn’s wife.

Anything referring to jewellery or female gods tends to mean a woman, usually a wife (regardless of whether she owned such jewellery or not). In this case the composer was rather clever and took into account the fact that Gná was a servant girl, thus selecting this kenning for another servant girl that the song is about – a girl who had to have her toes amputated and was grieving the loss. The composer then wrote this song to console her: “Don’t cry, Gná of rings, listen to my advice…” and with that proved that Icelanders never forgot the kennings.

Iceland in deep poop – literally.

Posted on 09. Jul, 2015 by in Icelandic culture, Uncategorized

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Siggi’s yogurt by Juhan Sonin at Flickr.com

Since the boom in tourism began Iceland is now facing a new, growing problem – tourists littering, and worse. I have addressed the problems before in The Iceaboo but let’s repeat: the cleanness of the Icelandic nature is due to people not throwing trash around. There are no cleaning ladies sweeping through the scenery every morning to gather up what you left there. Tourists have already had such a devastating effect on some of the old wonders that one, Seljavallalaug, is now avoided by Icelanders because it’s been left so filthy (link). At another place, Hrúnalaug (link), the problem has gotten so bad that the owner is threatening to bulldoze the whole place or possibly spread manure thickly around the old bathing house.

However, seeing the habits of many tourists manure may not deter them. A current, somewhat pressing problem is that foreigners rent cars, park them by the main road for the night and sleep in them, and in the morning they drive off leaving all their trash behind, including human feces and used toilet paper. The aforementioned Hrúnalaug is also suffering from both camping (forbidden on the site), vandalism and lots and lots of – well, shit (link).

Pooping in the nature does probably not sound like a huge problem, but when the sheer amount of tourists (link) and small amount of land are compared the problem becomes more obvious. Worst of all the travelers don’t take into account things such as nature parks being, well, areas that you really shouldn’t damage. That’s why they’re called nature parks. Snæfellsnes in particular is in trouble and it’s barely July.

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Sheep dung slinging by Örlygur Hnefill at Flickr.com. This is apparently a part of an annual festival at Hólmavík!

While destroying nature parks is inexcusable the actual problem may not be entirely the tourists’ fault. According to Haraldur Sigurðsson (link) some rental shops in fact advice people to stay the night on the side of the road, as that’s not forbidden by law. Up until now Icelanders have enjoyed this freedom happily but getting a million tourists means “a million poops” as Haraldur puts it, and I can’t help but agree with him that the law should probably be changed now. It’s sad to lose that bit of freedom but too much is too much.

Another problem, when looking at the matter from the tourists’ point of view, is the lack of toilets (link). If you’re traveling in Iceland it’s best to go whenever you see one, the next one may be several hours away, and there’s no guarantee to the conditions when you find one. I know we once drove for a long time to see Dettifoss and used the public toilet there, which not only lacked toilet paper but had a floor swimming in… well… all kinds of things you’d rather not think about (the smell was so awful I thought my nose hairs would fall off).

So while tourists are very welcome here, please keep in mind a few things:

– There’s a lack of toilets in the countryside. It’s a problem that is being worked on but until things change, please use the toilet whenever you find one, you don’t want to drive past Kirkjubæjarklaustur because you didn’t quite need to go yet and then find out you’ve got nothing but desert up ahead for hours.

– Read the signs. If it’s a nature park, camping is not allowed. If it’s private ground, camping is not allowed without permission. If it’s private ground such as Hrúnalaug that has actual signs banning camping in the area, do not camp there.

– Don’t litter, just don’t.

– As for pooping on the side of the road… oh come on, that’s gross and you’re gross for doing it. I understand that sometimes emergency strikes but this many emergencies is just not very likely.

– Besides, why would you even want to spend your night on the side of the road? Camping sites here are cheap, have toilets, showers, sometimes even washing machines for your clothes, washing and cooking spots, electricity and so forth, staying at camping sites makes your traveling so much more comfortable. They also have large bins for your other dumping needs!

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Unicorn poop cookies by Justin Dolske at Flickr.com