Icelandic Language Blog

Þetta reddast, þetta kemur. Posted by on Apr 10, 2012 in Icelandic customs

One of the most Icelandic expressions I can think of is Þetta reddast, “it’ll work out”/”it’ll fix itself”. It’s used in any kind of a situation where someone’s facing a problem,  no matter how difficult. It can be anything ranging from a confusing schedule at work to a situation that’s so desperate it would take a miracle to somehow right it. Yet Icelanders seem to think there’s always a good chance of a miracle of this kind – or perhaps they’re just taking the outlook that in the end most of our problems really weren’t as bad as they felt like at the time. In any case Þetta reddast is thrown easily out like a magic word and it’s believed in almost an equally magical sense.

In fact the usage of the worst “redda/st” (= to fix, to be saved) is not that old: the first time it’s seen in a dictionary is in the beginning of 1900’s. It’s quite likely that the word existed long before that, though. The origin of it is in Old Norse, however, according to Guðrún Kvaran the word “reddast” itself is a borrowed word from Danish and as such I feel it’s safe to say that it would have had to make itself useful enough before it was considered an Icelandic word and allowed to be printed in a dictionary.

Another, similar line is Þetta kemur. This is a saying that very quickly becomes familiar to a language student and translates directly as “it’ll come”, “it” meaning knowledge on how to use the language. Made a mistake? Made many? Failed an exam? Well, Icelandic is difficult. Þetta kemur.

In many ways both of these sayings are both reassuring and immensely annoying. When running on a tight schedule only to find out that some part of a project has just failed or broken beyond repair the last thing I want to hear is that things will correct themselves somehow. Because they won’t. I know already who’s really going to have to do the correcting, it’ll be me and I won’t be doing it happily! Hearing that dreaded phrase would otherwise send my blood pressure through the ceiling if it weren’t for the fact that it also makes me feel like my troubles have just been put into perspective. Maybe one project really is not as important as I think of it – maybe things can actually still be fixed – maybe if I’ll just sit down and calm down I’ll think of some way around my problem. After all, Icelanders are nothing if not good at making their way around obstacles that to the rest of the world seem impassable.

Everything tends to be, more or less, a matter of arrangements, talking to the people involved, explaining the situation and asking for more time… you’d be surprised at how many things can eventually be re-negotiated. There seems to be no such thing as a dead end. Lost your wallet/purse/laptop? Þetta reddast*. Made a gigantic fool out of yourself by saying accidentally something funny? Þetta kemur. Essay not ready even though the deadline is a mere hour away? Þetta reddast.


*If this happens just look around for a person holding it up and trying to find you or go to the nearest info point to ask about it. Iceland is a surprisingly safe place to carelessly leave things lying around.

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About the Author: hulda

Hi, I'm Hulda, originally Finnish but now living in the suburbs of Reykjavík. I'm here to help you in any way I can if you're considering learning Icelandic. Nice to meet you!


  1. Alex:

    I liked this post. It’s nice to get some usable and common expressions but not be bombarded by dozens, and get a bit of an etymological perspective. Not too much for the senses, but after finishing it thinking you’ve learnt something quite productive. Nice work!

    Má ég spyra þig hvaðan þú kemur? T.d. móðurmál þitt? Ég hélt að þú væri úr landi þar sem fólk talar ensku sem móðurmál en ég sá eitthvað í textanum sem hefur gert mig óviss um það núna. Þetta er engin gagnrýn, alls ekki. Ég er málvísindanemandi og væri gott að staðfesta lítinn grun sko 😀

  2. Eric Swanson:

    I can see how these sayings can be annoying but my life experience of many years is that these two do help one “stay calm and carry on” as the Brits say. I can’t comment as to Danish origins of “redder”, but the Swedes say “Det ordner sig [it will work itself out]”.

  3. hulda:

    Alex: Jeii, gaman að heyra að þú hafðir gaman af honum! Takk fyrir skilaboðin.

    Það er rétt, ég er ekki frá enskumælandi landi. 😀 Enska er ekki móðurmálið mitt, svo hægt er að stundum geri ég nokkrar villur. En þetta kemur líka…

    Hvað ert þú búinn að læra Íslensku lengi? Þú talar mjög vel.

    Eric: indeed – they put things into perspective. Things are rarely as bad as they may seem at the moment when they happen, and they might indeed work out on their own. And even if they didn’t it’s still probably not the end of the world. 😀

  4. Alex:

    Takk fyrir svarið 😀

    I’ve been learning for about 4 years, but the first 2 were just a massive challenge to understand the structure and how every part of it worked. As some people say, there are some languages that you can just start learning and you can slowly develop, but there are other languages where you need to know EVERYTHING before you can say ANYTHING.

    So, the categories of nouns, how cases worked, syntax rules, phonological rules, verb system, weak/strong/irregulars, different paradigms, adjective declension, reflexive possessives…. for someone with no knowledge of a ‘true’ Germanic language(English not applying here) it takes a gigantic amount of time to get familiar with it.

    But yeah, being an LX student means more material is available to me which might not be to the average learner, which might have helped a bit (or complicated matters?!)

    Anyway, I’m doing this year’s summer course at the Arni Magnusson Institute so the next 2-3 months have some serious study ahead for me!

  5. hulda:

    So true. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve made some very simple mistake and ended up saying something completely different than I originally meant to. Icelandic is full of rules and sometimes those rules can be very, very confusing and look as if they were working against each other. (They don’t really, it just looks like they do.)

    Welcome to Iceland next summer! Sounds like you’ll be spending a lot of time in Árnagarður which is also the building where most of our classes are. If you need any help don’t hesitate to contact me. 🙂

  6. Alex:

    Það er mjög vænn hjá þér 😉
    Ég var ekki að pæla í því en þegar sagðirðu um Árnagarð ég fór til að sjá hvar hann var og allt í einu gerði ég mér grein fyrir að það vantar bara tvo mánuði og tvær vikur en það er allt of mikið að læra fyrr en ég kemi! Ahh.

    Kannski reddast þetta? 😀

    Maybe you can help me with a question I have.
    I wasn’t sure how to say “two and a half months” just then (so I said 2 months 2 weeks). I looked on Google for “tveir/tvo og hálf mánuði/r” but nothing came up, so I presume it’s wrong.

    Are you doing the BA in Icelandic course?

  7. hulda:

    Já, visst reddast þetta! 😀 Ég held að það sé kannski “í tvo og hálfan mánuð”, karlkynsorð og þolfall.

    And yes, I’m doing the Icelandic for Foreigners BA course. I’m hoping to perhaps become a translator one day.

  8. Veronika:

    ‘Þetta reddast.’ I´ve been waiting all week to use this and that opportunity arrived today. I jumped right into the conversation and said it. Yay me!

  9. hulda:

    Indeed, go you! This has to be one of my favourite phrases of Icelandic ever. 😀

  10. Maria:

    I love this expression! An Icelandic glacier guide taught me it when I was there and I sometimes randomly slip it into an English conversation just for fun 😉

    PS I really want to learn Icelandic but it seems really hard!

    • hulda:

      @Maria Hahaha, it’s possibly the most important Icelandic expression to learn because it does hide within a great truth: somehow, one way or another, things will sort themselves out so worrying is unnecessary. 😀

      Despite its reputation Icelandic is reasonably learn-able (I really don’t know how else to put it). There are difficult parts but there are also easy parts, a few years ago there was a guy who learned Icelandic in one(!) year… I do think he was an exceptionally good language-learner though!

  11. David:

    I suspect there may be an underlying meaning to Þetta reddast that things will fix themselves but not without some effort. On the morning I was to depart to Iceland I discovered my passport had expired. I arrived in Keflavik just one day behind schedule. Without the attitude that this problem could be fixed I would have been paralyzed.