(Never mind the football) What Has Iceland Ever Done for the English?

Iceland is a small island on the edge of the frozen north with a population of around 323,000. It is the home of the viking, the long boat, and the Norse god sagas. It is an ideal place to view the northern lights and everybody there speaks perfect English, because nobody else in the Icelandworld speaks Icelandic, and Icelanders love travelling. And they have a fantastic football ream.

All those statements are true. But they are not the whole story in regard to their language because, without really knowing it, English speakers also use Icelandic / old Norse terms every day. Here’s a word for (almost) each letter of the alphabet, together with a definition, or the original Old Nose meaning if the word has evolved a little over time.

  • Auk – (an arctic seabird)
  • bylaw  – village law
  • cake
  • dregs
  • eider – (a  type of duck)
  • fog – spray/shower
  • geyser – to gush
  • husband – master of the house
  • ill – bad
  • jolly – mid winter feast
  • kid – young goat
  • lad – young man
  • muck – cow dung
  • Norman – north man
  • ombudsman – steward
  • plough
  • reindeer
  • saga
  • Thursday – (the god) Thor’s day
  • ugly – repulsive
  • viking
  • window – wind-eye

I couldn’t find any words to go with x, y, or z, but there are plenty of other words – like egg, and a surprisingly large number beginning with the letter s, that derive from old Norse but are in everyday use in English.

There are however some words in modern Icelandic for which we have no exact translation:

  • Gluggavedur – it’s much colder outside, than it looks from inside.
  • Solarfri – an unexpected day off work because it is sunny.
  • Betta reddant – [despite appearances to the contrary] it will all work out OK. (Brexit perhaps? Though at the moment, maybe ‘gluggavedur’ feels more apt.)

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