Iceland Mag

9 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag


10 words and phrases in Icelandic that don’t exist in English

By Jón Kaldal

  • Window-weather Yes, that’s a thing in Icelandic. What does it mean? See below. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Don’t get lost in translation. Here are some words in Icelandic that don't have direct English translations, and a few of them have a cultural reference that you might even consider hilarious.

Gluggaveður (noun)
When the weather seems great, when you’re looking through a window from inside, but is actually cold and not so great when you step out without a jacket. Literally it means “window-weather.”

Rúntur (noun)
A popular driving route where cars drive slowly round and round, almost bumper-to-bumper. The verb “að rúnta” is the equivalent of doing a cruise night.

Þórðargleði (noun)
The feeling of pleasure derived from seeing someone fail or suffer misfortune. The German word is well-known: “Schadenfreude” and is quite transparent, meaning “harm-joy.” The Icelandic word entered the language in the 20th century, and its source is the behaviour of an old mean-spirited farmer named Þórður. Literally it means “the joy of Þórður.”

Kviðmágur (noun)
Guys (or girls), who have slept with the same person. Literally it means “abdomen-brother-in-law”.

Álegg (noun)
A synonym for everything you decide to put on the bread. Cheese, jam, ham, paté, or whatever. Used in the same way as “toppings” for pizza in English.

Dalalæða (noun)
A waist-deep fog that forms during calm nights after a warm and sunny day. Literally means a fog that sneaks up from the bottom of a valley, “valley-sneak.”

Nenna (verb)
The closest word in English would be “to bother,” but there is no proper equivalent. The word can denote the meaning of being too lazy to do something (ég nenni ekki—I can’t be bothered, or I don’t feel like it), but is also often used almost as “please”: “nennir þú að loka hurðinni?” meaning, would you please close the door?

Sólarfrí (noun)
When staff gets an unexpected day or afternoon off to enjoy a particularly sunny and warm day. A reason to celebrate indeed. Literally it means “sun-vacation.”

Þetta reddast (phrase)
Means “it will all work out okay,” but is often used when things look like they won’t work out at all.
The phrase has been described as Iceland’s motto. It can be both an indication of the nation’s general lack of enthusiasm for planning ahead properly, but also, more positively, shows a rich appetite for an easy-going laissez-faire attitude.

Takk fyrir síðast (phrase)
Thanks for the last time (I saw you). A popular phrase that you will also find in other Nordic languages.

Do you know more Icelandic words or phrases that don’t exist in English?
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Read more: Words and sayings in Icelandic that don’t exist in English: Chapter 2
Read more: 10 Useless Icelandic phrases you should not bother to learn

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