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Iceland Mag

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Words and sayings in Icelandic that don’t exist in English: Chapter 2

By Staff

  • This is a "flugdólgur" The picture says it all. The word describes a passenger that has totally lost it during a commercial flight. This Icelandic specimen was on his way to New York's JFK when he got smashed and then went berserk. He had to be taken down by fellow passengers and crew members and "fastened" to his seat. The story and the image went viral in 2013. 

Following our first list of words in Icelandic that don't have direct English translations we received many suggestions for other candidates that fall into the same category. So here are ten new words and phrases to add to the list, plus a special section for Icelandic words describing family affairs.

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

"Ha" (exclamation)
One of the most widely used words of the Icelandic language, often striking non-native speakers quite odd and sometimes borderline rude. “Ha” is most often thrown into a conversation if someone does not hear or grasp what you have just told him and is asking you to repeat what you said. The English informal equivalent would be “come again”.
“Ha” is also used in the exact same way as “huh” in English when expressing scorn, disbelief, surprise, or amusement.

Rokrassgat (noun)
Used to describe a notoriously windy place. Literally meaning wind-ass, which actually is known in English as a family name (see for example football player Dean Windass). Where could that have come from?

Mellufær (adjective)
Well the literal meaning of this word is NSFW so please stop reading if you are easily offended. Literally it means “hooker-capable” but is now used to describe someone who has mastered the basics of a certain skill, for instance in a foreign language (which is actually the original definition). 

Frekja (noun)
This covers a pretty wide spectre. “Frekja” is someone that can be one or all of this: a brat, a bully, showing aggressiveness, being rude, discourteous, boorish or churlish. In its softest context it could be used to describe someone with an assertive personality.

Grásleppudrífa – Hundslappadrífa (nouns)
Two quite delightful words that describe the same type of falling snow, capturing when the snowflakes are big and come gliding from the skies. “Grásleppudrífa” literally means “lumpfish-flakes” and “hundslappadrífa” is “dogspaw-flakes”. As a matter of fact, we could dedicate a special section to strange Icelandic words describing various types of snow and snowstorms.

Flugdólgur (noun)
One of the great things about Icelandic is how it seems to create new words, using older root words to describe new and unfamiliar concepts. “Flugdólgur” is one of these. The literal translation would be something like “flight-hooligan”, to refer to anyone who behaves like a hooligan once they board a plane.
Your usual airborne hooligan can be of any social class, male or female, although the most common flugdólgar are drunk, middle-aged men. Most likely aggressive and loud and always obnoxious.
The phrase was translated to English as “air hooligan” after photos of a crazy drunk air hooligan on board an Icelandair flight to New York was duct-taped to his seat, after attacking a fellow passenger, went viral.

Mannkostir (noun)
The world means good points of a person’s character. Although the direct translation would be ‘man qualities’, the word also applies to women, who can also have many ‘mannkostir’.

"Takk fyrir mig"  (phrase)
Lliterally means ‘Thank you for me’, and is a common phrase in the Nordic countries, but unknown in English. Icelanders most often use the phrase to thank someone for a good meal (can also say “Takk fyrir mig” which means “Thanks for dinner”), but it’s also used to thank for a favour, a gift … and pretty much anything else.

Sólarhringur (noun)
Although the astronomy this word seems to assume is rather outdated, it is still quite beautiful. Sólarhringur literally means “sun circle”, and refers to the 24 hours of one day and night. The English term “day” does not capture the exact same meaning, due to its ambiguity, since it is used both to refer to the period of daylight, and the 24 day. The correct, technical translation of the word in English is a nychthemeron, from Greek. Obviously “sun circle” is much more poetic, even if the Sun hasn’t circled the Earth since the Copernicus invented heliocentrism.

Duglegur (adjective)
Duglegur means diligent or hard-working. However, the word can also mean durable, vigorous or simply ‘well done’. So, Icelanders can go out for a “duglegur göngutúr” (a brisk walk), a child can be praised while potty training by the use of the word, and an employee can be “duglegur” (hard-working).

And special chapter for family affairs

Mæðgur and mæðgin (nouns)
The word mæðgur means ‘mother and daughter’ while mæðgin means ‘mother and son’. In Iceland you’ll often come across people gushing over a mother with her newborn child, saying: “En falleg mæðgin/En fallegar mæðgur!” (Beautiful mother and son/Beautiful mother and daughter).

Feðgar and feðgin (nouns)
These two words are the same as the above, except they describe the father-child relationship. Feðgar means ‘father and son’ while feðgin means ‘father and daughter’.

Svili – svilkona (noun)
Now, these two words manage to make complicated relations easy to understand. Two men married to sisters are called ‘svilar’. Two women married to brothers are called ‘svilkonur’.

Compiled by Sara McMahon, Magnús Sveinn Helgason and Jón Kaldal

Read more: 10 Useless Icelandic phrases you should not bother to learn

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