15 Odd Icelandic Idioms and Sayings

15 Odd Icelandic Idioms and Sayings

15.11.2018 | Camille Beuvard

Icelandic is a North Germanic language, spoken by around 0.005% of the globe population, that fascinates the linguists for many reasons. The fact that it has remained almost untouched since medieval times makes listening to Icelandic a form of time travel. Texts dating from the 12th century including sagas can be read by modern speakers. Great efforts are also made to preserve the language and some words are regularly being created, many being just compounds, like tölva, a computer, a fusion of tala (numbers) and völva (witch), literally a number witch. Another example is myndband, a video, literally a picture (mynd) band .

On top of that, the Icelandic language has a delightful range of quirky expressions that you will absolutely want to use in your language too.

1. This is the Raisin at the end of the hot dog (Það er rúsínan í pylsuendanum)

The Icelandic version of the “icing on the cake” or “the cherry on top”, to describe something that comes as a pleasant surprise, a positive supplement to something else that is already very nice to make it just that much more wonderful.

Sentence: “Seeing Northern Lights on the last day of our trip around Iceland was the raisin at the end of the hot dog”.

2. On with the Butter (Áfram með smjörið)

Used when you really need to get something done, or remind people to get back to work and keep moving.  “Carry on!

Sentence: “Stop lazying around and get on with the butter!”

3. It All Comes with the Cold Water (Kemur allt með kalda vatninu)

When someone is being impatient, you can remind him that it all comes with the cold water,  meaning things will fall into place if you are patient.

Sentence: “Give it some time, it all comes with the cold water.”

4. I come completely from the mountains (Ég kem alveg af fjöllum)

When you have no clue what people are talking about or what is going on in the situation.

Sentence: “What on earth is going on here? I come completely from the mountains!”

5. To Lay Your Head in Water (Að leggja höfuðið í bleyti)

Used when you really need some time to think about something, make a decision or come up with a new idea. This is when Icelanders recommend you to “lay your head in water” to think deeply and yes, kind of “sleep on it”.

Sentence: “I feel lost. I’m going to lay my head in water and figure what to do.”

6. Thank You for Last Time (Takk fyrir síðast)

You might find it surprising that Icelanders you met the other day at a gathering “thank you for last time”, a common thing Icelanders say when they have enjoyed fun times together and want to thank the person the next time they meet. When they leave an event or a place where they were invited, Icelanders also use “Takk fyrir mig” (Thank you for me)!

Sentence: “Thank you for last time, we had so much fun!”

7. I won’t sell it more expensive than I bought it (Ég sel það ekki dýrara en keypti það)

Used when you spread a rumour or a gossip in order to clear yourself of any responsibility if the rumour turns out to be false.

Sentence: “This is what I’ve heard but I won’t sell it more expensive than I bought it.”

8. Totally Out Driving (Alveg út að aka)

Used when somebody is completely off with something.

Sentence: “You could have really hurt yourself out there ! You are completely out driving!”

9. To Bite The Molar (Bíta á jaxlinn)

Used when you need to gather all your courage to face a challenging or uncomfortable situation, when something difficult presents itself, then you should bite the molar and keep going !

Sentence: “The weather is awful outside, but I’m going to bite the molar and go buy what we need.”

10. They splash the Skyr who own it (Þeir sletta skyrinu sem eiga það)

Popular among Icelanders since medieval times, Skyr, a local delicacy reminiscent of yogurt, deserved its own idiom. The literal sense means that only a person who can afford skyr can afford to waste it by splashing it around. In everyday language, it is used ironically to refer to people who think they can do whatever they want just because they have money to do so. It translates to the the English proverb “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.”

Sentence: “They really won't stop with this extravagant lifestyle... They splash the skyr who own it!"

11. No one becomes a bishop unbeaten (Enginn verður óbarinn biskup)

Just because it sounds much more elegant than “No pain, no gain”. One has to exert himself to reach his goals and be prepared to encounter difficulties and obstacles.

Sentence: Things don’t come easy, you know! No one becomes a bishop without a beating.

12. There are so many wonders in a cow's head (Margt er skrýtið í kýrhausnum)

Used when you witness something amazing or incredible.

Sentence: “I can't believe this just happened! There are so many wonders in a cow's head! 

13. I took him to the bakery (Ég tók hann í bakaríið)

At first, it sounds like a lovely invitation and a simple moment shared between friends. No, that’s not quite like it. It is rather used as a threat, often in sports as well, when your adversary is about to experience a heavy defeat.

Sentence: “I can’t wait until the finals next week! We will take them to the bakery.”

14. I will show you the two worlds (Ég skal sýna þér í tvo heimana)

Another idiom, another threat, this one suggesting you will get your revenge or “I will get back to you”. A softer version of it is “I will find you at the beach” (Ég mun finna þig í fjöru).

Sentence: “Don’t take me for a fool or I will show you the two worlds.”

15. You are such a Latte-drinking wool scarf (Þú ert nú meiri lattelepjandi lopatrefillinn)

A cliché used by Icelanders to refer to those fellow Icelanders who live in the downtown core of Reykjavík, who obviously do nothing else than drink café lattes, wear wool scarves, and go to rather posh events.

Sentence: “Those latte-drinking wool scarves have no clue about life in the countryside!”


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