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Icelandic Words That Are Missing in English

|July 15, 2017
Anthropologist, social media guru, Icelandic nature and food enthusiast.

Here are the words that Icelanders miss the most from Icelandic when trying to speak another language. Some are great, others maybe a little less so. Let's find out.

Icelanders are proud of their language, even ridiculously sometimes. We are always talking about our language being the purest language in the world. It’s the language of the Vikings and it has been kept clean forever. The fact of the matter is that this is true, at least in some parts. It just, would be cool if we wouldn’t talk about it so much. Maybe tone it down a little bit. For example consider skipping Dagur íslenskrar tungu e. The day of the Icelandic tongue (language) which we have celebrated yearly since 1996.

But being an Icelanders I do, like most other, love my language especially the wonderful words that I feel are lacking in other languages.

Here I have made a list of the words I miss the most when trying to speak another language.


This is basically a conversation where you swap secrets and tell all. A person will open their hearts and listen to or share with you her/his deepest, darkest secrets. This kind of conversation often takes place after a drink or a few. A trúnó is most of the time only between two people but more can join. Trúnó partners can be strangers or maybe just your grandmother.

The bad thing about trúnó is that you might hear things you wish you never knew about and then it’s the whole, should I keep quiet or tell the world? “This is a stranger I don’t really have any loyalty to this person, or do I”? There is no good answer to this dilemma. But most of the time both have shared such deep secrets it is in your favor to keep it to yourself. If you don’t tell I won’t.


Photo from Steinsnes horse farm

Ah this lovely phenomena Páskahret. This would roughly be translated Easter Cold Spell. I am not sure if this only exist in Iceland because this only happens here but this is basically when the light has started to shine again after winter and you are starting to think “yay, summer is just around the corner” only to be smacked with a STORM to get you back in your seat. Hold your horses!

Even if there is sun in March don’t celebrate too soon. The Páskahret is yet to come and it’s sure to bring snow, wind, rain and horrible weather. This can make driving in Easter in Iceland challenging and slippery. Keep it in mind.

Páskahret, you are definitely not my fav!


You will not spend 5 minutes in Iceland without hearing this one.
Jæja can mean anything from, let’s go to kids, stop doing this.
It’s what we use to have things stop to start things and to put it out in the world that you might be a little sick of things.

Here are a few examples:

After lunch and it’s time to get back to work: Jæja
The kids at the birthday party are getting to be too loud: Jæja
This conversation has thinned out and I think I am going to leave now: Jæja
Someone has gone too far with a joke and now we should switch topics: Jæja
Someone is getting ready and has been taking forever: Jæja

Kviðmágar – Kviðsystur

Now this is a bad one. Keep in mind we are a small nation, we are only about 330.000 people, sometimes even friends will have shared a sex partner at some point. If two men have slept with the same person they are Kviðmágar. If two women have shared the same person they are Kviðsystur.

Kvið(ur) is stomach so basically, you have put your stomach on the same person, weird but true.
Systur = sisters
Mágar = men with family relations (mostly used for two men, of a male marries your sister and you are a male you become mágar)

Að nenna

This is a tough one to explain but here it goes:

You know when you want to want to do something but you just can’t find it in your heart to do it because you are too lazy or don’t want to handle the outcome.  Well, then you have experienced not to nenna. The verb nenna is mainly used negatively, ég nenni ekki. Some have tried to explain this by saying I can’t be bothered but for me, that doesn’t fully sum it up.
Can’t be bothered is more that you feel you are above doing this but to nenna ekki is mainly caused by the fact that you don’t want to physically or mentally do something. You are probably just to lazy.

Let’s try making an example. There is this party and you want to want to go but you had a long day at work and your mind and body is saying no, then you nenni ekki.

Another one: You need to call family members and thank them for your Christmas presents. You do want to want to call them and chat for a while but your mind is saying “no wouldn’t it be much better if you and I would just cozy up on the sofa and watch some Friends without anyone interrupting?” Now again you nenna ekki.

Þetta reddast

Every Icelander’s favorite word when everything might possibly be going bad or wrong. We say “þetta reddast” this basically means that no matter what everything will sort out. It’s kind of like Hakuna Matata but in Icelandic. This is especially great because we truly believe this. There have been times when glaciers are erupting and we don’t have any money and our president is saying things like “you ain’t seen nothing yet” on global television but we still just keep on going and “þetta reddast” through it all.

Other similar things might be the “just keep swimming” line from Finding Nemo. The fact that the only similar lines I am finding come from cartoons might also shed a little light on the childlike positivity that sometimes fills the minds of Icelanders.

Bob Marley- don't worry about a thing

Bob Marley got it, he must have been partly Icelandic!


If you are talking about the night before the 3rd of June then your will say aðfaranótt þriðja Júní. This simplifies everything and there is no way to get confused about it being the night of the 2nd or the 3rd or what ever.

Basically, if you go to sleep on the 2nd you are sleeping on the aðfaranótt of the 3rd. Hopefully, you are understanding and I am not making this more complicated.

Frænka / Frændi

The word that I most often miss when speaking English or any other language for that matter. This is heavenly when trying to talk about a person who is related to you in some way but you don’t really remember how. This whole second cousin, twice removed and all of that, don’t even get me started.

Frændi is for every male who has some family relation to you, blood, foster or married into your family.
Frænka is for every female who is related to you and even if this woman just married your frændi she can become your frænka.

Nafnar / Nöfnur

Nafnar is the name for it if there are two or more men and Nöfnur is the name for it if there are two or more women. It basically means to share a name. Here are for example, two men. Guðmundur Guðmundsson on the left a former coach for the Icelandic handball team and Guðmundur Steingrímsson in the middle a former politician for Björt Framtíð political party and Guðmundur Einarsson a famous Icelandic artist. All of them carry the name Guðmundur and are thereby Nafnar. Get it?

The same could be said for like Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez, they are(since female)… Nöfnur!

Then we have this thing when people share exactly the same name: Jón Jónsson and his friend Jón Jónsson are ALnafnar – the “AL” means that they share all of their names.

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