Visually Descriptive Vocab: Appelsínuhúð

Hello, Internet!

It’s been forever, I know, and I’m not going to spend too much time at the moment rehashing the time gone by. Suffice to say that I took three translation-related MA courses last semester and worked harder than I maybe have in university ever (and I’ve been in university for a long time now), and whoa was there just a lot to do. So any blog posts that I might have managed during those lost months would have been less cheery/informative/interesting and more along the lines of this.

That bit’s over and done now, though, so I’m going to see about getting back to posting here at least every so often. And what better way to start than with fun vocab!

I was reading through my email this morning and opened one from a local home-delivery website that has daily deals—basically, discounted vacuums and home goods. And one of today’s deals—a product that claims to help one reduce cellulite—yielded up an amazing new Icelandic word. Observe:


The caption reads: 20 day treatment that reduces cellulite. The Icelandic word for ‘cellulite’? Delightfully, it’s appelsínuhúð, which literally means ‘orange-skin.’ Which is a perfectly apt and yet totally imaginative way of describing cellulite, isn’t it? Skin that is covered in little pocks or dimples, like the peel of an orange.

orange peel close up

I don’t think I’ll look at cellulite (or oranges) the same after this, but I will probably remember this word, so that’s something.

And with that, happy 2016, everyone! It’s not a particularly seasonal start to the year, but it’s good to be back, all the same.

You just called your kid what?

In keeping with Saturday’s post

We were learning body vocab in class recently, which included pretty general words, like “læri” (thigh), “olnbogi” (elbow), and “brjost” (breast), as well as words like “rass” (basically, “butt,” but literally, I think, “ass.”) Because opinions and sensitivities vary about such things, I asked my teacher if “rass” was a polite word, like something you might say to a young child or your grama. She said yes, a little confusedly, since I wasn’t able to effectively explain that I was asking because we have a whole gradation of words, varying in politeness, for this particular body part in English. But while I was pondering how to explain myself, she added this little tidbit:

The word “rassgat” (a combination of “rass” and “gat,” which means hole/opening…you get it) can be used in two totally different colloquial manners.  If you tell someone to “farðu í rassgat” or to “go to rassgat” you are telling someone, in no uncertain and pretty salty terms, to leave you alone and remove themselves from your presence, possibly to relocate to a dark and not terribly clean or cozy place.

If, however, you are seeing a young relative, or perhaps greeting your friend’s adorable child, you can say, “Hvað þú ert mikið rassgat!” (Basically, “What a little rassgat you are!”) In this context, you mean “rassgat” as something really small and cute, something adorable and cuddly. But you’re also calling a child a rassgat, which for those of us who aren’t familiar with this sort of diminutive, can seem rather surprising. One of my classmates actually had a story about hearing someone refer to her friend’s child in this way and getting very offended on the kid’s behalf until it was explained to her.

So, fun fact. You can call a child a rassgat in Iceland, and not get punched in the face by an angry parent. Vocab!

Irreverent Icelandic Lessons

Or, Icelandic the fun way.

Icelandic language studies at the university may be characterized by a good deal of national pride in Icelanders’ great literary heritage, the nation’s veritable slew of firsts and per-capita records, it’s unique nature and uniquely bonkers weather patterns, but there is also a fair amount of irreverence mixed in, a willingness to poke fun at certain aspects of Icelandic life or the (stereotypical) Icelandic character, as well as slightly more scandalous (depending on your leanings) mix of study materials and subjects. This has been particularly, delightfully, evident to me in the last month or so.

As many of you might know, the pagan festival of Þorri begins at the end of January and lasts for a month. Þorri feasts, or Þorrablót, have been very popular in Iceland for several decades (the tradition sort of died out and then was revived by an industrious restaurant owner in the late 50s) and, due to the let’s say…exotic…nature of much of the food, have been the subject of a number of televised, gross-out food adventure programs, such as  Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” (he goes to a Þorrablót during his extremely irritating Iceland episode).

Þorramatur, via Wikimedia Commons. The jellied slice with white orbs is, you guessed it, the rams testicles, and the hákarl is in the dish. The sheep’s head is called svið.

I had heard a lot about Þorrablót and þorramatur (Þorri food), but didn’t have the opportunity to go to a celebration last year. This year, however, I got to go to one held by Reykjavík’s Ásatrú association—you know, “on assignment.” A sample of the experience, from my article (full text here):

Filling my plate, I ended up with a veritable rainbow of sausages and pressed meats: pink, red, brown, grey, and a queasy marbled white. Not wanting to look greedy—and honestly, a little unsure that I would make it through the full plate—I skipped the svið the first time out. By accident, I also missed the slices of pressed ram’s testicles. (Full disclosure: I did end up trying the former—it’s…chewy—but skipped the latter. No regrets there.)

Back at the table, my dinner companion gustily carved into her sheep head and explained to me the best method of eating ear cartilage. I took her word for it and tried to show my sympathy when she discovered that her svið was, in fact, missing its most delicious eye. We swapped various unidentified meats. Feeling appropriately decadent, I made a return circuit of the buffet, filling up again on some of my familiar favourites—smoked lamb, salted lamb, and a dark red sausage of a jerky-like consistency. If the woman on my right had not caught me mid-bite and summarily informed me, while daintily cutting up her headcheese, that she did not eat horse “on principal,” I’d have never known the difference.

Well, it just so happened that as I was writing this article, we were also reading about Þorri in one of my classes (I quoted one of my class readings in the piece, actually). It’s one thing to read about þorramatur, however, and a whole ‘nother thing to eat it. So for those of us who had not yet had the opportunity to attend a Þorrablót, our teachers decided to bring the partý to us. So instead of a coffee break, we had a þorra-break, with big tupperware containers of hrútspungar (pressed rams’ testicles) and hákarl (that fermented shark that you’ve heard so much about) for us to sample (much to the dismay of our olfactorily-sensitive vegetarian). “Sure, but did you bring any brennevín?” one of my classmates laughed. “Oh yes,” said my teacher very seriously, placing a full bottle of the “black death” on a desk and asking the student sitting there to start pouring shots.

Which is certainly one way to get students to participate a little more freely. Fun discovery, though: I suddenly didn’t hate brennevín. I’ve had it before and it made me want to die, but third time ’round, standing in class, munching on rotten shark? Yeah, it was pretty good.

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Language-Learning and Fluent Slang: It’s Hard All Over


Sometimes when I open my university account to check on assignments etc, I spend some time browsing the smáauglýsingar, or classified ads. They are short and often interesting, and usually involve more talmál—spoken,  colloquial language—than I encounter on a regular basis. Here is one from today (with the poster’s personal details removed, obv):

Trommara Vantar
I was drawn to this ad for one reasons initially: I mistook the word “trommari” (here declined to “trommara”) for trumpet player (trompetleikari, actually) and was really intrigued by the idea of a “doom-band” with a trumpet player. Alas, that is not the idea, but the ad was interesting for other/additional reasons. It reads:

Trommara vantar í doom metal band. Þarf að nenna að spila hægt, vera ligeglad og nett(ur) og vera ekki að flytja úr landi. Við erum fjögur á aldrinum 21-25. Frekari upplýsing/spurningar/whatever í pósti [email address omitted].


Drummer wanted for doom metal band. Needs to be willing to play slowly, be [ligeglad] and cool and not be moving out of the country. We are four in between the ages of 21-25. More information/questions/whatever to email…

Why is this interesting, Larissa? Well, let me draw your attention (back) to the bolded word ligeglad.

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Um…so…like, Hikorð…

Every language has filler words, little “crutches” (as they called them in the Toastmaster’s speech group I was briefly in in middle school) which pop out of your mouth when you’re thinking about what to say next or talking really fast. Icelandic has a lot of these “hikorð” too, and they were recently the subject of a short segment of the TV show “Orðbragd,” (meaning “word choice”) which is, I believe, entirely dedicated to language. (I can’t seem to embed the video here, so follow the link above to watch it.)

Obviously, if you aren’t accustomed to hearing Icelandic, it can be difficult to differentiate the “hikorð” from the other words, so here’s what to keep an ear out for:

  • hérna: here
  • sko: so…look…
  • jæja: yes, yes (see the explanation on the lower half of the page here)
  • heyrðu: listen

Just to get you started, too: in the news excerpt they show, the newscaster says, “Heyrðu, gott kvöld. Heyrðu…” (“Listen, Good Evening. Listen.”) and then follows with many “hérnas” and “skos.”


Twinkle, Twinkle, Yellow, Red

I don’t know about you, but I had assumed that certain songs, like “Happy Birthday,” say, were immutable. Of course some of the words would be different in other languages, I thought, but the general gist would be the same. In some cases, such as with the above example, this has proven to be true. But I’m finding now that in some other cases, rather notable tunes are still sung in Iceland, but with very different lyrics.

In one of my lessons last week, I ran across the lyrics of “Gulur rauður grænn og blár,” which seemed, from the context, to be a popular kids’ song about colors. So I looked it up on YouTube, to find that yes, it is. What surprised me a little was that the tune was that of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”

There are lots of little variations to this song on the interweb, but I enjoyed this young lady’s performance the most, partially because she pronounces the colors so emphatically. I’m not sure what the hand motions she’s attempting are, but they are The Cutest, so whatever.

In the event that you are really curious about the lyrical content, without the benefit of the rhyming, here goes:

Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue
Black, White, Violet
Brown, Pink, Banana

Orange—Satisfying/Quenching (this is a little pun here with the banana line, because “appelsína” is both the color orange, the fruit, and the juice)

Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue
Black, White, Violet

As Hard as One, Two, Three, (Four)…

Yea, all those many months ago when I started learning Icelandic, I remember having this sudden, stomach-dropping moment of shock when I saw just how many ways there are to say the numbers one, two, three, and four in Icelandic. Unlike the word for five (and all numbers above five), these words decline, you see, meaning that there are forms for each of the four numbers in each of the four cases, in each of the three genders. And to make things super-duper fun, there are plural forms (in the four cases, in three genders) for the number one. (Wrap your (my) non-Icelandic numerically-challenged mind around that: one is a plural number. This eventually makes some sense: consider one pair of blue jeans. But still…ugh.) And oh, there are also the ordinals to learn (these are number words representing scale, like “first,” and “second.”) These also decline, although after all of the above hoop-jumping, their declensions are rather simple.

Short version of this is that it is a miracle that Icelandic children learn to count before the age of twelve. I am still going over all these forms regularly, hoping not to forget them after so much woeful memorizing last year. As it turns out, though, I have yet more number words to learn.

I was just sent a link to an excerpt from Daniel Tammet’s Thinking in Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math, called “What is the Icelandic Word for Four?” In the excerpt, Tammet outlines the various forms of the numbers one through four in Icelandic (more elegantly than I do above), and also discusses counting numbers and the abstract concepts of numbers in various cultures and languages all over the world. I was expecting this to be interesting, but not to discover a whole new set of number words. See for yourself:

What about buses? Here numbers refer to identity rather than quantity. In Britain or America, we say something like, “the No. 3 bus,” turning the number into a name. Icelanders do something similar. Their most frequent buses are each known by a special number word. In Reykjavík, the No. 3 bus is simply þristur (whereas to count to three the Icelander says “þrír”). Fjarki is how to say “four” when talking buses in Iceland.

Say what now? I looked up þristur and fjarki, and lo and behold: right there in the dictionary. Buses number three and four. A search for the phrase “bus number” in the online Icelandic-English dictionary yields bus-name-words (shall we call them strætótöluorð?) for busses 8, 5, 4, 9, 7, 10, 2, and 3. But if you look up the declensions of these words (on this awesome site), these new strætótöluorð come up as separate from regular number declensions. So I don’t know where these words came from–whether they are just free-standing words, or derivations of number forms.

I didn’t find a strætótöluorð for bus number 12 in the dictionary, my own beloved route, but in asking around on various message boards, I was told that “tólfan” is the right name for it and that all the strætótöluorð tend to be said in the definitive form. (So, þristurinn – The Three.)

So there you have it. It’s 8:30 AM (where I am) and I’ve already had quite an Icelandic lesson for the day.

Old Ice Cream and the Ísbíltúr

The Vesturbæjar Ice Cream Shop. Photo via

It seems only appropriate today, as the temperature creeps over 110 F (bouncing between that and 114 F this weekend—the longest it has been this hot in Arizona for consecutive days since 1989, lucky us…) to reminisce about a particularly fun Icelandic ice cream ritual, as well as a particularly awesome ice cream that Mark and I shared on our last day in Iceland.

The ice cream in question, called gamli ísinn, or “old (style) ice cream,” was brought to my attention during my first semester, but we didn’t manage to make it over to the beloved Ísbúð Vesturbæjar where it’s sold, until our last day for some reason. I’m not sure why this is, since it is right around the corner from the westside pool, but there you have it. Now that we have sampled the offerings, however, I imagine we will be much more frequent customers next year.

So: why is this “old” ice cream so-called, you ask? Honestly, I have no idea. But it is thicker than your usual soft serve, and at least to my palette, tastes a lot more of water. (I think Mark found this a strange taste assessment at the time, but this article in The Grapevine seems to confirm my suspicions.) If this doesn’t sound particularly great to you, let me just say, for the record, that it is. Particularly when you ask for the old ice cream, blended (there’s a name for this, but I forget it…), with a bunch of ingredients mixed in, much like a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Oh, and the small size, which the nice girl at the counter, warned us came in a very deceiving cup size? It’s the size of a small pine tree. Or a baby’s head. Or a gigantic Icelandic Easter egg. However you like to hyperbolize, it’s huge.


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Adventures in Amateur Translation: Skrímslapest

Before I left Iceland and finished my term as a Fulbright grantee, I was invited to participate in a presentation with my fellow Fulbrighters to present the work we had undertaken during our nine months in Iceland. My colleagues had a diverse range of interests, talents, areas of expertise and projects, ranging from poetry derived from Norse mythology to volcanic research, and child psychology to marine coastal management. Some of these projects are easier to quantify than others; for my part, I was a bit nervous that I’d need to stand up and talk to my audience in perfect Icelandic for 15 minutes straight in order to convey that I had actually been doing something all year. (Which, as I hope this blog indicates, I certainly had.) Instead of panicking (or attempting an oral presentation well outside of my abilities at that particular juncture in time), I decided to give a brief summary of my writing projects, my work on Little Free Library Reykjavík, and finally, to try my hand at a short translation from Icelandic to English. After all, that is my end goal. And I did read a great deal of children’s books this year for practice. So I took a book from one of my favorite children’s series, Skrímslapest, and translated it into English. Then I created a Reading Rainbow-style video where I read the Icelandic text over the English subtitles. It took me a whole day to create the video (I had to learn how to work with iMovie), but I was pleased with the final product and had a good time making it.

I was lucky enough to meet the book’s illustrator and co-author, Áslaug Jónsdóttir, at an event this year, and not only did she generously introduce me to her writer’s group (who then generously donated books for Little Free Library Reykjavík), she also kindly gave me permission (along with her co-authors Kalle Güettler and Rakel Helmsdal) to post the video I made of my translation on Vimeo. So I am sharing the video with you all now (below).

Some points on the translation process (such as it was) however, before you watch:

-The title, Skrímslapest is a combo word: skrímsli, or monster + pest, which can mean “disease, illness, or epidemic.” I decided to translate it as Monster Pox, because that had a nice ring to it, and in the pictures, it did look like the chicken pox, not some insurmountable monster-plaugue.

-I was made aware of one mis-translation in the text, where I translate ís to “ice” instead of “ice cream.” For the record, if you want ice in your drink while in Iceland, the correct word is klaki. It did not occur to me to even look this word up when I was doing the translation—I assumed “ís” was ice because of “Ísland” (the Icelandic name for Iceland) and because it seemed to make some sense in context. I’ve left the error in the video because a) it would be very time consuming to fix, and b) it is a good record of my learning process. It is also a fair indication that this is not, by any means, a perfect translation.

-There were a couple of interesting vocab translation pickles:

1. þungarokk: this is a combo word, from þungur, or heavy, and rokk, or rock music. I opted to just refer to this as METAL! (caps to match the original text) in the text because that’s what my high school metalhead friends used to enthusiastically yell while headbanging or drumming on their chests at lunch time. Short and emphatic and to the point. Plus, “heavy metal” has too much of a moms-talking-about-the-kids’-music vibe to it, I thought.

2. hrútleiðinlegur: another combo, from hrútur, or ram, and leiðinlegur, a sort of all-purpose word for boring/tedious/dull and which is used for everything from a boring class to tiresome weather. I was absolutely delighted with the word “sheep-boring” (I’ve also heard “dog-boring”) and thought long and hard about coming up with some sort of fun, animal-themed, catchy word for super-boring in English. (I had a ton of excellent suggestions from my YA-author friend/mom of a toddler, too. So thanks for those, buddy!) In the end, I opted to just translate this awesome word as “TOTALLY BORING!” because it really didn’t sound like the kind of wordplay you get from kids in English, and who hasn’t heard a child refer to something as “totally” dull/lame/boring etc.? Also, the original book wasn’t going for super word play, either—it’s just a common expression in Icelandic.

So there you have it. My first foray into literary translation, with its attendant debates. I hope you enjoy the video below (and share your thoughts on the translation, if you have them), but please do note that although I have permission from the authors to post this, it is still entirely their creation, and they retain all rights to its adaptations, translations, and dissemination.