The Little Book of Icelandic
On the idiosyncrasies, delights, and sheer tyranny of the Icelandic language
A book about one of the oldest and most complex languages in the world, Icelandic, and the heart and soul of the people who use it. All in short essays that are light, humorous, and easy to read.
Icelandic is a complicated language. It’s a bloody mess grammatically, a nightmarish mishmash of inflected nouns, verbs, adjectives, and pronouns, corresponding to four different cases, three different noun genders, moods, voices, and constructions, plus any number of exceptions and rules that seem completely arbitrary, and very often are.
This is not a textbook. It is not about the technicalities of Icelandic. It is not even a book that will help you order a beer in a pub. (Don’t worry. You can use English for that.) Rather it is about the Icelanders’ love of their mother tongue, their zealous attempts at keeping it pure, their often-hilarious way of cobbling together vocabulary, and their idioms and proverbs that are such a strong reflection of the things they consider truly important. In short, this book presents how the very essence of the Icelandic people and their culture is reflected in their language.
Beautifully illustrated by Megan Herbert, The Little Book of Icelandic is the perfect book for all lovers of Iceland. Available in paperback, ebook, and hardcover formats. The paperbacks and ebooks are available from your nearest digital store. The hardcovers ship from Iceland.
Idioms and proverbs
Idioms and proverbs provide a unique insight into the soul of a nation. They say so much about a people’s history – the heartfelt, the tragic, the monumental, the proud. Icelandic has a vast number of idioms and proverbs that are a direct throwback to our nation’s past, especially idioms relating to the ocean, which is such a massive force in our nation’s history. Many of them we use all the time without ever giving a thought to their origins. What follows is a random sampling – I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I did.
Idiom: Eins og skrattinn úr sauðaleggnum
Translation: Like Satan out of the sheep’s leg bone
Meaning: Unexpectedly, out of the blue
If someone suddenly appeared, especially someone I didn’t really want to see, I might say hann kom eins og skrattinn úr sauðaleggnum, literally “he appeared like Satan out of the sheep’s leg bone”.
Where the affiliation between a sheep’s leg bone and the prince of darkness comes in I could not tell you. However I can tell you that, in the old days, Icelandic children (being impoverished and everything) had no proper toys. Instead they played with sheeps’ bones, each of which was assigned a role. The jawbones were the cows, the joints of the legs were the sheep, and the leg bones were the horses. So maybe folks were worried that Satan – being the crafty bugger that he was – would install himself in a sheeps’ leg bone when the kids were playing and then suddenly BOO! pop out and scare the bejeezus out of them.
It’s just a theory.
Incidentally, the use of this idiom is not confined to people – it is also successfully used to comment on unwanted happenings, as in: “Damn, this huge phone bill comes like Satan out of a sheep’s leg bone!”
The Language Committee
Let's make a word
Old letters, strange sounds
The missing dialects
The most beautiful of all
Quintessential Icelandic words
And so much more inside!
Find out how one of the oldest and most complex languages in the world reflects the heart and soul of the people who use it. Get your copy of The Little Book of Icelandic today!
About the author
Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a writer, and occasional journalist. She runs her own independent press, Little Books Publishing, based in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Alda is the author of ten books, each of which explores an aspect of Icelandic culture or society. Her two latest books, The Little Book of the Icelanders at Christmas and The Little Book of Days in Iceland, are about the Icelanders’ enthusiasm for the Yuletide season, and Iceland’s special seasonal events and holidays, respectively. Alda is active on social media, and may be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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