Tyler Vendetti
November 03, 2014 6:28 am

Icelandic is one of those languages that TV producers pull out when they want to put their protagonist in a hopelessly confusing situation. (“I don’t know, man, I blacked out and woke up in some random town called—oh God, this word is so long—I think it’s Icelandic or something.”) Filled with symbols that you’ve only seen after slamming your face on the keyboard in frustration, Icelandic words are easily some of the most intimidating to look at. Naturally, Icelanders disagree. Recently, students at the University of Iceland held a vote to decide “The Most Beautiful Icelandic Words” and opened the poll up to the public. After much deliberation, and probably a lot of tongue-twisting, they came up with 30 semi-finalists. Here are just a few:

1) Gluggaveður (n.): window-weather

Window-weather describes weather that “is nice to look at through a window, but not nice to be out in.” Also known as “New England weather from December through April” or simply “snow.” I feel like this definition should also be extended to movies. As in “weather that is nice to look at on a big screen but would not actually be nice to be out in.” A snowy beach at night, for example, looks perfectly romantic on screen. Then you try it, and a sudden gust of wind replaces those happy tears in your eyes with a concoction of sand and snowflakes that sends you fumbling into the water.

2) Raðljóst: (n.): enough light to find your way by

When you wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden urge to find something that you’ve lost and you don’t want to strain your eyes by turning on the room light, you’ve unknowingly decided that all you need is raðljóst, which usually translates to “cellphone light.” You don’t need a flashlight or 20 different spotlights to find that missing pencil; a cellphone light is usually “just enough” light to find your way from your bed to your closet. (This example sounded less convoluted in my head.)

3) Skúmaskot (n.): a dark corner

Though it’s said to have a negative connotation (as in “a suspiciously dark corner”), skúmaskot can also refer to a sort of “cozy” darkness, like when you turn all the lights off and watch snow fall out your window in the wintertime. Whether you view “skúmaskot” in a positive or negative light depends on whether or not you notice, like I just did, that it also kind of looks like “scum mascot.” How that translates to a “beautiful” words, only Icelanders will know.

4) Víðsýni (adj.): a panoramic view, or, open-mindedness

There’s a certain charm to this definition. I almost imagine someone walking into the “atrium” of my brain and opening the curtains to reveal this panoramic view of the world. If I had any idea how to pronounce this word, I’d use it all the time.

5) Jæja (interjection): well…

Jæja is Iceland’s version of “um” or “like.” According to the students, the word is a common “filler” word, good for those 5-second pauses between conversation topics at dinner where discomfort slowly creeps in. Next time you’re out to eat and you reach a moment of silence, rather than fiddle with your fork for a few extra seconds or rip up another napkin, just throw out the word jæja (if you can pronounce it) and try to move on like nothing happened.

6) Ugla (n.): owl

As much as I appreciate the brevity of this word, I resent that a word that looks so much like “ugly” refers to owls. I don’t know what kind of owls they have in Iceland, but all the ones I’ve seen are beautiful. Maybe there’s some other more positive connotation here that I’m missing. I don’t know. Someone feel free to enlighten me.

7) Ljósmóðir (n.): midwife

A combination of the words “ljós” meaning light and “móðir” meaning mother, ljósmóðir refers to a “midwife” or someone who helps deliver and care for another woman’s baby. Though, in my mind, ljósmóðir sounds like some elven creature taken from one of Tolkien’s stories or a spell found in one of Harry Potter’s charms textbooks, it also brings to mind a midwife, an assistant mother of sorts, bringing “light” into this world. Yet another beautiful idea brought to you by Icelanders!

8) Einstök (adj.): unique

Pronounced like “yeinn-stuck” (if this online Icelandic pronunciation guide is telling the truth), einstök sounds a little like German and a lot like someone with a stuffy nose caught in a puddle of quicksand trying to say “I’m stuck.”

9) Hugfanginn (adj.): fascinated

I like this one, not only because it doesn’t have any potentially confusing accents, but because, if you break it up, it kind of looks like “hug fan,” like you’re mentally hugging an idea that you’re a fan of, thus creating “fascinated.” Maybe it’s a stretch.

10) Mamma (n.): mom

Time for a collective AWWWWW. At least Icelandic students can still appreciate the beauty of motherhood.

What’s your favorite Icelandic word? Or, if you’re Icelandic, do you agree with these choices? On a scale of one to OH MY GOD, how much did I butcher them?

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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