Foreign Language Series: Fun Phrases in Icelandic

Image of a house on a cliff in Iceland. Learn fun phrases in Icelandic with The Travel Yogi.

Iceland is one of the most geographically unique countries in the world, riddled with geothermal pools, enormous glaciers, and active volcanoes. But these natural wonders aren’t Iceland’s only fascinating quality—it is home to one of the oldest languages in the world: Spanish!  Haha… just kidding… it’s the always unique Icelandic. Before you hop on an Iceland-bound plane with a plan to get by on your English, let us give you some linguistic advice. And we don’t just mean the basic “hello” and “I’m lost” survival phrases. Keep reading to learn 10 fun idioms and phrases in Icelandic to gain insight into Iceland’s cultural history. 

Icelandic Language: Thank You, Vikings & Celts

When you think of Iceland, your mind might jump to Vikings, cool ships or Game of Thrones. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Iceland was first settled in 870 AD by Vikings from Norway and Celts from the British Isles. At the time, they were speaking the medieval Northern Germanic language of Old Norse. What’s interesting is that out of all the languages that derived from Old Norse (Icelandic, Danish, Faroese, Norwegian, Swedish), Icelandic stayed close to its roots. In fact, the language has remained almost entirely intact since its inception in the 9th century.

That means Icelandic speakers hardly have any difficulty reading the original Old Norse texts and literary sagas from the 12th and 13th centuries (cool!). That’s like if English speakers could speak and read Old English easily, instead of just jokingly blurting out “Thou”s and “Ye”s in English accents from time to time. 

With a grand total of only 334,400 speakers worldwide, Icelandic is not widely used. But that just makes it all the more unique and easy to preserve. Keep reading for a tiny intro to survival Icelandic, and the reason we’re all here (for the fun phrases in Icelandic, of course).

A Tiny Intro to Survival Icelandic

Okay, so we might’ve said you should skip the “basic” Icelandic phrases in exchange for some fun phrases, but it’s probably good to know at least a few regular words. We wouldn’t want you to be incapable of greeting someone in Icelandic, but proficient in obscure Icelandic phrases. Or, maybe we do? If surprising locals with random phrases, without being able to say hello, is your thing, skip this section. If you want to be able to say hi, give this section a look-over before the fun phrases below it.

Look out for these fun old characters which don’t exist in the English alphabet: Þ, þ and Ð, ð. Try pronouncing them as follows: þ is like the “th” in “thing” and Ð is like the “th” in “the”).

When pronouncing Icelandic, remember to always stress the first syllable. Except when you say “halló” (which means, you guessed it, hello). 

Here are 10 quick everyday  phrases to help you out:

Hello
Goodbye
How are you?
How are you doing?
Good, thanks
Thank you
You’re welcome
Yes
No
Cheers
Where is…?
I don’t understand

Halló
Sjáumst
Hvernig hefur þú það?
Hvað segiru?
Ágætt, takk
Takk
Ekkert að þakka

Nei
Skál!
Hvar er…?
Ég skil ekki

(Pronounced Hah-loh)
(Pronounced sja-umst)
(Pronounced kver-nik her-wer thoo thahd?)
(Pronounced kvath sei-iru)
(Pronounced al-gyt, tak)
(Pronounced tak) *Say it twice to be extra polite.
(Pronounced eh-kehrt ath thah-ka)
(Pronounced yaw)
(Pronounced nay)
(Pronounced sk-al)
(Pronounced kvar er..?)
(Pronounced yeh skil eh-ki)

11 Fun Phrases in Icelandic

Ok, now it’s time for the good stuff: 11 fun phrases in Icelandic. Use these phrases to help you understand Icelandic culture, get a laugh out of a local, or impress your Icelandic horse riding guide (don’t call them ‘ponies’!). And remember, taking an interest in a foreign language isn’t just an insight into the local culture, it can mean a lot to the people who speak the language! Have fun trying one of these beauties on your next adventure…

1. Ég Kem Alveg Af Fjöllum: “I Come Completely From the Mountains”

If you’ve got no idea what’s going on—something that, let’s be real, happens often while traveling—use this phrase! It essentially means that you haven’t a clue what people are talking about, and need some guidance. 

2. “Áfram með smjörið”: “On With The Butter”

Used as a ‘Let’s go’ or ‘Let get on with it’, Icelandic people use this phrase when someone is taking a long time to get ready or do something. If you want to tell them to hurry up, just say, “áfram með smjörið”!

3. Blindur Er Bóklaus Maður: “Blind is a Bookless Man”

Icelandic people are some of the most well-read individuals on the planet. With 99% literacy, they highly value book-reading. This phrase is a way of saying, if you don’t read, you are ignorant of the world. 

4. Rúsínan Í Pylsuendanum: “The Raisin at the End of the Hot Dog”

If you found a raisin in your hot dog, you’d probably upchuck just a little, thinking it was a cockroach or something, and throw the hot dog on the floor. But in Iceland, apparently finding a raisin at the end of your hot dog is a really good thing. Use this phrase to describe the highlight of your day or a pleasant experience. 

5. Leggja Höfuðið Í Bleyti: “Lay Your Head in Water”

The last time you struggled to make a decision, did you try laying your head in water? Let us guess, no. This phrase is a way of saying that you need to think about something a bit longer. Such as, “I can’t decide what to major in, I need to lay my head in water before I can decide.”

6. Bíta Á Jaxlinn: “Bite the Molar”

Life isn’t always easy—especially up North. When the going gets tough, just “bite the molar” and keep going. 

7. Ég Mun Finna Þig Í Fjöru: “I Will Find You on a Beach”

Usually, when you travel, you make some friends along the way. But if you find yourself with any new enemies, try out this phrase. It means, something along the lines of, “I will get my revenge!” or “Don’t make me hurt you, because I will!”

8. Gluggaveður: “Window Weather”

You know when you look out the window and it looks really nice out, but then you step outside and it’s like 1000* below and you’re shivering and miserable? I guess you’re not from Iceland then. This phrase is about that exact situation, when “window weather” tricks you into thinking it’s nice out when it’s not!

9. Það Eru Margar Undur Í Höfuðkúpu: “There Are So Many Wonders in a Cow’s Head”

The next time something strange or fantastic happens, use this phrase. It’s a way of saying, wow, the world is nuts. For example, if/when you come across any ‘hidden people’ (a.k.a. Icelandic elves) that would be an appropriate time to use this one. 

10. Nú Duga Engin Vettlingatök: “No Mitten-Grabbing”

You know when you try to do practically anything while wearing a pair of mittens and it’s like, mission impossible? Well in the Icelandic language, this phrase is used when there is an important task at hand that requires precision, so you’ll want to take off your darn mittens, no matter the outside temperature!

11. Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur: “Key Ring Of The Key Chain Of The Outer Door To The Storage Tool Shed Of The Road Workers On The Vaðlaheiði”

Okay, we know what you’re thinking, “There’s no way this is a real word.” Well, it is one.long.real!.word. Icelandic is known for its absurdly long words, and this is one of the longest ones. Use this word if you ever need to describe the keyring of the key chain of the outer door to the storage tool shed of the road workers on the Vaðlaheiði.

Visit Iceland with The Travel Yogi

Now that you’re filled up on amusing Icelandic phrases, you’re ready to go to Iceland! One of the best ways to ensure your trip is packed with adventure is to voyage with the Travel Yogi. Explore The Travel Yogi’s Icelandic adventure for an unforgettable experience.