11 Delightful Icelandic Words and Phrases

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iStock

Hunting for new ways to express yourself that don't involve emojis? Look no further than these charming words and phrases hailing from the land of fire and ice.

1. "I COME COMPLETELY FROM THE MOUNTAINS."

Ég kem alveg af fjöllum. This phrase throws some shade at mountain dwellers, and means, “I have no idea what you’re talking about/what’s going on.”

2. "I WILL FIND OUT YOU ON A BEACH."

Ég mun finna þig í fjöru. If you're Icelandic, beware of the beach: This idiom (or threat) means, “I will get back at you,” “I’ll get my revenge,” or “Don’t make me hurt you.”

3. RATlLJÓST

If you ever need to find your way out of a cave, or just navigate to the kitchen in the middle of the night to snack on some hangikjöt, this word will come in handy—it basically translates to “enough light to navigate.”

4. GLUGGAVEÐUR

This word gets a lot of traction in Iceland: It means “window-weather.” As in, the kind of weather that’s nice to look at, but not experience.

5. "THEY SPLASH THE SKYR WHO OWN IT."

Þeir sletta skyrinu sem eiga það. Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt-like dairy product and it’s been used for sustenance as well as ammunition for years. This saying is analogous to “people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.” It’s used ironically when referencing people who think they can do anything just because they have money.

6. "THERE ARE SO MANY WONDERS IN A COW'S HEAD."

Það eru margar undur í höfuðkúpu. You might find occasion to say this anytime something strange or amazing happens. As an added bonus, it's much more elegant-sounding than “Man, the world is nutso.”

7. "TO LAY YOUR HEAD IN WATER."

Að leggja höfuðið í bleyti. While “on a pillow” might be the more logical place to rest your head, this phrase suggests you put it in water to soak when you need to spend some time working something out or coming up with a new idea. This is kind of like saying, "sleep on it."

8. "THE RAISIN AT THE END OF THE SAUSAGE."

Rúsínan í pylsuendanum. English speakers might say that a good and surprising thing that happens in addition to something that’s already awesome is a cherry on top of a sundae or the icing on top of the cake. The raisin at the end of a sausage expresses the same thought—it's a nice supplement to an already wonderful treat. Or something.

9. "NO MITTEN-GRABBING/MITTEN-TAKES."

Nú duga engin vettlingatök. When you want something done carefully and properly, this is the phrase to use.

10. "ON WITH THE BUTTER!"

Áfram með smjörið. One of Tim Gunn’s favorite phrases, “Carry on,” directly channels this Nordic saying. Keep doing what you’re doing, forge ahead, keep on keepin' on, get to work, keep moving—any of these could work on Project Runway, but “on with the butter” is definitely the catchiest.

11. VAÐLAHEIÐARVEGAVINNUVERKFÆRAGEYMSLUSKÚRAÚTIDYRALYKLAKIPPUHRINGUR

Yep, this is a word, and it means "key ring of the key chain of the outer door to the storage tool shed of the road workers on the Vaðlaheiði" from which you might be able to glean that it’s largely (OK, pretty much entirely) for show. (Go ahead—try to use it in a sentence.) The Icelandic language has a reputation for lengthy words, and this one is one of the longest of them all. Others include landbúnaðarframleiðsla, hæstaréttarmálaflutningsmaður, fjárfestingarfyrirtæki, and byggingarverkfræðingur.

This piece originally ran in 2015.

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

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iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
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Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
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How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
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Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
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Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
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In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
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In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

'Turdsworth': Lord Byron’s Not-So-Affectionate Nickname for William Wordsworth

GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images
GeorgiosArt/iStock via Getty Images

For those of you who thought William Wordsworth was a not-so-subtle pseudonym meant to further the literary brand of a certain 19th-century poet, think again: William Wordsworth’s real name was actually William Wordsworth.

The fitting, alliterative moniker makes it hard to forget that Wordsworth was a wordsmith, but it also made him an easy target for mockery at the hands of other Romantic era writers.

Some of it was the type of clever wordplay you might expect from England’s elite poets. In an essay for the London Review of Books, Michael Wood highlights the time that Samuel Taylor Coleridge sent his poem “The Nightingale” to Wordsworth, writing, “And like an honest bard, dear Wordsworth/You’ll tell me what you think, my Bird’s worth.”

While Coleridge’s witty rhyme poked fun at Wordsworth in a playful way, not all of his contemporaries were quite so kind. As Literary Hub points out, Lord Byron referred to Wordsworth as “Turdsworth.”

Byron’s jab sounds like something you’d hear at an elementary-school kickball game, but, then again, the eccentric poet was never one to adhere to anybody’s expectations—during college, for example, he often walked his pet bear around the grounds.

As for the word turd itself, it’s been around much longer than you might have realized. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it derives from the Old English word tord, meaning “piece of excrement,” and it’s been used as a personal insult ever since the 15th century.

If fecal-themed nicknames aren’t really your thing, here are 42 other Old English insults that you can fling with abandon.

[h/t Literary Hub]

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