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11 Delightful Icelandic Words and Phrases

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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 from the mountains"

Ég kem alveg af fjöllumThis 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 you on a beach"

Ég mun finna þig í fjöruIf 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. Raðljóst

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, as 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 þaðSkyr 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 many wonders in a cow's head" 

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 bleytiWhile “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 Scandinavian saying. Keep doing what you’re doing, forge ahead, keep on keepin' on, get to work, keep moving—any of these could work on the next season of Project Runway, but “on with the butter” is definitely the catchiest.

11. Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageym-sluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur

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 plateau" from which you might be able to glean that it’s largely (okay, 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 said to be the longest of them all. Others include landbúnaðarframleiðsla, hæstaréttarmálaflutningsmaður, fjárfestingarfyrirtæki, and byggingarverkfræðingur.

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language
How to Say Merry Christmas in 26 Different Languages
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“Merry Christmas” is a special greeting in English, since it’s the only occasion we say “merry” instead of “happy.” How do other languages spread yuletide cheer? Ampersand Travel asked people all over the world to send in videos of themselves wishing people a “Merry Christmas” in their own language, and while the audio quality is not first-rate, it’s a fun holiday-themed language lesson.

Feel free to surprise your friends and family this year with your new repertoire of foreign-language greetings.

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Big Questions
What’s the Difference Between a Gift and a Present?
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It’s that time again when we’re busy buying, wrapping, and giving them. Sometimes we call them gifts, sometimes presents. Is there a difference?

The words come to us from different language families. Gift comes from the old Germanic root for “to give.” It referred to an act of giving, and then, to the thing being given. In Old English it meant the dowry given to a bride’s parents. Present comes from the French for "to present." A present is the thing presented or bestowed. They were both in use for the idea of something undergoing a transfer of possession without expectation of payment from the 13th century onward.

The words gift and present are well-matched synonyms that mean essentially the same thing, but even well-matched synonyms have their own connotations and distinctive patterns of use. Gift applies to a wider range of situations. Gifts can be talents. You can have the gift of gab, or a musical gift. Gifts can be intangibles. There is the gift of understanding or the gift of a quiet day. We generally don’t use present for things like this. Presents are more concrete. A bit more, well, present. If your whole family gave donations to your college fund for your birthday would you say “I got a lot of presents”? It doesn’t exactly sound wrong, but since you never hold these donations in your hand, gifts seems to fit better.

Gift can also be an attributive noun, acting like an adjective to modify another noun. What do you call the type of shop where you can buy presents for people? A gift shop. What do you call the basket of presents that you can have sent to all your employees? A gift basket. Present doesn’t work well in this role of describing other nouns. We have gift boxes, gift cards, and gift wrap, not present boxes, present cards, and present wrap.

Gift appears to be more frequent than present, though it is difficult to get accurate counts, because if you compare occurrences of the noun present with the noun gift, you include that other noun present, meaning the here and now. However, the plural noun presents captures only the word we want. Gifts outnumbers presents in the Corpus of Contemporary American English by four to one.

Still, according to my personal sense of the words, present—though it may not be as common—is more casual sounding than gift. I expect a child to ask Santa for lots and lots of presents, not many, many gifts. But whether it’s gifts or presents you prefer, I wish you many and lots this year, of both the tangible and intangible kind.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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