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English from Icelandic?

Are there any English words that are of a common or semi-common use that originate from Icelandic?

  • 2
    Without a specific context, your question is very broad. Do you have a specific situation, or are you just compiling a list?
    – simchona
    Aug 23, 2011 at 2:37
  • I am compiling a list, but I am mostly just curious.
    – RLH
    Aug 23, 2011 at 2:38
  • 1
    bjork - a strange background noise
    – mgb
    Aug 23, 2011 at 2:39
  • 1
    I doubt any - a handful at most - originate from Icelandic. A fair few originate from Old Norse of course, which shares a lot in common with Icelandic... I see no historical reason why Icelandic should have had any influence on our language though.
    – Noldorin
    Aug 23, 2011 at 3:47
  • Interesting. The question this was closed in favor of was essentially an incorrect (as phrased) question. Its accepted answer is a good answer for this one though. Since this is a better question, but that has better answers, I'd rather see that question's answers merged into this question. Voting to reopen for that reason.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 23, 2011 at 13:16

3 Answers 3


There are of course many English words borrowed into late Old English and early Middle English from Old West and Old East Scandinavian, the former being the ancestor of modern Icelandic, but English has borrowed very few words from medieval or modern Icelandic. The only one that comes to mind just now is geyser, a late 18th century borrowing of Icelandic Geysir, which is the name of a particular hot spring in southwest Iceland; the name derives from the Old Norse verb geysa 'to send out with violence'.

There are a few terms that were borrowed into English in Early Modern times or later that could in principle have been borrowed from contemporary Icelandic but in fact were not: rather, they were borrowed from literary Old Norse. Some examples are saga (early 18th century), viking (19th century), and Ragnarok (late 18th century). As these examples suggest, such words are generally associated with early Scandinavian literature and mythology. Other relatively late borrowings that at first sight might appear to be from Icelandic, like troll (Icelandic tröll 'giant') and fjord (Icelandic fjörður, in which -ur is an inflexional ending), actually entered English via the Continental Scandinavian languages.

Despite the traditionally conservative Icelandic language policy and the unusually widespread linguistic purism in Iceland, there are actually many more Icelandic borrowings from modern English; this paper by Guðrún Kvaran has a nice (and quite readable) discussion of them.

(Dates are mostly from the Online Etymological Dictionary.)


I don't recognize any word from these two lists as having made it into English on any frequent basis:


http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1995/of95-807/geoicelandic.html (Geoscience terms--I thought that, given Iceland's remarkable geology, some borrowing might have occurred, but apparently borrowings occurred from common European roots, not directly.)

(For what it's worth, I once sat next to two Icelandic speakers on a plane for hours without being able to figure out which language they were speaking. Finally had to ask out of sheer curiosity!)

  • Supposedly saga and geyser - although both could be from any Norse root
    – mgb
    Aug 23, 2011 at 3:18

Geyser, comes from Geysir, the name of one in Iceland.


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