Counting Icelandic Words for Wind (JóB)

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joiben_dlI read somewhere that Eskimos had 100 different words for snow. That may be. Their world has been made out of snow for many generations and as a consequence they have become more sensitive to the phenomenon.

Same can be said about people living in deserts. They probably have 100 different words for sand, each of which has a very precise and descriptive meaning.

I wonder if people, who live in deserts, have many words for snow. And do Eskimos have many words for sand. Why should they?

The Icelandic language contains a lot of words for snow, as Eygló discusses in a column called “Slabb – The Worst Type of Snow”. To my knowledge, we do not have many words for sand.

The conclusion is obvious: We have many words for the things that dominate our everyday lives. Every aspect gets coined very precisely.

Now, what about Iceland? Is there anything that dominates our everyday lives?

I’m going to be bold—and many will not agree—but in my opinion, wind has been a very dominating factor for every generation of Icelanders since the Vikings settled here.

The wind is everywhere, huffing and puffing and making your life miserable.

For example, using an umbrella make no sense to Icelanders. It doesn’t shield you at all from the horizontal rain and gets inverted too easily.

Not to mention how important wind is to fishermen—the main export of Iceland since the 14th century is fish. Everything revolved around the sea.

To support my theory, I compared the Icelandic wind-related vocabulary to other languages.

The Beaufort wind force scale defines 12 different classes of wind, ranging from “calm” to “hurricane force”. Let’s compare Icelandic to English. Other languages return similar results.

The Beaufort scale:

0. Logn (Calm)

1. Andvari (Light air)

2. Kul (Light breeze)

3. Gola (Gentle breeze)

4. Stinningsgola (Moderate breeze)

5. Kaldi (Fresh breeze)

6. Stinningskaldi (Strong breeze)

7. Allhvasst (Moderate gale)

8. Hvassviðri (Gale)

9. Stormur (Strong gale)

10. Rok (Storm)

11. Ofsaveður (Violent storm)

12. Fárviðri (Hurricane force)

English has five types of “breeze”, three “gales” and two “storms”.  Icelandic has two types of gola and kaldi. The rest are unique words, with a very narrow meaning.

This indicates, perhaps, that the wind has played a bigger role in Iceland’s history, than in other countries.

But the big question remains: Do we have 100 different words for wind?

Aftök, amrandi, andi, andvari, allhvasst, belgingur, beljandi, bosvindur, blástur, blær, brok, bræla, blökur, fjúkandi, fárviðri, gani, garður, garri, gola, gjóla, gjóna, gustur, gúlpur, hávaðrok, hvassviðri, hryssingur, illviðri, kaldakorn, kaldi, Kári, kjargrandi, kul, mannskaðaveður, njóður, ofsaveður, ofviðri, rok, rokbelgingur, sagandi, slaukvindi, snarpur, stinningsgola, stinningskaldi, stóristormur, stormur, stormbelgingur, stormsagandi, stórviðri, strekkingur, sveljandi, súgur, vindblær, vindflapur, vindur, þræsingur, öskurok.

Total number: 56

Jóhannes Benediktsson – johannes@icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.