Published July 9, 2015
What do you call an Icelander? Would an Icelander by any other name still smell as sweet? Being small island on the edge of nowhere, with little opportunity to invade anyone for the last thousand years or so, we don’t have the wealth of slurs to choose from that are often bestowed upon larger countries.
We do have our names for others, though. “Kanar” is straightforward enough, being short for Americans or “Ameríkanar.” The English are a little bit more obscure, “Tjallar” for Charlies, as that seems to be everyone’s name over there.
Pictured: Charlies say the darnedest things:
The Danes used to be called “Baunar” (“Beanies”). They gave us beans, apparently. Or counted them, maybe. The Norwegians were referred to as “Austmenn” back in the Saga days, people from the East, and the Irish were “Vestmenn,” people from the West. Less nice was “skrælingjar,” or peeled people, referring to Native Americans. And then there are “Hundtyrkir”, or “dog-Turks,” probably emanating from the Turkish raid of 1627 that was actually committed by Algerians led by a Dutchman.
Pictured: Dog-Turk or Dutchman?
We have had some insults thrown our way, too. The American occupiers referred to us as “’Mos,” short for Eskimos, which probably counts as a double or triple insult, seeing as we aren’t, and they call themselves Inuits anyway. The Norwegians used to call us “Mörlandar,” a reference to the Icelanders’ love of sheep intestines. In fact, the Sagas as a whole with their endless lineages may have been written as a rebuttal, but the word has since been appropriated and is today often used about Icelanders that are confused by the outside world. The Faroese call us “Jáarar,” which is probably more of a term of endearment and a reference to our favourite word.
During the glorious Cod Wars (yes, that’s Cod, not Cold), the good people of Grimsby and Hull, many of whom lost their jobs due to Icelandic fishing policies, would call us “Scrobs.” I have no idea what this is a reference to, but reportedly they would graffiti “Death to Scrobs” on their abandoned fish factories.
Pictured: But the war against the cod themselves went rather better for the British
It was only when I came to Manitoba, Canada, that I got to realise every straight white man’s secret fantasy of belonging to a minority. Hundreds of thousands of people here claim Icelandic heritage, and they are known as “Goolies.” Stefan Jonasson, editor of Lögberg-Heimskringla, gives two possible definitions. One is that it comes from Gullfoss waterfall, but we both consider this highly unlikely since it suggests a lot of local knowledge on the part the insulter and in any case, Gullfoss didn’t become a national heritage site since long after the Icelanders left for Canada.
Another, and more likely, possibility offered by Stefan, is that “Goolies” is a reference to the Goodtemplars. In New Iceland as well as the old, people had a complicated relationship with alcohol. The urban dictionary says that “goolie” is slang for testicle, so maybe this is another reference to our eating habits. Who knows?
Pictured: Just add horns
In any case, it is a word we are happy to use for ourselves, but others use at their peril. Finally, I have found my identity. I am a Goolie with an attitude, Goolie for life, but don’t you dare call me that. Better yet, I am an FBI, Full-Blooded Icelander, an even cooler Goolie than the IBAs (Icelandic by association) or the few, lucky IBMs (Icelandic by marriage). It feels like an episode of The Wire when I go to Town Hall on Jon Sigurdsson Day, our national holiday, and see a Governor of another minority celebrate the accomplishments of the Icelandic community in Winnipeg and probably try to score a few votes in the process.
The Goolies of Manitoba still matter. Here, we are all prick-eared curs of Iceland.
Pictured: Like this, but, you know, Icelandic
Grapevine’s founding editor Valur Gunnarsson has been hanging out with some Western-Icelanders in North America lately. You should read about his attempts to celebrate June 17 in Toronto. And then you should read about that time he hung out in Gimli.