From Iceland — Words of Interest: Light It Up

Words of Interest: Light It Up

Published October 7, 2016

Words of Interest: Light It Up
Photo by
Eunsan Huh

“See the Northern Lights” is an item that commonly appears on bucket lists. Lucky for Icelanders, the country is in a prime viewing spot for these lights, as it snuggles up against the Arctic Circle where they tend to appear.

Though the “season” is typically described as spanning from September to April (since there’s 24 hours of daylight during the summer), the Aurora Borealis can be and has been spotted around the country throughout the year. As we transition into fall, there’s been a recent flurry of cosmic activity and the city of Reykjavík even turned off the street lamps in the evening so that people could enjoy the spectacle without the interference of light pollution.

The Icelandic word for the Northern Lights is “Norðurljós,” which literally means “northerly lights.” It is a pretty literal translation, and in this case the alternate English name has a more interesting origin—“Aurora,” the Roman Goddess of dawn, and “Borealis,” the Greek name for the north wind.


They are a sight to be seen, but the cause of these auroras are far from romantic. They are a result of particles from a solar flare bumping into other particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. Depending on the speed and altitude of the collision, the chemicals will produce different colours: green, white, and sometimes even red or blue. Basically it’s all just a glorified, Instagram-friendly chemical reaction.

What is a little romantic though, is that it takes 40 hours for the solar particles to travel to Earth and create those heavenly reactions. So when you’re looking at the Northern Lights, you’re actually looking into the past.

Every Single Word in Icelandic is a pictographic exploration of the Icelandic language. I find an interesting compound word, then deconstruct and illustrate it as icons. The goal is to express how Icelandic can be deadpan literal and unexpectedly poetic at the same time.

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