From Iceland — Word Of The Issue: Karphús

Word Of The Issue: Karphús

Published July 12, 2018

Word Of The Issue: Karphús

The word of the issue is karphús, a word of unclear origin but more than one meaning. Karphús is almost always used in the context of “að taka einhvern í karphúsið,” or “to take someone by the karphús,” which means to really give someone a firm scolding. The original meanings can shed light on why this word is used this way. The word appears in Icelandic as far back as the 17th century, and could have been derived from the Danish “kapuds”, which is a type of hat with earflaps.

This word itself may have been derived from the Dutch “karpoets”, another type of hat. So if you were to take someone by the hat, presumably to hold their head steady while screaming at them, you would really be letting them have it. At the same time, there is an actual building called Karphús, home of the offices of state arbitration, a possible wordplay with “karpa”, meaning to argue. You can find a similar word in English, “carping,” which means to be very critical. It’s a weird and wonderful word, and that’s why karphúsið is the word of the issue.

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