From Iceland — Lost In Google Translation: The War Planet Cometh

Lost In Google Translation: The War Planet Cometh

Published August 6, 2021

Lost In Google Translation: The War Planet Cometh

On the evening of July 2nd, 2021, skies darkened across southwest Iceland. A loud crack reverberated through the sky, shaking the very earth below as a mysterious figure emerged from the clouds above.

Against the pale northern night, it hung, bigger than the moon. Mountain ranges, clouds and oceans swirled above in perfect detail, unveiled in an instant.

Geologists and meteorologists across the country scrambled to interpret the readings of seismographs, barometers, and a battery of remote sensors across the southwest of the nation as clouds of dark ships hovered in battle array.

The War Planet had arrived

iceland meteor

This is the image that passed through my mind upon reading recent news of a meteoroid detonation over southwest Iceland, leading me to dive into the finer points of Icelandic meteorology and astronomy. The original headline from Morgunblaðið ran as “Vígahnöttur möguleg skýring á drununum,” which Google translate artfully rendered as “War Planet Possible Explanation for the Drones.” Besides the obvious strangeness of “War Planet,” I might point out that drone here refers to the loud sound, not the airborne cameras.

The most common word for a meteor is ‘loftsteinn,’ and true to the rugged simplicity of the Norse tongue, it quite literally means ‘air stone.’

‘Steinn’ will be familiar enough to anglophones out there, but we also might recognize our old friend ‘Loft’ from such fine cognates as aloft, lofty, the loft of a building, and the German airline Lufthansa.

There is, however, another more obscure word for a meteor in Icelandic: Vígahnöttur, which translates literally to ‘war globe.’

From Old Norse ‘víg,’ meaning battle, we have here a fine compound with ‘hnöttur,’ or globe, to denote a dangerous ball from outer space.

By the way, mythology nerds may recognize ‘víg-’ from vígríðr, literally ‘battle surge,’ the plains on which the battle of Ragnarǫk is fought.

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