Word Of The Issue: Fórnarlamb — The Reykjavik Grapevine

Word Of The Issue: Fórnarlamb

Word Of The Issue: Fórnarlamb

Published June 30, 2017

Alice Demurtas
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“Fórnarlamb” is the Icelandic word for “victim,” but it literally means “the sacrifice (fórn) lamb.”  Especially when it comes to sexual assaults survivors, it is often deemed anachronistic and almost offensive in comparison to its English sister.

“But if you look up ‘victim’ in OED its development seems to be very similar to Icelandic,” Ásta Svavarsdóttir from The Institute for Icelandic Studies tells us. The word has been found in religious books since 1350. However, only after the 19th century did its meaning develop to identify any innocent who suffers great pain or death, beyond religious sacrifice.

Despite the logic, “fórnarlamb” always ends up sparking controversy. Where do you stand—language purist or fierce reformist?


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