From Iceland — Word Of The Issue: Fjandakornið

Word Of The Issue: Fjandakornið

Published June 5, 2018

Word Of The Issue: Fjandakornið
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
YouTube/screaming old man

The word of this issue is fjandakornið. Author Margaret Atwood once pointed out that when it comes to a culture’s swear words, “the worst ones in any language are what they are most afraid of”. In Iceland, nearly every swear word has something to do with Satan, and fjandakornið is no exception. This literally means “the devil’s grain”, but is, in fact, an expletive. And by that we mean it’s the kind of expletive your 80-year-old devoutly Christian grand aunt would use. It’s not particularly powerful when trying to express anger or frustration, but you wouldn’t know that if you’ve ever watched a film or TV show with Icelandic subtitles. For example, this word was once used to translate the decidedly unchristian “motherfucker” in the movie Sleepers. Today, when spoken by anyone under retirement age, it is either being used ironically or when in the company of small children. It’s a great example of how expletives can lose their power over time, and it’s for that reason that fjandakornið is the word of the issue.

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