Icelandic is a wonderful language, more like Old Norse (and Old English) than meets the eye.  I love words, as you know, and I find easy mnemonics in words from different languages that remind me of others in others, if you know what I mean.

Simple case in point:  You know the Scottish expression,”Lang may yer lum reek”?  (Long may your chimney smoke.)  It’s a good  wish for long life in one’s home, a nice thing to say at a house-waming.  Well, as you may or may not know, Reykjavik  translates as smoky bay.  Vik is bay (cf. Keflavik, the airport, also a bay).  Reyk means smoke. When the first arrivals saw the steam rising from the underground thermal wells, they thought it was smoke, so they called this new bay smoky bay.  

This is where I find similarities so fascinating.  Long may your chimney reek, i.e. smoke.  Reek sounds sort of like reyk, doesn’t it? (My Autochek is dying to change reyk to reek; I have to be firm.)  I haven’t found the source of lum.  

I was 17 when I first noticed the similarities between Icelandic and English (well - Old English) at my Icelandic grandmother’s funeral. The funeral oration was in Icelandic, which I didn’t know, but I was studying Old English (Anglo-Saxon) that year - third year Honours English.  I heard similarities in the sounds of words.  Dryten, for example, the OE word for Lord, sounded to me like Drottin, the Icelandic word. 

And then there’s the lovely purity of the Icelandic language - so pure and traditional, in fact, that a modern Icelander can read the Old Norse sagas without a dictionary or crib. The keepers of the language are even more fussy than the French Academy, famous for its nitpicking and purity, although worlds like le nightclub, have crept in.  Icelandic does not allow for Greek or Latin roots, preferring instead familiar, even ancient, words to identify modern technology.  It’s poe tic as well as practical.  A meteorite, for example, is a loftstein - a sky stone; a telephone is  simi,  the Icelandic word for thread or line; television is sjönvarp, a thrown picture,  and computer is tölva,from tá, meaning digit or finger and völva, meaning sibyl.  Voluspa, "The Song of the Sibyl" i s about the Völva, the seer who had a direct line with Odin, so we have a finger-wizard, a digital sibyl (and  no Spel-chek in sight).  

My favourite is the word for the television/computer screen. In Icelandic days of yore, before window glass, they stretched the amniotic sac of a new-born  calf across a window frame to let light  into a sod house.  That yellowish glare seemed to suit a television screen and so it was called skjár. Don't you love it?

I get into this a little in my book Letters to Icelanders (CDG Books, 1999). I'm not trying to sell you anything. Like most of my books, it's out of print. You'd have to order a remaindered or used copy from a second-hand bookstore via Amazon. I get a lot of my own books this way,to give away; they usually cost about one cent; the shipping is $6.49. I just checked it.  The shipping price is right but the books will cost you, from $19 for a tired copy to $224.78 or  - brace yourself - $999.11 for a new one in"pristine condition."  Imagine!  I wonder who gets that money.