Icelandic Terms of Endearment and Affection
Living in the cold north and being the descendants of a harsh Viking-age culture, Icelanders are generally true to the cultural characteristics of the Scandinavian nations.
Being reserved, stoic, and outwardly unemotional are definitely prominent cultural features, but while Icelanders might seem cold on the surface, we are a very family-oriented people and most of us have very firm bonds of friendship and love, which we strengthen through the use of specific terms of endearment.
General Icelandic terms of endearment
In the Icelandic language, there is a tendency to value quality over quantity, so our terms of affection and love tend to be few in number and are often different variations of the same terms. The use of these terms is not casual, however, so their use has a profound meaning.
- Ást: The most direct and most common term of endearment in Icelandic is calling someone ástin mín, and it simply means “my love”. Parents will use it for their children and romantic partners will use it for each other.
- Kær: As an adjective, it means “dear” and it is often used as a title for someone you love or care for, minn kæri for men and mín kæra for women, meaning “dear to me”.
- Hjartkær/ástkær: Both variations on kær, with the added prefixes of hjart-, meaning “heart”, and ást-, meaning “love”. Essentially understood as someone being “dear to my heart” and “my dear love”.
- Hjartfólgin(n): The term consists of the prefix “hjart-” meaning “heart,” combined with the suffix “-fólginn” which refers to something being “secret” or “hidden.” When you talk about someone being hjartfólgin(n) to you, it is saying that this special someone has a “secret place in my heart”. The double nn denotes a masculine sense but the single n a feminine one.
- Hugfólgin(n): Very similar term, but the prefix hug- is the word hugur in the accusative case and means “mind”. Together it means someone that has a “secret place in my mind”.
- Hugljúf(ur): This term is centered around the term ljúfur (masculine) or ljúf (feminine). It means “sweet” or “pleasant” and can be used on its own to refer to loved ones, whether children, family members, or your partner. Together with hug- it takes on a meaning of a person that “evokes sweet/pleasant thoughts or emotions”.
- Heittelskaður/heittelskuð: While the previously mentioned terms can be used both platonically and romantically, this term has a very specific romantic focus. The ending -aður is masculine and -uð is feminine, but the term literally means “hotly loved”. It’s used and understood to mean someone you love with a burning passion.
Unusual Icelandic terms of endearment
In Iceland, it is not customary to engage in extravagant displays of affection or love, and our terms of endearment tend to be quite simple and straightforward. There are a few exceptions, however, that might seem downright bizarre to an outside observer.
- Ástarpungur: This one is hard to explain without going somewhat NSFW. Firstly, this is the name of a dessert — a ball-shaped deep-fried doughnut. The prefix will seem familiar, ástar- (from ást) meaning “love”, but the second part, pungur, literally means “ball-sack”, as in the anatomical part of a man’s body where the testicles reside. The name for the dessert likely derives from its shape and the fact that you’d make it for someone you love. The term, weirdly enough, became a thing to call your male romantic partner, literally meaning a “love ball-sack”.
- Rúsínurassgat: Continuing the theme, this term means “raisin butthole”. Yes, you read that right! What makes it even stranger is that this term is used to describe babies that you find to be irresistibly cute.
- Turtildúfur: This term literally means “turtle doves” and might seem odd at first glance. It is used to affectionately describe a couple in love and has an equivalent in the English term “love birds”.
Masculine terms of endearment
Some terms in Icelandic are used exclusively for men and they tend to be only used by men to address one another.
- Vinur: This is a commonly used and general term that translates to “friend”. While it is often used to describe someone’s relationship, it can also serve as a friendly greeting or term of affection, such as “sæll vinur” or “hey friend”.
- Félagi: Another common term that can be used to refer to close friends but also strangers as well. It shares similarities with the English term “buddy”, as it can refer to a friend, a casual acquaintance, or even serve as a friendly way to address a stranger.
- Lagsmaður (sometimes lagsbróðir): A rarer term these days, though it is still in use, this one essentially just means “buddy” as well, but it dates back to the Viking age. It literally means “spearman” or “spear-brother”, as a lagvopn referred to a stabbing weapon like a spear. It has a deep cultural significance, as someone who would stand by your side in battle, carrying a spear, was truly a trusted friend.
- Kóngur: A more modern term, though the word is far older, it literally means “king”. Used today as a somewhat silly term of endearment for a friend.
- Herra: While it literally means “mister” or “sir” it is never used in a formal way in Iceland as might be normal in other countries. It is used as a casual and affectionately silly term of endearment. For instance, phrases like “herra minn góður” (my good sir) are used to address friends and acquaintances.
Feminine terms of endearment
Strictly feminine terms of endearment are rare in Icelandic, as general terms like the ones discussed above are more commonly used for women, but there are still some that exclusively refer to women.
- Vinkona: An equivalent term to the male vinur and it means “friend”. A phrase such as sæl vinkona, “hey friend”, is used towards female friends.
- Sæta/fallegust: Feminine terms of endearment, particularly between women, are often associated with beauty. Sæta literally means “sweet” but is understood to mean “cute” and fallegust means “most beautiful”. Both are common terms of affection between female friends, although they might also be used by romantic admirers.
- Stallsystir: A term used to describe female colleagues or a pair of female friends, it literally means “stall-sister”. The oldest written example in Iceland comes from the 1730s, and it likely refers to the stalls in stables and barns for animals, where men and women would work side by side. The term stallbróðir (“stall-brother”) also existed but is no longer in popular usage.
- Fröken/ungfrú: Two examples that essentially mean the same thing, “an unmarried girl” or “miss” as it might be more easily recognized by English speakers. Just like the term herra for men, neither fröken nor ungfrú are used in a formal way, as Icelandic society never uses such terms for respect or reverence. Rather they are both used very informally as terms of affection and humor between friends and acquaintances alike.
Terms of endearment, affection, and love are important verbal tools for maintaining and strengthening social bonds and Icelanders are no different from other nations in that regard.
We have also published two articles written by this same author, one focusing on Icelandic boy names and the other on Icelandic girl names.