fimmtudagur, júní 29, 2006


Rue: To feel regret. A complicated, blended derivation from OE hreowan (to grieve) and hreowian (to feel sorrow), perhaps influenced by ON hryggja. The noun, "pain, sorrow," is derived from the OE verb.

Rue: A species of shrub. The name may be derived from Greek rhyte and is not related to the other word rue, above, despite the numerous puns seen in English literature. Apparently it is sometimes used to flavor claret or fruit preserves, but only in small amounts, as it is an irritant. Should one pluck the pale leaves by hand and so develop welts and ulcers, the remedy is hemlock. This is not so drastic as it sounds: the hemlock is meant to be applied topically. Rue is a perennial evergreen, which is amusing in that it makes it possible and even accurate to say that "rue springs eternal." Strangely, it has been used against headaches and nightmares stemming from emotional causes and against hysterical spasm. Unsurprising, the leaves are bitter in flavor.

Rue, in French, is also a street. Today, though the words are unrelated, I am thinking about it as a road.

miðvikudagur, júní 28, 2006


My only English-English dictionary is in a box somewhere. The boxes are piling up. Even without consulting it I can say with some security that Icelandic hlaða "to stack up" and English lade "to load" are related. The Icelandic gives you the option of middle voice hlaðast for communicating the sense of helplessness associated with the stacks seeming to pile up on their own. You don't hear lade much anymore outside of bills of lading. I suppose I'll have one of those when it comes time to shift all this.

The boxes full of books are about 45 lbs each, 20-odd kilos. That's weight or mass, of course. I'm not sure how to measure the quantity of knowledge, fræði, in each book or grouping of books. Perhaps it's best done in volume, like a liquid. That would make sense, given the liquid and alcoholic nature of fræði or at least kveðskapur. Indeed, ladle is related to lade and hlaða as well.

It is beginning to make sense to me that several of these boxes come already emblazoned: Budweiser, Corona, Tsingtao, Red Hook, and the very evocative Eye of the Hawk.

þriðjudagur, júní 27, 2006

vildi, væri

I had known that the blue rose was a kind of holy grail for the flower set. I even have a hazy memory from early childhood of some movie on television that my parents were watching (this was when I was still too young to have fully absorbed the conventions of small-screen storytelling; I could not follow a television plot) in which the protagonist couple hunted high and low for a fabled blue rose. In fact I don't even remember that much. My dim memory is only of what I presume was the climactic scene, in which someone reached to grasp an artificial-looking flower in (I believe) a cave while half-whispering, half-gasping, "the blue rose ..."

I should hold some sort of contest to reward the person who can identify what movie this was, but said individual should not expect a prize on the order of an actual blue rose.

Apparently, the red iris is a similar mythical, coveted thing. There is something about both flowers -- the classically red rose and the classically blue iris -- being subject to such counterfactural desires that strikes me as ridiculous and sad, like the beautiful brunette who is miserable because she is not blonde having a lunch date with the gorgeous blonde who wants nothing more than to be brunette.

What really is the point of chasing such floral exotica? My favorite roses are a deep red, and my favorite irises a creamy blue. I do not think this makes me the sort of person who settles for the second-best or even (horrors!) the pedestrian. Perhaps my fondness is, in the most literal sense, for the mundane.

mánudagur, júní 26, 2006


The second and fourth quarters of the moon produce a neap tide, when the different between high and low, ebb and flow, is the least of the month. The strip of shore where murderers might be buried is at its most narrow, and thus is, I suppose, the safest part of that safe zone not properly belonging to either land or sea. Fitting that it is the the even-numbered quarters, smooth rather than the pointed, odd numbers: Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Not much to choose between the high mark and the low mark is the entire point.

The word comes from Old English nepflod, and, like many words about country things and things close to the rhythms of nature's mysterious processes, it has not changed much in the journey to Modern English. Whence it comes to Old English is apparently not known. It seems always to have been more or less as it is now.

laugardagur, júní 24, 2006


The largest member of the thistle family. It is striking how many people do not know that the artichoke, uneaten, blooms into a huge, spiky, purple flower. It is almost sea-creature-like, some weird anemone or coral waving with delicate, hollow fronds. I believe it is a compound bloom, that each apparent petal is an entire flower complete with pistil and stamen and nectar.

Pace Joseph Harris ("Cursing with the Thistle: Skírnismál 316-8 and OE Metrical Charm 9, 16-17", in Neuphilogische Mitteilungen 76 (1975), pp.26-33), but these thistles seem to me bursting with fecundity.

föstudagur, júní 23, 2006

lítill heimur

The agent is very pleasant despite having huffed up three flights of stairs and remarkably prompt as well. He eyeballs my ostensibly moveable goods, and I give him a corner of the table to do his figures. He has his back to my most incriminating case of books. Will I be associated with the university, he asks. Yes, I say, and sit up a little straighter. Teaching what? Scandinavian literature, sagas and things like that. Really? he says, and then, well, there's some of that in English literature too, Beowulf and all. I am impressed and say so. Not everyone knows these things.

After a few more strokes of the pen we get back to the business of reviewing the numbers and handing over business cards. I show him to the door and get back to the business of dreary logistical phonecalls. Soon I have an insurance agent on the line. Change of address, transferral of coverage, current balance, can he have an e-mail address. My e-mail is in flux, and I am forced to give him my private address. I spell it out carefully. He repeats all the ridiculous consonants back to me.

So, he says, that's Norse or Swedish or something? I laugh. It's Icelandic, and I tell him what it means. He laughs. That's great, he says, like Snorri Sturluson. Exactly! I'm surprised you know anything about my field! This is your field? Yes, it is. Wow, that's great -- I mean, I've read the Prose Edda, but not in the original! I tell him he's ahead of most people. I'm an Anderson, he says, so I feel obligated to read up, you know?

We manage to address my technical questions between the other, more interesting topics. I recommend the recent Penguin translation of the íslendingasögur. He says he's read the Heaney Beowulf and didn't like it. Really? Yeah, I don't know, he says. Just didn't do it for me. Well, I say, I like Heaney in general, so maybe that's it. Ah, he says, I could talk to you all day and keep asking you questions, but my supervisor is going to come around and hit me with a stick. Well, I tell him, you could always challenge him to a hólmgöngr.

mánudagur, júní 19, 2006


I heard some actor on that terribly pretentious television program where the interview always concludes with a set list of questions. One of them is "what is your favorite curse word?" This actor (I do not remember who it was) answered, "*****shit." There was a beep, but the word was clearly horseshit.

I too am fond of this word. It is so much better than bullshit. Or rather, more refined somehow.

In fact, I've thought about this. Bullshit, I think, is frequently spouted by someone who doesn't realize that he is spouting it. A fellow says something at a party that you know to be utter nonsense, perhaps a widely-held but mistaken belief, perhaps simply his own gross misinterpretation of reality. Aww, you say, jerking your head back a little, squinting, and pushing out your lower lip (an exaggerated expression, because you too are beer-tipsy), aw, that's bullshit, man. He is affronted. What? He was sure that it was true, whatever he said. No, dude, you continue, you have it totally wrong, and you do your best to set him straight.

(This is different from the verb to bullshit, nota bene, which implies a great degree of intentionality and conscious deception. The bullshit-spouter is likely a blockhead, whereas the bullshitter is either a witty liar or rake.)

Horseshit is an entirely different substance. He who speaks horseshit knows he is doing so. He may be extemporizing on a topic well known to him, or he may have crafted the stuff with no little care the night before. It is a curious fact that the relative processed-ness of verbal bullshit and horseshit is inversely proportional to that of their non-metaphoric counterparts. Cowpats are more fully broken down and odorous than the fibrous deposits left in the wake of military parades, as horses have less efficient digestive systems than do cows. Equids pass clods more grass than shit, but he who pronounces horseshit (there is no verb *to horseshit) passes on a product that has been well worked-through. Nevertheless, spoken horseshit and spoken bullshit stink equally. I digress.

The purveyor of horseshit may well be discoursing on a subject no less refined than the chosen medium. It might be about art theory, or philosophy, or the economy, or social policy. Such speeches might move one, upon hearing, to rise to one's feet and call out in ringing tones, Senator, that is horseshit, causing the chamber to rustle with shifting feet and whispered expressions of mock scandal.

Am I right? Are there any native speakers out there who would like to correct me?

laugardagur, júní 17, 2006


A day spent sniffing out your own typographical errors. This is hard work on a hot day. The sun beats down on the page and then up at your eyes, or else you play hide and seek, moving from table to table in the café to stay ahead of the blinding beams. It shouldn't be a long hunt; the text is a short one. Unfortunately, it was written in haste, in the growing shadow of a much longer, weightier text. It shows. The worst part is that the hot, hot sun is cooking all the garbage bins of all the cafés on the block, and the stench of putrifying tablescraps overpowers the delicate scent of a misplaced comma or the wrong sort of bracket.

miðvikudagur, júní 14, 2006


Odor out of place. The scents hit the nose and make the brain wonder. Eucalyptus today smells like mint. The steam rising through the grates on the University grounds smells of baked goods. Then the synæsthesia kicks in as I pass a planter full of vivid purple flowers of the same species as those in the tiny planter on Frakkastígur I was once charged with watering, and I am awash with the memory of the toasty, malty reek of the nearby brewery. I think it has since been torn down.


The amusing native production error of the week was provided by an eight year old watching The Sound of Music who asked if the characters were speaking Germish and then laughed at herself. I enjoyed pointing out that her inadvertent coinage, a mix of two words for two different languages, was almost self-referential. Germischen should mean exactly to combine German with other languages.

Inspired by this, perhaps, I have tinkered with odd combinations in the days that followed. The flavor of hot cocoa was made considerable more rich with a dash of spicy curry powder. Scones were improved when laced with black pepper and grapefruit zest.

Munching and sipping, I am moved to consider that Yiddish fermisht has very different valence than Old Icelandic blandið. The Norse one implies pollution or (and this is really captures the word as it is applied to Freyja) adulteration. The Yiddish speaks only of silliness, mixed-up-ness, harmless confusion.

sunnudagur, júní 11, 2006

non lieux

Airplanes are no more places than airports are, it occurs to me. It occurs to me at 36,000 feet, on the second leg of what has unexpectedly become a three-leg journey zig-zagging acrosss the face of the country. Wedged between fellow passengers, I find jet-powered cruising altitude less congenial than one achieved last night over dinner with the aid of wine and wit.

miðvikudagur, júní 07, 2006


An Icelander I knew (not very well and many years ago) once remarked to me that he could not get used to being in places that got so warm at certain times of year that a person would perspire despite not exerting himself in any way. He disliked this intensely. I must say I do as well. I would even propose that there is something inherently wrong with places where one is always putting on some sort of overgarment when coming indoors and taking it off again going outside. It goes against my every instinct.


I need to place a call. I ask a brace of young men if they know where the nearest payphone is. Their expressions evince surprise and possibly pity. They smile bemusedly as if I had asked for a slide rule or a carrier pigeon.

laugardagur, júní 03, 2006


There is much that is ridiculous about suffering nightmares while reading David Hufford, though mine do not resemble the Old Hag. My nightmares are just what they sound like, mörur, mares. I think they are bays.

Sleep, for me, is also a horse, a gray. Just now he is balky and obstreperous. The idea is to get him to arch his neck and step neatly and nicely through the gates of horn, a model of dressage, carrying me effortlessly into the night hours. These days, though, he dives out between the jumps or swerves stubbornly into the thorny hedges.

The nightmares are no less fierce for their sex. Night after night, they raise their forehooves and clash stallionlike with the gray. The horses scream, their chests crash together, and I can feel the impact on the keel of my own chest. I cannot see who or what goads them on from behind.

fimmtudagur, júní 01, 2006

tid og rom

Summer is come, and with it the season for the maddening logistics associated with travel in the North-West corner of Europe. I recall having had this conversation a few years ago. Needless to say, it took place over a long-distance telephone connection.

God dag. Har du et rom ledig 4.-11. juni?

Enkelt eller dobbelt?


4.-11. juli?

Ja, 4.-11. juni.

Skal vi se. Ja, det har vi: enkelt rom 4.-11. juli. Vil du bestille nå?

Ja, takk.



I leave imagining the ensuing trials visited upon the jetlagged traveler upon her arrival as an exercise for the reader.


I am admiring a map of the Shetlands. It is wonderful to see how the old Norn names have been battered and smoothed by the cold Scottish waters. You can't see most of their original edges and contours anymore:
Muckle Flugga
Muckle Roe
Mu Ness
Fitful Head

The placenames in the Faroes, in contrast, retain more recognizably Norse profiles:
But not on this map. The mapmaker has sanded down all the jutting Faroese into flat Danish, making all the water Fjord and all the land Ø.
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