Time for another quirky Icelandic phrase! Only it’s not really a phrase, but a word: HVALREKI.
Hvalreki literally means “beached whale” or “washed-ashore whale”, but in Icelandic it has come to mean a windfall of some sort.
Such as: “Þetta verkefni var algjör hvalreki fyrir mig” [this assignment was a total beached whale for me].
And you guessed it: it comes from the time where Icelandic farmers would find a beached whale on their land, and were able to utilize it to the max. In some cases, one beached whale could save an entire town from starvation.
Interestingly, I was at at the Ísafjörður maritime museum a couple of weeks ago, and they had a display about “hvalreka” [plural] with some really interesting trivia. Apparently there were really complicated rules regarding the process, with the person who found the whale being obliged to notify the relevant parties [land owner, etc.] within a certain period of time, and the division of the spoils then taking place according to set rules, etc. etc.. This sometimes led to major conflict, with people even being maimed or killed in the process.
/quirky Icelandic phrase 2