So, the dudes from WikiLeaks are in town to stake out the general area. They were interviewed on Silfur Egils this past weekend and, from what I could gather, they have something fairly dramatic up their sleeves – some juicy revelation involving SMS messages and the manager of one of Iceland’s failed banks. Stay tuned for that one, folks!
However, that’s not the main thrust of this post … rather I’d like to take up a slight, er, disagreement that took place in the comments to this post a few days ago. In those comments I remarked how I considered it quite impossible for anyone to fully understand what went on down in Iceland in relation to the meltdown unless they spoke Icelandic. A reader took offense and claimed that I had to be wearing rose coloured glasses if I really believed “that the rest of us are less erudite than yourself”.
I confess I was rather taken aback by the comment – simply because I thought my point was rather self-evident. How can anyone claim to get a full picture of the meltdown without speaking the Icelandic language? This has nothing to do with anyone being more or less erudite than anyone else. It’s simply common sense. What about all those documents that are written in Icelandic? All those emails sent back and forth in Icelandic? All those, um, secret SMS messages sent between people in Icelandic?
I bring this up here because, during the course of the interview, the two guys from WikiLeaks spoke about how they’re working with translators here in Iceland in order to get the full picture. The same issue was discussed last spring when I was in Norway, when I was speaking with a bunch of investigative reporters who were really keen to get together a team to come to Iceland to delve into the bank collapse and to “follow the money”. The main issue was the language barrier and how much it would cost to translate all those documents. I’m sure Eva Joly and her people have a similar story to tell.
Of course the issue of direct translations, an approximate conveying of a term, is just one issue. Another is that of the cultural and social implications behind the words, those subtle nuances of meaning that just don’t translate in a word or two. A particular word may have layers of meaning for an Icelander that a person outside of Iceland would not be able to grasp. In the aforementioned comments, I asked if the offended reader could give me a translation of three words: útrásarvíkingur, góðæri and kreppa. Indeed he could! He provided those terms that are generally used to convey the meaning of those three. And yet – they don’t convey the full meaning, those layers of understanding that an Icelander would have over a non-Icelander.
Case in point. The commenter translated kreppa as “crisis” or “crash”. However, the Icelandic word for “crisis” is actually neyðarástand. The word for “crash” is hrun [or árekstur, in the case of, say, a car crash]. Neither of those adequately convey the meaning of kreppa.
My response was that each of those three words needed about two paragraphs of explanation to get the full meaning across, which I concede may have been a bit extreme. However, none of them can be translated with just one word. A few of you asked, in subsequent comments, what the actual meaning of those words was. So here I’ll try to convey those meanings to the best of my ability.
ÚTRÁSARVÍKINGUR. This term is generally used to describe the Icelandic moguls who went on a buying spree abroad and who would eventually bring this country to the edge of bankruptcy. However, the term is made up of two words spliced together: útrás and víkingur. The latter term is self-explanatory – means Viking. The former does not have an equivalent word in English. It is the opposite of the word innrás, meaning “invasion”, which of course is what the Vikings of old were wont to do. However, útrásarvíkingar presumes that those same Vikings are now residing in Iceland and are going on raids abroad – so instead of “invading” a country, they are “outvading”. Útrás effectively means “outvasion”. So útrásarvíkingar means “outvasion Vikings” — which would not make much sense in direct translation, and also misses the layers of history and culture that it denotes for someone here in Iceland. Moreover, this term is now used more generally for anyone who is doing business outside of Iceland – just about anyone these days can be in útrás.
GÓÐÆRI. This is a term generally used in Iceland to talk about the years of prosperity that preceded the bank collapse, or years of prosperity in general. It’s a word I encounter frequently in my translations, and which I always trip over a little bit because that one word speaks volumes to those people who live here, but maybe not so much for others. It is actually a very old Icelandic word meaning “good year” and was used to describe those years that were bountiful, where the ocean yielded lots of fish, or the sun shone a lot so that plenty of hay could be dried, or when people had an abundance of food. Saying “the years of prosperity preceding the bank collapse” doesn’t fully convey the layers of meaning or positive feelings that an Icelander would attach to the term on a conscious or subconscious level.
KREPPA. Which brings us to this oh-so frequently used term used to describe the current economic crisis here in Iceland. Again, there are nuances of meaning that are missed when we talk about kreppa as “crisis” or “collapse”. Granted, the word is used to describe economic depression, but it also means two other things: to clench and to tighten, as in the idiom þar sem skórinn kreppir að literally meaning “where the shoe pinches”. So in addition to the economic implications, it also carries very heavy connotations of suffering and of forging through that suffering with fists clenched and everything tightened. Kreppa. It’s a harsh word, with little mercy, which is probably how our forbears here in Iceland experienced having to get through those endless months and years of hardship in the Iceland of old.
And so, I rest my arguments about the nuance of language and culture, and turn my attention to:
It is COLD out there right now, phwoar!!! We have our lowest temps to date this winter … the thermometer at the pool a little earlier showed -6°C [16F] which is precisely what Yahoo weather says it is right now. On top of that it is WINDY, making for some serious windkill. The sun came up late this morning at 10.44 am, and set at 3.47 this afternoon.