Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Capital Geezers of Iceland

Few things are as tedious as other people's holiday photos. That's why facebook exists: it allows people to show their photographs without anyone bothering to look. With that in mind, would you like to see my holiday photographs? You would? Splendid. I've just got back from Iceland.

That's a sign for the Hotel Geysir*. I didn't actually stay there. Just took a photo of the sign because Geysir is a place in Iceland and all of the other geysers in the world, all of those big, spurty things are named after that place.

The Icelandic word for geyser isn't geyser or even geysir (with a funny comma on it). They call them either laug, which means bath, or hverr, which means cauldron. But European travellers didn't know that, and so they took the place name and carried it off around the world.

To be fair though, the place name is related. Geysir basically means, and is cognate with, gusher.

Anyway, would you like to see another photo of Geysir? No? What if I told you the photo was utterly hilarious?

Now, the reason that photo is hilarious is that there's a sign in the foreground saying NO SMOKING but in the background there's what looks like smoke. So it looks as though the ground is breaking the law!!!!! How we did laugh.

They've even got the sign in Icelandic REYKINGAR BANNABAR: Smoking Banned.

Of course it's not smoke. It's steam. But it looks like smoke. All of which explains Reykjavik (the name Reykjavik, that is, not the bus system or the price of a beer).

The first man ever to arrive in Iceland and want to stay for the winter was a chap called Ingolfr Arnarson (and his wife). He (and his wife) had taken the high seats from a temple to Thor and he decided to toss them (and his wife) off the side of his boat to see where they washed up. (That's not true about his wife, although she probably did occasionally wash up).

The seats washed up in a bay that had lots of geothermal vents a bit like the ones inland at Geysir, and because they looked like smoke rather than steam, and because the Icelandic** for smoke was reykja and the Icelandic for bay was vik, he called it Reykjavik***.

Meanwhile, the Cockney geezer has nothing to do with geysers at all, it comes from the Nothern word guiser, which means someone in fancy dress (like dis-guise), which means someone who looks a bit foolish.

And here's a photo of me with a dominatrix puffin.

*I'm afraid I have less than no idea how to type Icelandic diacriticals.
** Yes, yes, I know.
*** It was initially Reykjarvik, but the point stands.

P.S. I've changed this post slightly as there was a mistake in my Icelandic kindly pointed out by Torkirra on Twitter.


  1. I've been missing the chuckles dished out by Inky Fool.

  2. Lovely pun in the title!

    BTW, the name of the town below Hotel Geysir in the picture sounds one syllable short of a curse word.

  3. Hi, lovin' your observations.. I am personally fascinated by language puns. Here is one for you to your piggy box: what well known in Britain as a tram (yes a vehicle on a rail, like ones in Blackpool) in Russia is called tramway (yes one word). For some reason russian engineer must of had quete much of a real ale when went onto tour on factory and added both words together to call a poor tram. The reason of such a pun might be simpler (although I like it) for instance low qualification of an interpreter. But fact is there. Or here is another one.. the word President - there is whole conspirological theory that "President" term comes from P-resident where -resident is mean some one permanent and one who's possessed a place or position in the case with political meaning. Silly but try to explain to poor Russian folks that the assumption is totally wrong and here they are already thinking that you are spy came from bloody west to brainwash people of a mother Russia :))) lol

  4. "Of course it's not smoke. It's steam." But it's not steam either, it's water vapour (or water vapour plus other substances). You can't see steam. Pedants unite!