November 20, 2022

After a short break we are giving our little blog series on some common pre-settlement and imported Icelandic land mammals a jump start by introducing the nouns for the proper classes of animals and other Icelandic nouns of animals you‘ll find in and around the country.

Before moving on you need to know that dýr means animal.

Animals with mammary glands

Spendýr means mammals. Speni is the root here, and in English this would be translated as udder or teat. The casing for human mammary glands is called brjóst (breast; not speni, it's important to know the difference here ;) ).

Wild animals

Villi means wild, so villidýr is the noun for wild animals or wild beast. If we agree that a wild animal is a predator, then Iceland has two villidýr (on land; more if we include the sea): refur (fox) and minkur (mink). They (generally) don‘t pose a threat to humans, so they‘re not wild in the savage sense.

Animals that gnaw

Að naga means to gnaw, so nagdýr encompasses rodents and other animals that gnaw. While there is some debate in the world about whether guinea pigs are rodents, in Icelandic they are called naggrís, or gnaw(ing) pig(let)! There are 4 types of "wild" nagdýr in Icelandic nature and city scape. They are as follows: 2 types of mice, the húsamús (house mouse) and hagamús (wood mouse; literal translation of hagamús is field mouse, hagi means field). 2 types of rats called brúnrotta (brown Norwegian rat) and a few of the svartrotta kind (common black rat). And then there's the rabbit (kanína). More on it later!

Animals of the sea

Sjávardýr. Sjór is the root, sjávar is the possessive form of the noun (eignarfall). All animals in the sea are of course included here, spendýr and all the rest.


Insects are called skordýr. There are more insects in Iceland than people want to believe. Ants and cockroaches even. Bugs are also called skorkvikindi. Kvikindi originally means living creature, but in reality it's mostly used for detested creatures, like bugs, and (other) things you hate, really nasty persons, or just someone who irritates/teases/tricks you. As you can see, kvikindi is a versatile word, but you get the picture, right?

Animals that cause harm to humans, or spread filth and disease (among humans)

These are called meindýr. Mein means harm or disease. The definition of meindýr includes some insects, rats and mice. Not cats, although cat-haters / bird-lovers all over the island would disagree. Do they harm humans? Now is no the time to discuss, so let's just move on ;)

The Icelandic house animals

Collectively, farm animals and livestock are called íslensku húsdýrin. These are kýr (cow), kind (sheep), hestur (horse), svín (pig, swine), geit (goat), hæna (chicken), hundur (dog), and köttur (cat). As you can see, the term includes dogs and cats, who are the only ones in this category that are actual "house animals". For easy vocabulary and information on these animals, so important to the Icelandic way of life, this website  is an excellent source (official page of the Directorate of Education).  

Animals that are cared for, petted and cuddled

Pets are called gæludýr. Að gæla broadly means to care for. Only hundar (dogs), kettir (cats), skrautfiskar (ornamental fish), vatnadýr (water animals – frogs, turtles and such, we‘re not entirely sure...), nagdýr, kanínur and búrfuglar (birds in cages) are defined as pets under the law. The laws stipulating what pets are permitted in Iceland are very strict. If you're planning on importing your gæludýr, this official site will provide you with crucial information on the relevant laws and regulations. There you will also find detailed and interesting lists of animals considered gæludýr, but are not permitted in Iceland.

Animals that ruminate and hooved animals

Jórturdýr and klaufdýr. Að jórtra means to ruminate, and klauf is a hoof (klaufir = hooves). Incidentally, buxnaklauf, literally trouser hoof, means fly, as in the strip of material around a zipper in one's trousers.

There are of course more words/classifications we could dissect, but they're far too many to mention. The above ones are the ones you're most likely to hear people mention in Iceland.

Photo is from here; information about the wood carvings, their designer/wood worker found here.


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