In honour of the brand-new tunnel between Eyjafjörður and Fnjóskadalur through Vaðlaheiði our Icelandic word of the week is:

Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnumannaverkfærageymsluskúrsútidyralyklakippuhringur.

No, I didn’t fall asleep on the keyboard, that’s the word of the week. Some would say it’s the longest word in the Icelandic language. Others would say it’s a silly word made up as a joke. But what could such a gigantic word mean? Let’s break it down.


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 Vaðlaheiðar

Vaðlaheiði is the aforementioned newly tunnelled heath. The tunnel makes the trip between Akureyri and Húsavík safer and 16 kilometres shorter. The tunnel opened two years behind schedule, but who’s counting? Here the heath’s name is in the possessive form to indicate that the rest of this word soup pertains to said heath.

Vegavinnumanna

Road construction workers. ‘Vinnumenn’ are construction workers and ‘vega’ specifies that they are working on the road.

What we have so far: The Vaðlaheiði road construction workers.

Verkfærageymsluskúrs

Tool storing shed. ‘Verkfæri’ are tools, ‘geymsla’ is storage and ‘skúr’ is a shed. More commonly people would call it either verkfæraskúr or just skúr, but the point of the word it to make it as long as possible.

What we have so far: The Vaðlaheiði road construction workers’ tool storing shed.

Útidyra

Front door. ‘Úti’ means outside and ‘dyra’ means door, together they mean front door. It must be a nice shed if it has enough doors to necessitate the specification that it’s the front door.

What we have so far: The Vaðlaheiði road construction workers’ tool storing shed’s front door.

Lyklakippuhringur

Keychain ring. ‘Lyklakippa’ is a keychain and ‘hringur’ means ring. We have now gone from the first word, which is the name of a large heath, to the last word, an insignificant little metal ring for keys. Which makes the meaning of the whole word: The Vaðlaheiði road construction workers’ tool storing shed’s front door keyring. 


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 The word is designed specifically to be long and unpronounceable. It’s more of a joke than an actual, functional word. What makes it possible to make such a long word in Icelandic is its use of compounding for word formation. Compounding is common in Germanic languages and means you can lump together existing words to make a new word. Compounding is also possible in English – the word keychain for example – but English is sensible and usually stops attaching after two words.

Other examples of comically long compound words are the German tongue twister Donaudampfschifffahrtgesellschaftskapitänswitwenrente and the Welsh town name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which Stephen Sondheim used in his song The Boy From… As for the meaning of the German and Welsh words, your guess is as good as mine.