The word ‘nenna’ in Icelandic falls within the category of Icelandic words and phrases that don’t have a literal translation to English. We’ll do our best to explain it anyway.
If you were to pop it into the “good” old google translate, the result is ‘be bothered.’ It basically means that you ‘can be bothered’ to do something but the applications of it go much further than this.
Nenna is a mixture of being able to, wanting to or feeling like, and can be in both the positive and negative cases.
A friend could ask if you want to go out partying, or as Icelanders would put it “fara að djamma,” and you if responded with “ég nenni,” you are basically saying that it would be a bit of an effort, but you could, and you will indeed join them if they would like you to.
“Ég nenni” has a different meaning to the more enthusiastic no-questions-asked response of “já” (yes). It can also represent cases where you don’t particularly feel like doing something, but you’re willing to, almost like when you politely say to someone “I guess,” but more explicit and with a whole lot less passive aggression.
It’s sort of the reverse of the English phrase “could you do me a favour?” When it comes from a superior at work, you know your answer to this question almost always has to be “sure.” With nenna, you can almost explicitly state that you will do said favour, but you might not necessarily want to.
If you were asked a question and answered by adding the negative adverb “ekki”, to ‘nenna’ you are implying something completely different.
“Ég nenni ekki” pretty much translates to “I can’t be bothered.”
You can pretty much nenni or nenni ekki anything in Icelandic. Let’s see some examples.
“Viltu sækja fötin mín í hreinsun á leiðinni heim úr vinnunni?”
(Will you pick up my dry cleaning on the way home from work?)
“Já, ég nenni því”
(It doesn’t exactly spark joy for me, but sure I’ll do it.)
“Við ætlum á Prikið. Viltu koma með”
(We’re going to Prikið. Want to come with)
“Ég nenni ekki.”
(I would rather shove bamboo shoots under my fingernails. I can’t be bothered.)
Nenna can also be used when dealing with more abstract concepts like motivation. When dealing with those last five minutes on a treadmill after you stupidly signed up for a half marathon that you’re now madly training for, you can ask yourself where the hell your “nenna” has gone.
What do you ‘nenn’ today? What other Icelandic words would you like to know more about? Let us know in the Facebook comments below.