Old Norse-Icelandic Disability Glossary

The following glossary collects terms relevant for those studying disability in the context of Old Norse-Icelandic writing. Many of the terms refer to various kinds of mental, physical, and sensory differences. Others refer to more general perceptions of the body, including terms relating to different states of health, illness, injury, and pain. Because the society/societies that used these terms did not defer to a biologically defined hegemonic body image, these latter terms remain highly relevant for approaching Old Norse-Icelandic material from a disability studies perspective. The overall intention behind the glossary is to give researchers a starting point from which to develop more thorough investigations of some of these terms and others related to them.

In the glossary, headwords contain links to corresponding entries in the The Dictionary of Old Norse Prose (ONP), which provide specific citations of the terms as they appear in surviving medieval manuscripts. Other digital resources listed here (e.g. the Íslenskt textasafn) can be used to locate instances of the terms not included in the ONP. The definitions provided have mainly been taken from Richard Cleasby and Guðbrandur Vigfússon’s An Icelandic-English Dictionary (1874), Johan Fritzner’s Ordbog over Det gamle norske sprog (1886-96), and/or Geir T. Zoëga’s A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic (1910), although several have been expanded upon or modified for clarity; see also the content warning below. Many of the terms in the glossary have multiple meanings, but only those meanings directly relevant to disability studies have been included below, which have generally been simplified for the sake of convenience. Researchers can and should explore the full spectrum of meanings associated with these terms using the corresponding ONP entries, as well as the dictionaries and other digital resources linked to above.

Some terms in the glossary that share very close etymological and semantic connections and are the same parts of speech have been gathered together in the same listing. Conversely, for the sake of brevity, the glossary typically does not include entries for compound words that specify some of the more general terms. For example, compound words relating to the term verkr (pain), such as augnaverkr (eye-pain), brjóstverkr (chest-pain), hǫfuðverkr (head-pain/-ache), etc., are not listed below as they can easily be found within the ONP entry for the term verkr. The case is similar for terms like hǫgg (a hit, stroke, cut with a weapon), mein (a harm, injury, disease, sore), sár (a wound, injury), sjúkr (ill), etc. Additionally, entries may not contain every varied spelling or synonym of the headword, particularly when one variation of a given term is far more common than all others. These variations and synonyms can similarly be found easily within the ONP entries for the respective terms.

The glossary is not exhaustive and will likely see ongoing updates. As mentioned above, it is meant to be a starting for further research of disability in the context of Old Norse-Icelandic writing. Please do not hesitate to contact me at cwe1 [at] hi.is with any feedback or suggestions for terms that you feel should be included in the glossary.

*** Content warning: As alluded to above, please note that several definitions below contain ableist, derogatory, and/or offensive language. Where such connotations are not present in the original terms, I have endeavoured to use more neutral English language terms than those used in the Cleasby-Vigfússon, Fritzner, and/or Zoëga dictionaries. However, where they are present in the original language, I have made use of corresponding English terms that convey the same ableist, derogatory, and/or offensive connotations. This includes, for example, terms such as afglapi, fífl, fóli, and glópr, which are derogatory labels commonly and often synonymously used to refer to people with what today would likely be called cognitive and/or intellectual disabilities. The overall intention of the glossary is to avoid presenting the society or societies that used these terms as any more or less accommodating of mental, physical, and sensory differences than they actually were as reflected in the language they used.

Note: If you make significant use of the glossary in your research, please be sure to cite it so that others are able to find and use it.

afglapi (n.): a fool, idiot, simpleton

bamlaðr (adj.): bent, crooked, deformed

beinlauss (adj.): boneless, without bones

blinda (vb.): to blind, deprive of sight

blindi (n.): blindness

blindr (adj.): blind

daufr (adj.): deaf

dumba / dumbi / dumbr (adj.): non-speaking

dvergr (n.): a dwarf, person with restricted growth

eineygðr / eineygr (adj.): one-eyed

einfætr (adj.): one-footed, one-legged

einhendr (adj.): one-handed, one-armed

fífl (n.): a fool, idiot, simpleton

fóli (n.): a fool, idiot, simpleton

fótlauss (adj.): footless, legless

galinn (adj.): mad, enchanted

gjalti (n.): mad

glópr (n.): a fool, idiot, simpleton

haltr (adj.): limping, having difficulty walking

haltra (vb.): to make one limp

hamstola / hamstoli / hamstolinn (adj.): distressed, frenzied, mad, out of one’s mind

handlauss (adj.): handless, armless

heilendi / heilsa (n.): good health, healing

heill / heilendr (adj.): healed, healthy, whole

heimskr (adj.): foolish, idiotic, simple

hugarválað / hugsótt (n.): anxiety, distress, mental illness

hugsjúkr (adj.) : anxious, distressed

hǫgg (n.): a hit, stroke, cut (with a weapon)

hǫggva (vb.): to hit, strike, cut (with a weapon)

knýta (vb.): to become crooked, knotted

krjúpa (vb.): to creep, crawl

kroppinbakr / kryppubakr (n.): a hunchback

kroppna (vb.): to become crippled

kryppa (n.): a hump, hunch

kryppill / krypplingr (adj.): a cripple

krǫm (n.): a long, wasting, chronic illness

lama / lami / lamr (adj.): limping, maimed

mállaki (n.): a lack of speech

mállauss (adj.): non-speaking

mein (n.): a harm, injury, disease, sore

meinliga (adv.): painfully

meinligr (adj.): painful, harmful

óðr (adj.): mad, frantic, furious, eager

óheill (adj.): unhealthy, not whole

ómagi (n.): a dependent, one unable to help themselves

óvígr (adj.): unable to fight

sár (n.): a wound, injury

sárleikr (n.): pain, soreness

sárliga (adv.): painfully, sorely

sárligr (adj.): painful

sjónlauss (adj.): blind, visually impaired

sjónleysi (n.): blindness, vision loss, a visual impairment

sjúkdómr / sjúkleiki / sjúkleikr / sjúknuðr (n.): an illness, disease

sjúkr (adj.): ill

sótt (n.): an illness, disease

sóttarfar (n.): the condition, course of an illness

staðleysi (n.): unsteadiness, instability, a restlessness of mind

stǫng (n.): a staff, pole

sút (n.): illness, grief, sorrow, affliction

sútligr (adj.): painful

tréfótr (n.): a wooden leg

vanfærr (adj.): unable, incapable, infirm

vanheilendi / vanheilsa (n.): failing health, a chronic illness

vanheill (adj.): unhealthy, ill

vanmátta / vanmáttugr (adj.): weak, ill, sore

vanmáttr (n.): failing strength, an illness

vanmegin / vanmeginn / vanmegn (adj.): feeble, powerless, weak

vanmegn (n.): feebleness, powerlessness, weakness

vanmegna (vb.): to grow weak, faint

vanmenna (n.): an incompetent, worthless person

verkja (vb.): to feel pain

verkr (n.): pain

vitfirring / vitleysa / vitleysi (n.): madness, witlessness

vitlauss / vitstola / vitstoli / vitstolinn (adj.): mad, foolish, witless, out of one’s mind

vitleysingr (n.): a mad, foolish, witless person

æða, œða / æra, œra (vb.): to madden, make furious, frantic, mad

æði, œði / ærsl, œrsl / ærsla (n.): fury, frenzy, madness, rage

æriliga, œriliga (adv.): furiously, madly

ærr, œrr / æriligr, œriligr (adj.): mad, furious, insane