“Kill a Finger in Water”

I’ve been working my way through the icelandiconline.is course, free of charge on the web for any of you that want a head start into the language, and I stumbled upon a word I was unfamiliar with, “drepa,” and decided to look into it

According to an Icelandic Online Dictionary, in the accusative form, “drepa” means to kill. But, upon further reading, I stumbled upon a very peculiar application of the word, labeled under B:


Drepa, when used in the phrase “drepa fingri í vatn” means to “dip a finger in water.” So how did the word “drepa” adapt from “killing” to simply “dipping” a finger into water, or vice versa? My first theory was that perhaps centuries ago, dipping a finger into water was a sign of cleansing, or killing off any bad deeds. Because of my uncertainty, I decided to ask a few Icelanders who had been helping me with the language, in the hopes that they would easily be able to answer my question. Turns out, four out of four Icelanders I had asked hadn’t a single clue as to how the word changed so abruptly.

One Icelander said, “I’ve heard “að drepa fingri í vatn” and “drepa á dyr” (but I don’t think anyone uses those phrases any more. In any case it’s strange but the explanation is probably that it’s rooted in another word that just started to sound more and more like drepa, to kill). Doesn’t make any sense to kill a finger in water or to kill upon a door”

Still unsettled with the uncertainty, he asked a few people and was told that they were just two old words that were similar and eventually started to sound the same.

Either way, I’ve discovered a beauty in the idea that two words that mean entirely different things can join together in an interesting and artistic way. I went to the river the other day and dipped my fingers into the surface of the water, thinking about how water is a property of cleansing, and perhaps I was killing off any negative things I had touched in the past.

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