He who has never left home is “heimskur”: Current affairs explained through Icelandic etymology

The Icelandic word for “stupid” is “heimskur”. This has long been one of my favorite words, because it comes from the word “heima” which means “home”: He who has never left home is “heimskur” – stupid.

At a book award ceremony in Iceland yesterday, one of Iceland’s best authors pointed out another interesting fact: Icelandic is the only language that also uses the same word for “home” (“heima”) and “the world” (“heimurinn”). Our world is our home, and our home is the whole wide world.

In that sense, the only people who have ever left “home” are the lucky few that have travelled to space. The rest of us are still “heimsk”.


What makes this incredibly interesting is that many astronauts have described an enlightening experience that they have when they see the world from space for the first time. A kind of empathy for all of mankind when they see that our home is only a speck of dust in the vastness of space. This experience is in fact so common that it has a name. It’s called the “overview effect“.

With the recent rise of protectionism and nationalism in some circles, this seems highly relevant.

We can´t all travel to space, but we should all strive to think more broadly and openly about the world and those that share our global home.

Don’t be “heimskur” – you’re bigger than that!

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