Icelandic: komdu/vertu sæll


Senior Member
English - USA
I know this is basic stuff, but I just want to clarify for myself what we're really saying to someone with these common expressions, usually translated as "hello" and "goodbye", respectively.

At least one dictionary translates the adjective sæll as "happy, blissful; fortunate, blessed", so an expression such as "komdu sæll" or "vertu sæll" is basically expressing a wish to the hearer (masculine, in this case) for some experience of positive well-being, whether on arrival or departure.

More specifically, one might transliterate "komdu sæll" and "vertu sæll" as "come happy" and "be happy", respectively.

Is that more or less correct?
  • One might indeed go down that route. Coca-Cola translated Komdu blessaður og sæll like this in 1943:


    These greetings are Christian in origin and based on the meanings of the words as used in Christian writings, in which the meaning of sæll transitioned from the simple ‘happy’ to ‘happy because blessed by God’. As for the verb blessa—which gives the past participle blessaður—it was brought in from English when the Gospel texts were first being read and spoken about in Iceland.

    When used in a Christian context, the words sæll and blessaður are practically synonyms. Thus, in the Icelandic Bible, the former is used both in the Psalms (where English translations have either “blessed” or “happy”) and in such passages in the Gospels as Luke 6:20 (English again “blessed”), while blessaður is used for example in Mark 11:9, where most English translations also use “blessed”.

    When a person is being greeted in the Bible, however, the word heill / heil tends to be used, for example in Luke 1:28, where older English translations also have “Hail”. The word is still in use today in greetings such as Heill og sæll!, which some people use when writing letters (including email messages that I have received).

    In modern Icelandic, both words have largely lost these specifically Christian meanings, especially as used in greetings. Therefore, a translation such as ‘Come blessed’ is simply no longer correct. Also, very few people actually use Komdu sæll or Komdu blessaður nowadays. It is much more common to use Sæll or Blessaður on their own, and then those greetings simply mean ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’. (Blessaður, especially, can mean either ‘Hello’ or ‘Goodbye’.)

    Finally, it is worth mentioning a pair of traditional greetings that are still heard somewhat frequently today, namely Sæll vertu (used when saying hello) and Vertu sæll (used to say goodbye).
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