Ginnunga- is usually interpreted as deriving from a verb meaning "gape" or "yawn", but no such word occurs in Old Norse except in verse 3 of the Eddic poem "Vǫluspá", "gap var ginnunga", which may be a play on the term. In her edition of the poem, Ursula Dronke suggested it was borrowed from Old High German ginunga, as the term Múspell is believed to have been borrowed from Old High German. An alternative etymology links the ginn- prefix with that found in terms with a sacral meaning, such as ginn-heilagr, ginn-regin (both referring to the gods) and ginn-runa (referring to the runes), thus interpreting Ginnungagap as signifying a "magical (and creative) power-filled space".
Ginnungagap, the Yawning Void ... which faced toward the northern quarter, became filled with heaviness, and masses of ice and rime, and from within, drizzling rain and gusts; but the southern part of the Yawning Void was lighted by those sparks and glowing masses which flew out of Múspellheim
In the northern part of Ginnungagap lay the intense cold of Niflheim, and in the southern part lay the equally intense heat of Muspelheim. The cosmogonic process began when the effulgence of the two met in the middle of Ginnungagap.
Scandinavian cartographers from the early 15th century attempted to localise or identify Ginnungagap as a real geographic location from which the creation myth derived. A fragment from a 15th-century (pre-Columbus) Old Norse encyclopedic text entitled Gripla (Little Compendium) places Ginnungagap between Greenland and Vinland:
Now is to be told what lies opposite Greenland, out from the bay, which was before named: Furdustrandir hight a land; there are so strong frosts that it is not habitable, so far as one knows; south from thence is Helluland, which is called Skrellingsland; from thence it is not far to Vinland the Good, which some think goes out from Africa; between Vinland and Greenland is Ginnungagap, which flows from the sea called Mare oceanum, and surrounds the whole earth.
Later, the 17th-century Icelandic bishop Guðbrandur Thorlaksson also used the name Ginnungegap to refer to a narrow body of water, possibly the Davis Strait, separating the southern tip of Greenland from Estotelandia, pars America extrema, probably Baffin Island.
- The Poetic Edda, edited with translation introduction and commentary by Ursula Dronke, Volume II: Mythological Poems, Clarendon Press (1997), pp. 112–14, note to "Vǫluspá", line 3/7. Dronke notes that Þjóðólfr of Hvinir also plays on the term in his Haustlǫng, with "ginnunga vé".
- De Vries (1977:167); cf. also Dillmann (1998:118-123).
- The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, translated by Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur, 1916, p. 17.
- Gripla, Codex No. 115 translated in The Norse Discovery of America, A. M. Reeves, N. L. Beamish and R. B. Anderson, 1906, p. 238.
- Dronke, p. 112.
- Seaver, Kirsten "Maps, Myths and Men", Stanford University Press (2004) pp. 247-253.
- Dillmann, F. X. (1998). "Ginnungagap" in: Beck, H., Steuer, H. & Timpe, D. (Eds.) Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde, Volume 12. Berlin: de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016227-X.
- de Vries, Jan (1977). Altnordisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. Leiden: Brill.
- Simek, Rudolf (1995). Lexicon der germanischen Mythology. Stuttgart: Alfred Kröner. ISBN 3-520-36802-1.