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Fun Finnish Words

Languages abound in peculiar compound words, and one particular language has a handful of them. Today we are taking a look at some fun Finnish words. Aloitetaan!

Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, Learning Finnish, Suomi, Funny words, compounds

Lohikäärme (lit. salmon snake) is a dragon.
Fun fauna at its finest.


Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, Learning Finnish, Suomi, Funny words, compounds

Jääkaappi (lit. ice closet) is a fridge.
It’s only logical.


Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, Learning Finnish, Suomi, Funny words, compounds

Pesusieni (lit. wash fungus) is a sponge.
Showers just became much more fun!


Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, Learning Finnish, Suomi, Funny words, compounds

Kattokruunu (lit. ceiling crown) is a chandelier.
Because homes also want to be pretty.


Expat Gone Foreign, Language comics, Learning Finnish, Suomi, Funny words, compounds

I saved my favorite for last. Tietokone (lit. knowledge machine) is a computer.
Bleepity bloopity bloop!


That’s it for today. If you enjoyed this article, check out Untranslatable Finnish Words and Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape. Näkemiin!

Beautiful Finnish Words

The world is full of magical things, from bewildering nature cycles to human traits that we perceive but can’t really put a name to. Look no further, for the Finnish language has a wondrous array of untranslatable, beautiful words that capture the spirit and worldview of the land of a thousand lakes.


Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomiruska (n.)

The transformation of tree leaves and vegetation into different shades of yellow, red, auburn and purple that occur during autumn.

This enthralling scenery can be witnessed throughout Finland during autumn, but the landscape becomes more breathtaking further north, where areas are less populated and forests grow denser. Ruska comes from the Northern Sami ruškat (brown).



Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomitalkoot (n.)

Traditional form of neighborhood gathering to assist with a major task, such as harvesting, building houses or cleaning garbage.

Talkoot fosters a strong sense of community and volunteers usually have a soup dish and alcoholic beverages together after completing the task.


Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomikaamos (n.)

Period of the year north of the Arctic Circle 1 in which the Sun does not rise over the horizon.

Although this period of darkness can last up to two months in the northernmost regions of the Arctic Circle, it is rarely pitch black in Finland because the Sun still rises timidly above the horizon, even during winter solstice. This phenomenon gives way to the blue twilight in regions like Lapland, where the darkness takes different shades of blue, violet and purple, reflected on the snow white ground.

Its summer solstice counterpart is the yötön yö (nightless night, known as the midnight sun).


Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomisisu (n.)

The stoic determination, brave resilience and tenacious resoluteness shown in the face of adversity, even in situations where success is against the odds. Sisu is a word that Finns use to describe their national character 2.


Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomikantohanki (n.)

Thick layer of snow that is solid enough to support a person’s weight without breaking.

By the end of the winter, the sun starts raising again above the horizon. It melts the top of the snow, creating an even layer of ice. For this reason, kantohanki is associated with the beginning of the spring.


Expat Gone Foreign, language comic, fun, untranslatable, beautiful words, Finnish, Suomirevontulet (n.)

Northern lights.

Finland is not the only country where the aurora can be spotted, but “fox’s fires” 3 is a very poetic word to describe them. According to an ancient Finnish folk tale, an Arctic magical fox would sweep its tail and cast the snow up high, creating the fire-looking shapes in the sky.


Revontulet is one of the first Finnish words that I learnt and it’s still my favorite. What about you? Do you have a special, beautiful word that is not present in other languages?

If you liked this article, discover more language curiosities with Poronkusema & the Finnish Linguistic Landscape as well as cultural aspects of Finland in Finns & Interpersonal Interactions.


The Finno-Ugric Enigma

When you arrive in a new country and speak none of its language, you might find yourself in somewhat awkward situations. This is basically what happened to me on my first day in Finland: the Finno-Ugric enigma of non-anthropomorphic signs in restrooms.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, foreign language comics, Finnish, Suomi, faux-pas, abroad

When I first arrived in Finland, “sauna” and “perkele” were the only words of Finnish that I knew. Of course everyone in Finland speaks English, but that didn’t stop me from getting myself into embarrassing situations. Up until then, not knowing the local language hadn’t posed any problems in getting around Europe 4.

I could always resort to the few Romance and Germanic languages that I already spoke to figure out the situation. Lost in an Italian town? Mix Spanish and Latin. Interacting in Denmark or Sweden? Pull out German. To my surprise, the althochdeutsch 2 literature courses really came in handy when deciphering the Morgunblaðið in Iceland.

Finnish however, belongs to the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, along with Estonian and Hungarian. How do you crack a language when there are no similarities or linguistic strings to pull from? I knew all the letters, but their combinations didn’t make any sense to me. How do you navigate life when you can’t even read? I felt almost illiterate, but also genuinely intrigued by the Finno-Ugric enigma. And it was then, in a coffee shop in Turku, that I decided to learn Finnish, the beautiful language of the bazillion cases and insane grammar categories. ♡

What about you? Why did you decide to learn a particular foreign language? Leave me a comment!

If you are into Finnish, check out Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape.

Finns & Interpersonal Interactions

With only 16 people per square kilometer, Finland is the least populated country in Europe. If you leave the Helsinki area, chances are that your nearest neighbor lives one forest and a couple of lakes away – or maybe half a poronkusema away. Having grown up with such distances between one another, it’s not surprising that Finns take their personal space very seriously.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsWe all have a proxemic bubble that represents our personal, three-dimensional space. We let friends get closer, but when strangers enter our imaginary bubble, we feel threatened and attempt to flee. In Southern Europe, the acceptable interpersonal distance between acquaintances and strangers is diminutive, and the further north you go, the more the bubble expands.

In Scandinavian countries, one meter might be pushing the limit of comfortable space between strangers, which – from our foreign perspective – may lead to some funny interactions in populated urban areas. It starts with public transportation: Finns would rather stand for the whole length of their trip than to sit next to a stranger on a bus. If you happen to sit in a seat adjacently occupied by a fellow Finn, they will readily vacate theirs whenever another row of seats becomes available. At first it may leave you wondering if something is wrong with you. If you are standing around – say, waiting for the bus – and come too close to a fellow Finn, they will promptly move a few steps away. Worry not, dear foreigner, they are just safeguarding their bubble.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsMoving on to kinesics, you may notice that gestures and eye contact in Suomi are rare. Gesticulating too much might make you come off as a frantic, eccentric weirdo. Keep your extremities paced. On the same note, eye contact is one of the ways in which we regulate communication: it signals that we are listening to our conversational partner or that we are ready to respond. Whereas staring into each other is customary in many cultures, maintaining eye contact in Finland qualifies as uncomfortable and even threatening. Glancing away is the norm – regardless of how interesting your topic might be – but they will always come back to you to acknowledge that they are following the conversation.Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal Interactions

And what about the human touch? Picture the following scenario: you are at the workplace and your colleague Matti Meikäläinen just got promoted. Congratulations, Matti! If you think a pat in the back is in order, don’t. Finns are quite reserved in their haptics and they don’t like being touched unless you have an intimate connection with them. Now picture a social gathering or juhla where you are introduced to someone. Going all southern on them with two pecks on the cheek upon introduction will immediately make you the creepy nutcase of the party (I learnt this the hard way). Refrain yourself, a brief handshake will suffice.

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Finns and Interpersonal InteractionsDespite the apparent cold demeanor, Finland does have one thing going for it. This seemingly emotionless, reserved behavior derives from a highly practical mindset: Finns don’t like wasting their time with small talk or faking social interactions. It might take a while to tear down all the icy layers, but once you do, Finns can be the most straightforward and reliable friends you’ll ever find.

Poronkusema & the Finnish Linguistic Landscape

It’s been said that the best way to get to know a society is through language, for it reflects  the idiosyncrasy, values and worldview of its speakers. Take Finland, the land of a thousand lakes and the midnight sun. Its dense forests, fertile mires and pristine lakes, as well as its harsh weather conditions and traditional lifestyles, have shaped the linguistic landscape of the Finnish language throughout the years, from surname conventions to everyday expressions.

One instance of this ever-present connection with nature is the obsolete unit of measurement poronkusema, used by the Sami people to describe the distance a reindeer can travel without having to stop to urinate – roughly 7 to 7.5 km. The compound is made of the elements poron (reindeer’s) and kusema (from the verb kusta, to pee; and the suffix -ma: the amount peed in one visit to the bathroom).

Expat Gone Foreign, tXc, Poronkusema and the Finnish Linguistic Landscape


Another example of nature’s presence in the Finnish language is the expression peninkulma, which refers to the distance a barking dog can be heard in still air (approximately 10 km after the 17th century conversion of Swedish versts to kilometers). Another interesting etymological fact: the compound is made of the words peni (archaic for dog, again penin being the genitive case; dog’s) and kuuluma (to be heard).

Moving on from travel distances to farming soil, back in the day the Finns used the units tynnyrinala, panninala and kapanala to refer to the area that could be sown, respectively, with one barrel, half a barrel and one thirtieth of a barrel of grain. But Finns weren’t the only ones having their linguistic baggage shaped by agricultural practices: “a barrel of land” was a widespread unit throughout Scandinavia (Danish tønde land; Swedish tunnland); Norwegian tønneland).

And since we are putting all the units on the table, here’s another voluminous fact: foods such as strawberries, cherries, mushrooms, peas and even potatoes are sold by liters in Finland. Why is that, you ask? Imagine the old John Doe farmer – or in this case, the old Matti Meikäläinen, since we are in Finland – collecting strawberries from the field and throwing them in a basket as he harvests. Back in the day, scales were not as reliable or affordable as they are now, so our Meikäläinen guy would go to the marketplace and use his strawberry basket as measurement of his goods, selling his produce by volume instead of weight. What started as a thrifty method of commerce stretched out to the current times. So, whenever you happen to be in Finland and the vendor asks how many liters of cherries you’d like, panic not, he’s not offering you smushed-cherry goop. But whether you end up with a carton of cherries or a glass of cherry milkshake, hyvää ruokahalua!

Ps. This article was written under the musical influence of Sibelius’s Finlandia, Op. 26.

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