PARIS, Aug 27 — Between the country’s young prime minister who isn’t afraid to hit the dance floor and numerous innovations, Finland may not make a lot of international headlines every day but it has originated a lot of unique practices.

For this special feature, we look at six untranslatable Finnish words that perfectly express concepts that can’t be concisely expressed in English.


Don’t worry, we didn’t fall asleep on the keyboard. “Hyppytyynytyydytys” does actually have nine “y’s” out of 18 letters in total. For an English speaker it looks like strange spelling for a word with an equally surprising meaning. It refers to the satisfaction — even joy — that one feels when one settles into a soft cushion. The fact that there is a precise term for this small daily pleasure is testament to the linguistic richness of the Finnish language.



If you work in an office you probably know a “Pukukummitus.” This word comes from a combination of the Finnish words for “suit” and “ghost.” It refers to that colleague who dresses very formally and professionally, but doesn’t put as much effort into their daily tasks. In other words, they don’t do much. Proof, if any were needed, that appearances are often deceiving.

Peräkammarin poika

French speakers call them “Tanguy,” in reference to the eponymous character of Etienne Chatiliez’s 2001 film. The word “twixter” has been used in the US while Finns prefer the term “Peräkammarin poika” to categorise these individuals. The literal meaning is “the boy who lives in the room at the back of the house.” The untranslatable term refers to young men who usually live in the countryside, looking after the family farm. They have not found a partner to support them, which forces them to remain single. Even if this is not a tragedy in itself.



The people of Finland share this concept with Swedes, Norwegians and Estonians. “Jokamiehenoikeus” refers to the fundamental right to enjoy nature freely, regardless of the property rights that may govern access to it. This concept shows the importance given to the environment and the protection of green spaces in the northern European countries. In fact 87 per cent of Finns say that nature is “very” or “fairly” important in their lives, according to a survey by Kantar for SITRA.


It may be a Finnish concept but it probably speaks to many people around the world — even if they don’t have a word for it in their native language. “Kalsarikäänit” refers to drinking alcohol at home, alone, in your underwear. A practice that the Covid-19 pandemic and its successive lockdowns made even more popular. Koreans have a similar expression to describe this phenomenon: “homsul.“ However, it does not mention underwear.


The Finnish are proud of their “sisu” concept. It literally means “guts,” although its precise origins remain a mystery. This philosophy became a founding myth of Finland during the Winter War in 1939, when the country was invaded by the Soviet Union. Author Joanna Nylund explains in her book Sisu: The Finnish Art of Courage, that sisu was the only thing the Finns had in greater quantity than the Soviets and it helped them triumph miraculously,

The concept encompasses several positive character traits such as stoicism, courage, tenacity and resilience. But it is much more nuanced than it seems, according to Emilia Lahti, a doctoral student at Aalto University and an expert on “sisu.”

The researcher surveyed 1,200 Finns about the meaning of the word and published the results in the International Journal of Wellbeing in 2019.

She found that respondents associated it with poor mental health, an inability to empathise with the suffering of others, and not knowing how to give up on something.Too much sisu can lead to stubborn, disconnection from others and other potentially dangerous consequences, she explains in her study. In other words it’s all about moderation. — ETX Studio