Photo: William Perugini

9 Meaningful Finnish Expressions That Don’t Exist in English

Finland Languages
by Tiina Kokki May 22, 2018

The Finnish language loves random idioms. The real beauty of the language is that many of the words are untranslatable into other languages, making them truly unique to the Finnish culture. Here are 9 examples of Finnish expressions with multiple meanings that the English dictionary is sorely missing.

1. No niin

Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola nailed it when he introduced the most useful Finnish word to the world. This word, or expression, sums up humorously the dynamics of the Finnish language and culture where less is more in communication. The word “no niin” itself doesn’t really mean anything, but can be used to express anything from “alright”, “I’ve screwed up”, to “calm down, no need to panic”.

2. Ala vetää

“Ala vetää” means to command someone to start pulling an object. For example, “ala vetää verkkoja vedestä” is a commonly heard phrase and means to start pulling fishing nets out of the water. But “ala vetää!” is also an everyday way to tell someone to go away or get gone.

3. Poika on käymässä

Literally, this translates to “a boy is visiting”, referring to a son visiting home. But the verb “käydä” also means fermenting and the traditional Finnish homebrew kilju is often called “the boy”. So, whenever you hear someone saying “son’s visiting home” it can also mean there’s a bucket of homebrew fermenting.

4. Moi

The Finnish for “hi”, “moi” can be used as a variety of conversation starters from “hello, how are you?” to “it’s really good to see you again”. It is also used to close out a conversation and when you are done with your little chat you can say goodbye by saying “moi moi”.

5. Kuusi palaa

Kuusi palaa is one of the ways you can say “easy” in Finnish, but the phrase has altogether nine different meanings. “Kuusi” can translate as “spruce tree”, the number six or “moon”. Palaa means “to be on fire”, “to return” or pieces of something. With that in mind this simple sentence can mean anything from “the spruce is on fire” or “your moon returns to six pieces”.

6. Olla mustasukkainen

Mustasukkainen means “to be jealous”. But it literally translates as “to have black socks”. Olen mustasukkainen can thus be understood as “I am jealous” or “I am wearing black socks.”

7. Mennä metsään

When something goes wrong, it “goes to the forest” (mennä metsään). For example hän meni metsään means “he/she went to the forest”, but työhaastattelu meni metsään means “the job interview went horribly wrong”.

8. Olla koira haudattuna

When you sense there is something odd or suspicious going on, you can say “luulen, että tässä on koira haudattuna”. It means you suspect there is something hidden behind the scenes you can’t quite work out. But literally translated the sentence means, “I think there is a dog buried in here.”

9. Vetää herne nenään

When someone gets offended or angry over something others don’t consider very relevant, they “vetää herne nenään”, which translates to “put a pea up their nose” in Finnish. This expression might also be familiar in the literal sense especially to parents of toddlers who are testing their physical limitations.

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