The Most Beautiful Words in Finnish

Mary Nurminen

Some years back our local newspaper had a contest to find the most beautiful words in the Finnish langauge. The winner was äiti .

When I read that, I couldn't help thinking - Huh?! What is beautiful about that? Yeah yeah, maybe you love your own mother and all that, but is the word really beautiful? What about when a 2-year-old crying kid screams it: "äiiiiiiitttiiiiii!!!!!"

Since then I've been thinking about it and making my own list. Here are some of the Finnish pearls of beauty on it.

Smaragdi. I know, it's hardly a word from the root Finnish language, but what the heck, neither is äiti. I just love the way smaragdi sounds.

Surutyö . It's such a necessary thing and brilliant that there is a word for it. It is not a fun thing, but beautiful nontheless. I haven't heard of such a term in other languages, we at least don't have it in English. Why is that, when it's such an important thing?

Riemu . I know a priest who uses the word riemu probably more than any other word in church (not a Lutheran priest). Nice, isn't it? I want to believe that there is much more of it in life than we think, we just need to stop and remember it more often.

Kiehtova is so...kiehtova. It sounds like what it is, makes you want to dive in and see what's there.

Umpihanki. Brings a nice, white, sunny spring picture to mind. Syyttämättäjättämättömyys : It's fun to write, it's fun to say, it's fun to sit around the coffee table and try to figure out what it could really mean. Most of all, it's fun to try and teach foreigners to say it.

Vuorovaikutus : In English it's 'interact', which means acting with each other. But in Finnish it's so much more, it's influencing each other in turn. When you think about it, isn't that a wonderful concept?

Kiitos (said after dinner). How nice that people always remember to thank the cook (or whoever it is they're thanking when the cook is not around but they say it anyway).

This is opposed to kiitos when it's said before dinner - at that point where the cook has worked hard and gotten everything on the table and tells people to come eat, and instead of coming to eat, some men just yell 'Kiitos!' and continue to sit on the couch watching TV. In that case, kiitos is an ugly, ugly word.

Here's a saying that almost won my contest, I read it in a newspaper article where parents were talking about their child who was going off to be an exchange student: siivet kantavat. Just a nice comparison and picture.

But in the end it wasn't hard at all to come up with a winner, the most beautiful word in the language: iltatähti .

I did a very scientific survey on Facebook, asking what kinds of terms other cultures have for a child born much later than the other kids in the family and when the parents are a bit older. The answers included: a mistake, too-late sex, 'my midlife crisis', a penalty, 'Oops!', a late stain, an accident, a surprise, and 'the result of Catholic birth control'.

It seems all other cultures focus on the negatives of the term. Only Finns choose to see the pure beauty and promise of brightness that a child brings at that stage of life.

It's a wise and wonderful word.

VOCABULARY: Penalty: rangaistus, Stain: tahra

Mary Nurminen pähkäilee suomen kielen ja suomalaispsyykkeen kiemuroita.