Suomi: the land of snow, saunas and smiles. For the third consecutive year, the World Happiness Report named the fun-loving Finns the world’s happiest people. And this year Finns can share their secret to happiness with the world in their native language, as the launch of Duolingo makes it easier than ever for non-natives to learn Finnish.
Over a 1000 people submitted their favourite word, and then nearly 70 000 voted on the shortlist of 20. Here’s the the top 10. Cue drum roll!
Finns are famously tough and pride themselves on braving harsh snowstorms and sitting in sizzling saunas. But they still love cute things. Finland is after all the birthplace of the lovingly chubby and cuddly Moomin family. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that söpö, which means “cute”, appears first on the list of Finland’s favourite words. It’s a word you’d use to describe something ridiculously cute, like a puppy in a Christmas jumper or a kitten chasing a yarn ball. The word Söpö is cute in its own right, which is probably thanks to the soft double ö sound used to pronounce it. Joel suggests the best way to do this is by “pursing your lips as if you’re saying “ooooh.”
Pupu is the Finnish word for “bunny”, and is also a term of endearment like “darling” or “baby.” It’s a word to describe a cute animal and is used in a cute way. But that’s not all; the cuteness of pupu is also in the way it’s pronounced. You need to mould your lips into a kissing position to pronounce the adorable word, just like Joel does here.
Finland is famous for its frosty forests and snowy cities, so it’s little wonder the word lumi, which means “snow”, ranks high on the list of favourite Finnish words. As Willans explains, “it’s quintessential to the whole Finnish life experience; it’s pure and pristine, and brings light to the dark days of winter.” Lumi brings a whole range of fun, which is probably the reasons the word has many happy childhood connotations to most Finns.
The word means “cottage” and fills most Finns with memories of family, relaxation and long summer evenings. Most Finns have a family cottage and head there in the summer months to be at one with nature and to leave the stress of city life behind. As Finland is home to a whopping twenty-two billion trees, Most Mökkis are built amongst lush natural forests, which have proved to make us feel calm, healthy and in good spirits.
The Finnish word for “warmer” is one of Willans’s favourites. “Not only is it beautiful how it rhymes, but it’s also very satisfying to say,” he explained to Very Finnish Problems fans on his Duolingo video. A warm day in Finland is a reason to celebrate, as the nation once experienced the shiver-inducing temperature of -60.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
So how do Finns keep warm during the freezing Finnish winter? They make the heat themselves with saunas, thick jumpers and coffee. Perhaps the need to create their own heat drove Finns to vote the word pumpuli, meaning “cotton wool,” as one of their happiest words.
Finns love their mothers, so much so that they named the word aiti (mother) as one of their most happiest words. Moominmamma will be pleased to see her name on the list.
Jompikumpi is a fantastically ridiculously sounding word that means “one or the other.” And it’s pronunciation is even more pleasing than its spelling. It’s pronounced a bit like “yompi —koompi.”
One reason English speakers sometimes find Finnish rather tricky is due to compound words. Jäätelötötterö is a fabulous example of this. It’s the combination of jäätelö (Ice cream) and tötterö (cone,) and means “icecream cone.” If you’re not in the mood for ice cream before saying this tricky tongue twister, you’ll certainly need one afterwards. Your mouth will need a cool down after the strenuous workout.
Järvi, which means “lake,” is a common sight in Finland. It’s not called “the land of a thousand lakes” for nothing. But does the relatively small nation of Finland really have 1000 lakes? Actually, it has 188,000. According to Visit Finland, “Finns feel a certain closeness to the water, and it is the source of livelihood for many.”
Indeed, there’s a lot to love about the Finnish language. Unique and beautiful, it bears no resemblance to its neighbours Swedish and Russian, and it even inspired J.R.R Tolkien to form the Elvish language in The Lord of the Rings.
So what’s your favourite word? Find yours on the Duolingo app and let us know in the comments below.