Appendix:Finnish idioms

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This is a list of idioms in the Finnish language. Proverbs and idioms with direct equivalents in the English language are typically excluded.

The sections below do not cover the entire alphabet officially recognised in the Finnish language. The letters B, C, D, F, G, Q, W, X, Z and Å are omitted because they do not occur in native Finnish words.

A[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
aasinsilta a bridge of a donkey. From Latin pons asinis A tenuous connection between the old discussion topic and a new one.
aataminaikainen from the time of Adam (Of an object) very old, old-fashioned
alkaa vetää to start to pull (vetää, much like English set, has various unrelated meanings, e.g. to lead, to drink alcohol) To leave immediately. Pull off.
Antaa/Ala heittää/vetää! let/start to throw/pull To ask someone to leave immediately, "Get out/off!/Buzz off! /Take a hike!".
auki open Without money, broke, to owe money
aukoa päätään to keep opening one's head To speak provocatively to someone.

E[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
ei hätä ole tämän näköinen emergency does not look like this Don't worry. We'll make through this (in a distress/stressful situation)
ei olla jäniksen selässä not to be riding a hare Not to be in an immediate hurry.
ei olla suu tuohesta not to have a mouth of birch bark Not to abstain from food or drink (always used with a negative).
ei sylkeä lasiin not to spit into the glass Not to abstain from alcohol (always used with a negative).
eilisen teeren poika son of yesterday's grouse Inexperienced, gullible (usually used with a negative, "nobody's fool")
ei nähdä metsää puilta not to see the forest from the trees To stick to details, failing to see from a wider perspective
elää kuin pellossa like living in a field To live without cleaning up after oneself, or bothering about what others think about one.
en minä voi siksi muuttua I can't change into that A statement that a desired object simply isn't available, no matter how much someone keeps asking for it. The word "siksi" (into that) is substituted with the object in question, in translative "-ksi".

H[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
heittämällä by throwing With little or no effort required.
heittää lusikka nurkkaan to throw the spoon into the corner To die or to give up.
heittää veivinsä to throw one's crankshaft To die.
heittää (jollakin) vesilintua to throw something at waterfowl To throw away. (As in throwing into a lake.)
hevoset karkaa the horses are running away A euphemism for "your fly is open".
homma hanskassa (hanskat hukassa) to have the task or job in one's glove (the gloves are lost) to have it under control or to be able to do the task at hand (to not have it under control or not being able to do the task at hand)
hoo moilasena as H. Moilanen Shocked, mouth agape, utterly unprepared, never heard
huitsin Nevadaan

hevon kuuseen

to Nevada (for all I care)

to the horse's sprucetree

Away, to an unknown place, never to be seen again. While the name Nevada is an obvious reference to the U.S. state, "huitsin" probably refers to Hiisi.
hymyillä kuin Hangon keksi smile like a "a biscuit from Hanko" (a biscuit brand had an embossed "smiley" on the round biscuits. These biscuits were manufactured in Hanko from 1910 to 1940. The original name of the factory was Suomalais-Englantilainen Biscuittehdas, ‘Finnish–English Biscuit Factory’. Hangon Keksi was also one of the leading advertisers in Finland of its time, and the biscuits were marketed in an exemplary way. The smiling Hangon Keksi biscuit, appearing in constantly changing adverts, was in fact the man on the moon.) To smile very broadly and happily.
hyppiä seinille to jump onto walls To act alarmedly; to panic.
(joko) hyvällä tai pahalla With the good or the bad. Willingly or by force.

I[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
ihmisten ilmoilla where people are around (lit. in people's air/weather) At a place popular or populated enough to earn one's respect. Can also be used more literally, to mean at a place where one can be rescued.
irtoaa kuin mummon hammas comes loose like grandma's tooth Goes very, very easily.

J[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
joka kumartaa yhdelle, pyllistää toisille who bows to one, will show his butt to the others If you favour one, you'll discriminate the others.
joko teet tai itket ja teet either you'll do it or you'll cry and do it A direct order to do something, whether the addressed wants to do it or not. The word "teet" ('you do') can be substituted with whatever verb is necessary from context.
juopon napit drunkard's buttons When someone buttons up his/her shirt wrong.
Jumalan selän takana behind God's back Possibly a calque from the English phrase "a godforsaken place". Sometimes implies a disrespect of rural communities.
juosta pää kolmantena jalkana To run with one's head as a third leg To be in a great hurry
juosten kustu (as if) urinated while running Haphazardly implemented.
järki jäässä (common sense) frozen Being clueless about something or understanding the point slowly.

K[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
kaidalla polulla on the narrow path To live within the law (possible Biblical metaphor).
kaksipa päätä makkarassa there are two ends to a sausage Two sides of a thing, cf. "two sides of a coin"
kallella kypärin with the helmet askew Downhearted
kana kynittävänä (has) a chicken to pluck To have unresolved disputes, cf. English "bone to pick"
Kankkulan kaivoon into the well of Kankkula To go to waste.
kestää ikä ja terveys to take the time of one's age and health To take a far too long time, or be of far too much effort.
keskellä ei-mitään in the middle of nowhere Calque from English — natively korvessa Cf. English "In the middle of bumfuck Egypt"
kiertää kuin kissa kuumaa puuroa to circle like a cat circles hot porridge To constantly and obviously covet something without actually making a move to get it, or to try to approach a difficult topic of speech in a roundabout way.
kiven alla under a stone Difficult to obtain
koira haudattuna a dog buried An implication that there's something foul behind the scenes, the situation is not what it appears to be.
konstit on monet (, sanoi akka, kun kissalla pöytää pyyhki) the ways are many (said the woman while wiping the table with a cat) There's more than one way to do something. Often used when it becomes necessary to resort to unconventional methods. (cf. "there is more than one way to skin a cat.")
korjata luunsa to pick up one's bones To finally get around to leaving.
korvessa in the backwoods; out in the sticks A place that is somewhere in an area with no interesting things surrounding it, to be "out in the sticks".
kuin allit kalliolla (also misheard "nallit") like ducks (exactly: a particular species (Long-tailed Duck) that leaves last in the autumn) on a cliff Left by oneself, without outside support.
kuin Euroopan/maailman omistaja like the owner of Europe/the world Acting excessively posh and snobby. Usually an implication of misplacen superiority towards others.
kuin kaksi marjaa like two berries Two people or things that seem extremely alike; two peas in a pod.
kuin kala ilman polkupyörää like a fish without a bicycle Perfectly well in its own right; for example "a woman without a husband is like a fish without a bicycle".
kuin lasta löisi / helppoa kuin lapsen lyöminen/hakkaaminen like beating a child / easy like hitting/beating a child Very, very easy.
kuin perseeseen/perseelle ammuttu karhu like a bear which has been shot in the ass Being extremely cranky.
kuin seipään niellyt as if swallowed a spear Standing unnaturally or needlessly upright. To be turgid and bumptious. To be seemingly nervous.
kuin sitruunan niellyt as if swallowed a lemon Sulky or (easily) irritated
kuin tervan juontia like drinking tar Extremely slow, difficult, or arduous.
(kadota/hävitä) kuin tuhka tuuleen/pieru Saharaan (to disappear) like ash in the wind/ a fart in Sahara (To sink) without a trace.
kuin täi tervassa like a louse in tar Extremely slow
kuin viilipytty like a pot of sour milk Very calm.
Kuka kissan hännän nostaa ellei kissa itse? Who would raise a cat's tail, but the cat himself? To toot your own horn or boast about yourself.
kukkona tunkiolla like a rooster on top of the garbage pile Boasting of oneself with cheap merits, being "king of the hill" when said hill is for example a garbage pile. It is easy as no one else wants to be the king of a garbage hill.
kusta/kusee hunajaa pissing honey Extremely happy & satisfied
kääntää kelkkansa to turn one's sled To do an aboutface/turnabout.

L[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
laittaa hanskat/rukkaset naulaan to hang up your gloves give up
ei (tule) lasta eikä paskaa won't result in either a baby or shit An unsuccessful, futile or abortive effort.
lavealla tiellä on the wide road To live outside the law (possible Biblical metaphor).
(ja) lehmät lentää (yeah, and) cows can fly Expressing doubt, skepticism.
(jollain on) lepakoita tapulissa (someone has) bats in the belfry A slow-witted or mentally handicapped person
lukea kuin piru Raamattua read like the Devil reads the Bible To deliberately look for loopholes, in order to follow the letter without following the spirit.
lähteä kuin hollituvasta to leave as if leaving an inn To leave without cleaning up after oneself. (holli from Swedish hålla (to keep) + tupa).
lähteä kuin piru seuroista to leave like the Devil leaves a revival To leave extremely fast (also used when an inanimate object is quickly propelled to a great speed)
lähteä lapasesta to slip away from the (woollen) glove To go out of control.
puhua läpiä päähän(sä) to speak holes into (one's) head To make statements without requisite knowledge. Often used of one's own words Cf. English "I may be speaking out of my ass"

M[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
Manu on työnsä tehnyt, Manu saa mennä Manu has done his job, Manu is dismissed An ironic expression, when faced with ingratitude after doing a favor. The name "Manu" comes from Swedish, and is used as a generic name for a soldier.
(tuli kuin) Manulle illallinen (it came like) like an evening meal to Manu Gaining something good without any effort. Refers to a soldier getting his food rations.
Matti kukkarossa Death in a wallet Broke (without money). The Persian for "dead" is "mat". In Finnish it is pronounced as "matti" as in "Shakki Matti" (Shah Mat). "Minulla on matti kukkarossa" could be translated "My moneypurse is dead". In a similar way "Olen täysin matti" means "I am dead tired".
menneen talven lumia snows of winters past Not relevant anymore, often used of past offenses or sorrows, similar in tone to English "let bygones be bygones".
mennä metsään (jossakin) to go into the forest (in something) To be misguided, to go wrong; usually used to describe unintended consequences of decisions or plans
mennä pipariksi to go gingerbread Something goes completely wrong. Could be translated as "Shatters as gingerbread".
mennä putkeen go into the tube (or pipe) To succeed, to work as planned.
(istua ja) miettiä syntyjä syviä (to sit and) contemplate the deep origins To meditate on the mysteries of the world; used ironically, to do nothing (from Finnish mythology).
miettiä taivaan variksia to think about the crows in the sky To not pay attention to what's going on.
(heittää) mäkeen (throw) into the hillslope (To throw) away.

N[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
kuin Naantalin aurinko like the Sun over Naantali Of a wide-smile face.
nalli kalliolla (originally "alli kalliolla") long-tailed duck sitting on rock This idiom has been misheard as "nalli kalliolla" (explosive primer on rock). The original idiom is "Jäi kuin alli kalliolle", meaning "Was left behind, like long-tailed duck". When migratory birds are leaving in autumn, the long-tailed ducks leaves later than other birds.
nenänvalkaisu nose-bleaching Sobering up, as in the sense of not drinking alcoholic beverages for a week or a month.
nousta väärällä jalalla to rise/get up from the bed with the wrong foot To be very grumpy first thing in the morning when everything seems to go wrong. Similar to English "get up on the wrong side of the bed".
näyttää miten heränneet veisaa to show how the revivalists chant (a saying from Upper Savonia and Northern Ostrobothnia, where revivalist movements are strong) To show someone how to properly do a thing they are attempting to do.
näyttää (jollekulle) närhen munat to show (somebody) the eggs (or, in slang, testicles) of a jay To show that one can do something better than the person the "eggs" are to be shown to, OR, to give somebody a good beating.

O[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
ojasta allikkoon from the ditch to the duck pond out of the frying pan into the fire, from one bad situation to another
oksat pois so the branches fall off (the tree) used to describe almost anything (mostly anger) in excessive quantity. also used in conjunction with the subject of immediate action
olla hukassa be in a 'loss'; also, hukka means "wolf" Being lost, missing, in despair, perished.
olla lammas to be a lamb a person who is like a lamb does nothing alone. the person does everything that for example the clique he/she belongs to.
olla pää sitä varten, ettei selkäranka valu housuihin to (only) have a head to prevent one's spine dropping to one's pants To be helplessly stupid.
olis kirveellä töitä there would be work for an axe Something should be corrected, possibly with quite harsh means.
oma lehmä ojassa with one's own cow in the ditch Having a personal interest or investment in the matter.
oppia kantapään kautta to learn by way of the heel Learn a lesson the hard way
(maksaa) oppirahat (pay the) learning costs Learn a lesson the hard way
ottaa tilaisuudesta vaari take a granpa out of situation/take care about a situation To take a chance when an opportunity strikes.
otti ohraleipä / olkileipä it took a barley bread / straw bread (slightly ungrammatical). After losing the rye harvest, one had to sow barley, an inferior crop, before the winter To encounter severe problems.

P[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
panna tikkua ristiin cross two matchsticks To perform even the most minimal effort. Cf. English "lift a finger". Nearly always used with a negative.
pata kattilaa soimaa pot chastening the kettle Used to claim that a person is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another. Cf. English "pot calling kettle black".
persaukinen open-arsed Without money, broke.
(kiivetä) perse edellä puuhun (to climb) into a tree arse first To do something in a needlessly complicated way, failing to see an easier way
perse(et) olalla arse(s) on one's shoulder to be really drunk
peukalo keskellä kämmentä with one's thumb in the middle of one's palm Very bad at doing something, usually manual labour. Cf. English "All Thumbs".
pieniin päin towards small ones Pregnant. Cf. English "with child"
(Hävitä kuin) pieru Saharaan/Nevadaan (to disappear/dissolve) like a fart in the deserts of Sahara/Nevada (To disappear) without a trace Cf. English "like a fart in the wind"
pihkassa in resin Having a crush on someone
pilvin pimein in dark clouds A huge (often excessive) amount of something.
asettua poikkiteloin to set oneself crosstocks To start to object to something. Often used if that something has already been generally agreed on.
Porvoon mitalla with Porvoo measure More than asked for, generously. The Porvoo measure was a standardized measuring cup used by tax men to measure grain.
potkaista tyhjää to kick empty space To die. Cf. English "to kick the bucket"
pukki kaalimaan vartijana a goat guarding a cabbage patch To leave a task to someone with a conflict of interest.
pukukummitus suit ghost A person who insists on being sharply and formally dressed, but who appears to do little, if any, actual work. Almost always used of men, but sometimes of women too.
puurot ja vellit sekaisin confusing porridge and gruel Confusing two unrelated things, either for each other, or as relating to each other. Cf. comparing apples and oranges.
päin seiniä / puuta / honkia / ... against the walls / tree / pines / ... Completely wrong.

R[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
rikkana rokassa as a piece of trash in the broth As the bad exception in an otherwise good company. More commonly used in a positive way, c.f. "every little bit helps".
ruista ranteessa rye in one's wrist Physically strong.
rysän päältä from the top of a large fish trap Caught straight from doing a no-good thing, such as stealing fish from your neighbour's trap. Cf. English "caught red-handed". E.g. the American TV program "Cheaters" is translated to "Rysän päältä" in Finnish.

S[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
sataa kuin Esterin perseestä raining as from Esteri's ass Raining heavily. Raining cats and dogs.
(viedä) saunan taa(kse) (take) behind the sauna "To put off/execute". Due to fire hazard, saunas were built at a distance from the house, and what was or happened behind the sauna was out of sight, "behind the backyard". Normally, there was a "tunkio" or a garbage pile behind the sauna, and when e.g. a sick or injured horse or dog needed to be put down, it was taken behind the sauna for the job.
soittaa suutaan to play one's mouth (as a musical instrument) To boast, or to speak provocatively.
soitellen sotaan soitellen, archaic for travel, related to Estonian sõita (not to be confuced with playing an instrument) sotaan, to war To be unprepared, whether it is a task at hand or one is going somewhere without thinking what is needed to take along.
sokerina pohjalla as the sugar on the bottom As a final bonus, benefit or gift

T[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
tulevana vuonna tuohikuussa in a coming year, in the birch bark month At an indeterminate point in the future, possibly never. "Tuohikuu" is a fictional month but sounds like the rural-oriented Finnish names for the 12 months.
tuohikuussa pukinpäivänä in the birch bark month on the day of the goat Same as above.
tuli tupenrapinat knife-scabbards began to clatter There is going to be a fight. Finnish fighting knife, "Helapääpuukko" (Puukko with bone-breaking ferrules) is carried in hardened leather scabbard, and the scabbard mouth has water-tight fit. Before knife-fight starts, fighters need to twist the knife handle to loosen it for quick-drawing. When knife is twisted within scabbard, the blade clatters against the hardened leather, and makes clattering sound.
tulla kuin havumajaan to come as if coming into a hut made of tree needles To enter uninvited.
tumput suorina with one's mittens straight Not doing anything, with an implication that one should be doing something.
tykätä kyttyrää to like + some hump (the unusual grammar is hard to translate) To dislike. Implies vindictiveness. Often juxtaposed with the antonym.

U[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
ulkona/pihalla kuin lumiukko out like a snowman Not to know anything about the a given thing and thus be stunned, or to say things that are not relevant to the thing.

V[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
vaiheessa in a phase (back-formation from asking "in which phase?") Not yet ready or finished, with an implication of not knowing when it will be. Originally army slang.
vaikka lampaat söisi for even sheep to eat A great number or amount, especially one that will stay great after partaken of.
(Ei) vara venettä kaada. Some extra care won't flip a boat There's no harm in having some extra resources or precautions
vastarannankiiski lit. ruffe of the opposite shore, from kiiski (Gymnocephalus cernuus). A spiky fish that offers great resistance to the fishing line, in this case by anchoring it to the trees growing on the opposite shore of the lake. Someone in constant opposition and immune to any reasoning
vetää herne nenään pull a pea up one's nose To be provoked.
vetää hirsiä to pull cabers / to pull logs To sleep.
vetää jojoon/ kaulakiikkuun to put in a yo-yo/ throat-swing To execute by hanging. Almost always used of suicide.
vetää turpaan pull to the muzzle To beat someone, especially punch in the face. The verb vetää is a verb with diverse, disparate meanings, used to indicate a sudden jerk or a single, quick movement.
vintti pimeni the attic blacked out Someone fainted
vuonna miekka/käpy/muusi ja kypärä/kivi/nakki in the year of sword/cone/mashed potatoes and helmet/stone/wiener Very long time ago.
vuonna yks ja kaks in the year one and two Very long time ago.
vääntää rautalangasta to twist from wire (originally used to assemble plumbing) To explain with very simple terms.

Y[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
yhdeksän hyvää ja kymmenen kaunista, yhdeksän hyvää ja kahdeksan kaunista nine good things and ten beautiful things, nine good things and eight beautiful things Lots of good-sounding promises, with an implication they are unlikely to be kept.
yritys hyvä kymmenen ten (points) for the attempt (lit. attempt good ten) Good, but failed, attempt.

Ä[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
äitinsä näköinen looks like one's mother Not looking good at all. Comes from an allegation of being the son of a whore.

Ö[edit]

Idiom English translation Meaning
(seisoa kuin) Ö aapisen laidalla (to stand like) the letter Ö (the last letter of the Finnish alphabet) in the corner of the spelling book Not having a clue, being useless.