Estonian can count itself among the more difficult European languages for non-natives and those who speak different languages to get the hang of. The Estonian language is Finno-Ugric making it distinct from its Russian, Latvian and Swedish neighbors. Known for its incredibly long vowels, the Estonian language has more in common with Finnish and Hungarian. In common with these languages, there are many untranslatable Estonian words or tõlkimatuid sõnu and phrases that are fun to learn and will boost your vocabulary.
Of course, any word can be translated if it is described in enough words so, in this blog, we will be exploring words that don’t immediately lend themselves to a quick one-word translation that adequately conveys their true meaning in the Estonian language.
As with other languages, including Swedish, Finnish, and German, some Estonian vocabulary is created by stacking different words together to create a word with a new and unique meaning.
Literally translated, valevorst describes someone who has a tendency to lie. The word combines vale, which means to lie, and vorst, which is the Estonian word for sausage. So someone who has told an untruth is a lie-sausage.
Another Estonian sausage word is laiskvorst. This word is used to describe a person who is extremely lazy or who does the bare minimum. It combines laisk, which means lazy, and the Estonian for sausage. Thus, you might refer to somebody who is a layabout as a lazy sausage. The sentence sa oled üks igavene laiskvorst means you are a very lazy person.
Remaining with the pork theme and untranslatable Estonian words, this word is used to describe something very expensive. Siga means pig and kallis is Estonian for expensive. It is unknown why, but when the two words are stacked together, they can be used to describe something that is out of one’s price range or pig-expensive.
This rather beautiful word literally translates as a disorderly situation or a state of chaos. In the English language, the words hubbub or hullaballoo might be used as the closest translation of tohuvabohu.
Another of our untranslatable words that have been stacked with the word for an animal, mürakaru is a fun word used to describe someone who causes mischief or trouble. It can be used to refer to someone who is a bit of a prankster, and when it is literally translated mürakaru means mischief bear.
Vituviha is one of the seemingly untranslatable Estonian words that has a rather negative meaning and can be taken to mean when a woman dislikes another woman because she is better looking, has greater job satisfaction, and is more intelligent and successful in life.
Another odd Estonian word that literally translates as bird-cheater. The word refers to the small amount of food one should eat before venturing outside. Linnupete can now mean a snack or a small meal. Traditionally the song of migrating birds was associated with bad luck, and the tiny morsel of food was eaten to counteract the ill effects of the birdsong.
The English translation of Leiliviskaja may seem strange for cultures not used to sitting in saunas. The word means the person who creates steam in a sauna by adding water to the hot rocks.
If you find yourself in Estonia with odds and ends or bits and pieces, you could use the word nipet-näpet to describe your bits and bobs or odds and sods which are sort of the English equivalents.
Odd-Looking Estonian Words
Here are a couple of examples of words in Estonian that at first glance look like they might be loan words from English but that have very different meanings from their English appearance.
You could be forgiven for assuming that hell hunt pertains to an awful chase situation. Actually, the translation is a gentle wolf.
Again this phrase looks like it should describe a virtuous person who strives to think good thoughts. However, the literal translation of pure mind is something like bite me roughly as the English equivalent.
Longer Untranslatable Words
Now let’s take a look at a couple of very long untranslatable Estonian words that have very precise meanings.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful words in the Estonian language jõululaululaulja’s direct translation is somebody who sings Christmas carols.
This untranslatable Estonian word is famous because it is a palindrome. A direct translation of kuulilennuteetunneliluuk is the rather nonsensical phrase hatch a bullet flies out of when exiting a tunnel.
Sünnipäeva Nädalalõpupeo Pärastlõunaväsimus
And here’s another long one. Sünnipäeva nädalalõpupeo pärastlõunaväsimus has a very precise definition – the tiredness one feels on the afternoon of the weekend birthday party.
Kummikutes Kummitus Kummitas Kummutis
Any list of untranslatable words in Estonian would not be complete without mentioning this popular tongue twister. Although not a single word, it is a perfect example of how oddly the Estonian language can behave. Kummikutes kummitus kummitas kummutis literally translates as A ghost with rainboots haunted the chest of drawers.
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