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The word "sisu"

The tips & notes in one of the early skills is rather vague on the word "sisu" and claims it's mostly untranslatable.

However, a quick search on Wiktionary reveals a number of translations with definitions matching the one given in the tips & notes, while the singular translation given in the notes is rather regional and not very widely-used

In other words, I'm suggesting that that part of the notes be removed, as it's somewhat misleading.


June 29, 2020



Notice how the possible translations listed are very different in meaning? "Stamina", "courage", "determination", and the other words on the list are for the most part not synonyms. Notice how none of the example sentences have the same translation for the word? We are talking about a cultural concept here and the only expression in (American) English that gets very close is "true grit", which we accept as an alternative translation. All the other ones usually listed as potential translations are lacking in one way or another. One day we'll eventually give you sentences with sisu that are long and complicated enough to have enough context to give you one of those words listed on the page you shared as a potential idiomatic translation. That day is not yet here.

Rather ironically, the idea of having "the guts" to do something, also listed on that page, has very similar origins. sisu is related to the Finnish noun sisus, which means "inside(s)". In fact, "internal organs" are still referred to as sisuskalut ("inside tools") in spoken Finnish. However, "the guts" can be used to mean plenty of things that are not covered by sisu, since it can also be used to describe reckless or daring behaviour these days, like pranking your boss. There is nothing reckless about sisu. The Finnish word for behaviour like that would be pokka or kantti. The English expression is also usually used of something that's a single occurrence or a series of them: "Wow, that took guts!" Sisu is more longterm and everyday by its nature. In this sense, it resembles the British "keep calm and carry on" attitude. Except that sisu, once again, also entails many things that are not included in that particular concept. :)


Sisu is more longterm and everyday by its nature. In this sense, it resembles the British "keep calm and carry on" attitude.

Would you say sisu is something similar to the British stiff upper lip? I imagine that is also not easy to translate into other languages.


I'd say a British stiff upper lip is a little bit more about being civilized and what you show to the outside world, although it does have similar notions of pushing through adversity.

Finnish sisu can potentially be a bit wild and rowdy, if needed, and has absolutely nothing to do with outward appearances or other people. In fact, you may quite often have to reach for your inner sisu while alone in a forest or somewhere... :-)


That entry is for the use of sisu in English - it doesn't mean the use in English is accurate.


I suppose the idea here has been mostly to guide the learner in figuring out what sisu is, and accepting it as a new word with unique meaning, instead of trying to find the best word to translate it to. Similarly, the word "schadenfreude" has been adopted outside Germany into English vocabulary as something untranslatable by just a single word.

I would still opt to allow some of the more common translations to be accepted as valid for the sentences that use sisu. The main uses for "sisu" are in my opinion in the Finnish language, so there will not be a direct need to use that specific word necessarily in other languages.


We accept "true grit" at the moment as an alternative translation. Once the sentences get longer and more specific in future versions of the tree, you'll also get more translation options. :)

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