The 40 words for “snow” in Finnish

How many times have I heard the story of country X – or population X – that has 40 words (or more) for “snow”? Most of them said that the Sami people – indigenous population of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries – was the population with the most words for the white-falling element.

It is true that there are 40 words for “snow” in Eskimo, Sami language or Finnish?

It depends. If we say that in Sami or Inuit languages there are 40 or more words for “snow” is not true: it is an urban legend.

The word for this (although on a bigger scale) is “tykky”, as we’ll see in a moment.

This blog (specially its much more content-filled Spanish version) has been online for a few years and, every time I heard about the 40 words, I made a quick research and I always reached the same conclusion: there is no single source that list those.

Until now.

The truth is that the Finnish language – not the Sami – does have 40 words for snow. Or, at least, if we widen the concept of what “snow” is to anything that is a frozen precipitation. And I did find a place where they are all gathered.

Finnish language has 40 words for snow if we widen the definition of 'snow' Click To Tweet

Summarizing: there aren’t 40 words for snow in Eskimo, Inuit or Sami, but they do exist in Finnish… with the condition said above. Definitely something to add to our list of curious facts of Finland.

The 40 words for “snow” in Finnish language

We have to thank gn0sis, from everything2 to gather the list with these 40 words, ending the myth and the status of urban legend about this fact. You can read them in the link, but I’ll also add them below. Some of them are very concrete in Shakespeare’s language (hard to grasp for non-native speakers), but I’ll try to explain.

Ice and snow: material for many words in Finnish

As our collaborator Natalia says there is no verb in Finnish for “snowing”. They call it “sataa lunta“: it rains snow.

The list of (more than) 40 words in Finnish for the snow that gn0sis details is the following.

Frozen precipitations that are still falling

1.- lumi: snow
2.- pyry: snow shower
3.- myräkkä: snowstorm
4.- rae: hail
5.- räntä: sleet
6.- tuisku: snow shower with strong wind
7.- laviini: a small avalanche

Frozen precipitations mixed with water

8.- hyhmä: snow floating on top of water
9.- loska: very wet snow; snow, water and mud mixed together
10.- sohjo: slush; snow and water mixed together

For what you see in this photo we can use word #12: ahtauma.

Frozen precipitations over big masses of water

11.- ahto: pack-ice (broken & refrozen ice)
12.- ahtauma: a formation of pack-ice
13.- jää: ice
14.- kide: ice crystal
15.- kohva: gray ice formed from wet snow
16.- paanne: multi-layered ice (typically waves crash on top of another and freeze)
17.- railo: pressure ridge in ice
18.- röpelö: uneven ice
19.- tökkö: ice with frost on top

This type of ice that is not smooth, over a lake (in this case Joensuu’s lake) would be – in one word – röpelö

Frozen precipitation over the ground

20.- iljanne: a thin layer of snow atop ice
21.- hanki: a even layer of snow on the ground, especially if it is enough for skiing
22.- huurre: rime; granular frost (like the one you can find inside your freezer. Coincidentally, your freezer could be up to 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the temperature outside. You don’t believe me? Check out this photo)
23.- härmä: frost
24.- kinos: snow drift; a loose pile of snow, especially one formed by wind
25.- kaljama: a thick layer of ice on the ground. Something that made me fall from my bike many times, actually
26.- kuura: hoarfrost; frozen dew
27.- nietos: a large, hard pile of snow (could be refrozen)
28.- nuoska: “snowballable” snow, usually formed when powdery snow melts a bit
29.- polanne: a hard layer of compacted snow
30.- tykky: large chunks of snow, especially when frozen onto trees
31.- viti: freshly fallen powdery snow

I believe this to be “hanki”.

Frozen precipitations that suffered alterations from humans or animals

32.- avanto: a hole in ice
33.- jotos: reindeer tracks in snow
34.- latu: a ski trail in snow
35.- rannio: a reindeer path in deep snow

Onomatopeyic verbs for “walking over the snow”

36.- nirskua
37.- narskua
38.- kirskua
39.- nitistä
40.- narista

Of course even if there are more than 40 words to describe frozen precipitations and what happens to them, they are rarely used. You won’t find a Finn that uses these words among the most frequent Finnish words, as many people don’t use most of the words that exist in their language.

In the original list we liked before there are some more words that come from Finnish dialects and regional words from Lapland (where, for instance, “mora” means “un-skiable non compact snow”), Tampere, etc. You can see all of them clicking on that link.

What’s your favorite word for snow in Finnish? How many words did you hear (as an urban legend) that the Inuit, Eskimo, Sami, etc languages had?


Finnish in Duolingo: the Finnish course comes to the app

Finally: Duolingo has added the Finnish course to its language app (if you, like many people, are unsure about the name of the language VS the people we recommend you check out the post “Is it Finn or Finnish?“).

And I, as a regular user of this language learning app, have set out to tell you about it in this post. If you don’t have Duolingo yet, you can start using it/download the app from this link.

Finnish language in the Duolingo app
Duo enjoying a Finnish sauna

Duolingo and languages

Although the best way to learn a language is probably to take a face-to-face course, Duolingo is an app that helps you refresh your knowledge or acquire it little by little.

You can learn many languages from the app, but not always between any two pair of languages. For example, you can learn a dozen languages from Spanish, but not just any. If you are an English speaker you are in luck: you can learn more languages than from any other one.

I recommend learning a language, whenever possible, from your mother tongue and not from a “bridge” language. It is much simpler. Trust me.

Klingon, Latin, Navajo, Alto Valirio… are languages that can be learned from Duolingo. That’s why it was a bit strange that for the longest time there was no Finnish language course in the app! Not only that: Finnish was the only language missing from the ones in the Scandinavian peninsula. If you want to expand your knowledge about what’s the scandinavian peninsula exactly, I recommend the post “Nordic or Scandinavian? What is what“.

But it has finally arrived.

Finnish language in Duolingo

Finnish was the most requested language they ever had in Duolingo. That says a lot.

Learn Finnish with an app
That’s easy.

In the course – you can start it here – you will find different units, more oriented in my opinion to acquire and practice Finnish vocabulary (related: the 12 favourite words of the Finnish poets) than to its very difficult grammar. Each unit has several levels, and to keep you motivated there are many “gamification” tools in the app: leagues to compete against other users, trophies, streaks of days (my current streak in Duolingo is 682) and more.

It won’t be all you need to speak Finnish fluently (in our series of posts about the Finnish language you can find many resources about it), but it’s a good complement and practicing tool.

Finnish in Duolingo
Units of knowledge in Duolingo.

Similarly, Swedish – the other language of Finland – can be learned directly from Spanish or English in the app. This is no small thing, as all Finns have an obligation to know Swedish. In this way you can use this app to learn the two languages of the country.

Have you learned any language through this app? Would you like to try the Finnish course?


Moomin Christmas Episodes to watch during December

The Moomins, those endearing Finnish trolls created by Tove Jansson, had their own TV series long ago. In Finland – and I know outside Finland too – their episodes are classics.

Moomin cartoon
My kind of Moomin.

So, now that Christmas and winter are next door, there are a few episodes that, because of their theme, are perfect to watch at this time of the year.

We have looked for them in Youtube and we bring them to you today. Of course, they can be found in more languages on Youtube, if you are interested, including Finnish – the language of Finland.

I’ve put them in chronological order. Here they are.

Chapter 21 – Snufkin leaves the valley

Synopsis: A new winter is at hand and Moominpappa and Moomin are collecting wood to keep the house warm during their hibernation. Moomin feels very sad that Snufkin will be leaving on his long annual journey. Moomin tries to get his parents to let him join him, but Snufkin says no. He needs time to himself. Moomin goes to bed sad, but Snorkmaiden cheers him up by showing him something very, very special.

Chapter 22 – Moomin and the Little My’s Adventure

Synopsis: For no particular reason Moomin wakes up in the middle of winter and can’t go back to sleep. This is unheard of. He is unable to wake others, and finally, trembling, he makes his way out into the dark and unknown whiteness. Moomin meets the Little My who has woken up even before him, and Too-ticky who lives in the bath house. He meets the invisible mice, who also stay there during the winter, and almost meets the Lady of the Cold, the most fearsome of all winter’s manifestations.

Chapter 23 – Visitors in Winter

Synopsis: Moomin and Little My have finally settled into their winter existence, living on Too-ticky’s fish soup and Moominmamma’s jelly, of which there is fortunately plenty. One day Mr. Brisk arrives, a very friendly and jovial person, who likes cold baths and igloo baths. He likes Sorry-oo very much, a very shy dog who only dreams of running with the wolves he hears every night howling in the Lonely Mountains. He considers them his brothers, but unfortunately they are not… Mr. Brisk finally leaves, having consumed the last jar of his favorite jam (and Moomin’s).

Chapter 36 – Christmas is coming

Synopsis: The Moomin family has already begun to hibernate when it is awakened by a busy Hemulen who tells them that they can’t go on sleeping when Christmas approaches! The Moomins have no idea what Christmas is (being smart enough to sleep throughout the winter), but they are told all the preparations that need to be made before Christmas arrives. They do what they can, and they wait, and they wait…

Chapter 37 – The Midwinter Bonfires

Synopsis: Waking up in the middle of winter, Moomin decides to show Snorkmaiden what winter is like. On their way out, they discover that most of their firewood is gone. Walking around they find that someone has used their logs to build a huge fire on a cliff. Too-ticky, who is fishing under the ice as usual, tells them that it has been built by invisible winter beings to greet the return of the sun, which will show a small piece of light the day after the bonfire. However, the festivities come to a sudden end when the Groke appears.

Enjoy these Moomin chapters! What is your favorite chapter (or book)?


Reindeer in Helsinki: where to see them?

Those who travel to Lapland have it easy: they are everywhere, but to see reindeer in Helsinki you have to know where to look. And that’s what today’s post is about.

Reindeer in Helsinki
Feeding a reindeer. Source (CC: by-sa)

Reindeer and Finland

The reindeer is the animal of Finland. The Finns even have that unique sign that warns you on the roads that you are entering an area with a high density of reindeer.

The Finnish word for reindeer is “Poro” (pronounced “porro“).

Finnish road sign
Pay attention: “porros” in this area. Source (CC: by-sa)

These animals have a special role in the culture of the Sami, the last indigenous people of Europe who live in the northern part of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, including Finland. They take advantage of all parts of the reindeer.

And their meat, of course, is a delicacy. I liked it a lot (and Gordon Ramsay too) and I encourage you to try it if you’re on a trip in Finland.

Reindeer in Helsinki: where to see them

Do you remember the photo above, where the reindeer area was marked on the map of Finland? Exactly: reindeer don’t live that far south.

But nevertheless there are two places in the capital of Finland where you can see these animals. Let’s check them out.

Majestic antlers. Source (CC: by)

1.- The Helsinki Zoo – Korkeasaari

The Helsinki zoo sits on its own island in the city.

To get there you have to take a boat from the market square – Kauppatori – which is a nice ride with fantastic views of the capital from the sea. The destination of the boat, when you are looking for it at the port, is Korkeasaari, the name of the island and the zoo.

You can also take the number 16 bus that leaves from the train station. Once there, paying the entrance fee of 14 euros per adult or 8 per child, you can see reindeer as well as other animals. This is their website, if you want to learn more.

2.- Nuuksio National Park

This is the place to see reindeer in Helsinki in a big way.

Nuuksio Nature Park is just outside Helsinki. And it’s Finland’s southernmost national park. In it there is a reindeer park, where you can visit, touch and feed the reindeer.

Petting a reindeer in Helsinki
Reindeer herding in Helsinki. Or next to Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

The entrance fee is 25 euros per adult and 10 euros per child, which includes enough lichen to feed the reindeers, a coffee (or other drink) and a bun by an open fire. And, during Christmas there is also glögi, the traditional Christmas spice wine.

There is also a cafeteria in the reindeer park where you can have a drink – including delicacies such as Lapp cheese, salmon or wild game meat – at a restaurant in a tapee (a traditional Lappish tent) called “White Reindeer”.

Feeding lichen to reindeer. Source (CC: by-sa)
How to get to Nuuksio National Park?

You might wonder this if you want to go see reindeer in Helsinki. The address: Nuuksiontie 83 in Espoo. It’s 30 minutes by car from the center and 1 hour by public transport. You will need a ticket from the ABC area of Helsinki to get there. These are the transports you have to take.

  1. Train from Helsinki to Espoo with U, L and E trains from Helsinki Station to Espoo (8 stops and about 25 minutes)
  2. Take bus 245 from Espoo to Nuuksio. The bus is next to the station.
  3. Get off the bus in Punjonsuo. (after 27 stops or about 25 minutes)
  4. Walk a little and past the zebra crossing, to the right. The sign says Karhunpesä and you see a sign with Reindeer

If you want to visit their website to take a look first, this is it.

Which of these two options do you prefer? Have you ever seen – or eaten – a reindeer?