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Finnish idioms and proverbs

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Finnish, like many languages, is rich with idioms and proverbs that are often steeped in cultural wisdom and insight. Learning these phrases can not only deepen your understanding of the language but can also give you a glimpse into the Finnish way of life and thinking. Below are some popular Finnish idioms and proverbs, their meanings, and examples of how they are used.

Olla oma itsensä
This idiom means “to be oneself.” It emphasizes the importance of being true to one’s character and not pretending to be someone else.

On tärkeää olla oma itsensä työhaastattelussakin.

Ei auta itku markkinoilla
Translated as “crying won’t help at the market,” this proverb conveys the idea that complaining about a situation won’t change anything. Instead, action is required.

Nyt kun sopimus on allekirjoitettu, ei auta itku markkinoilla.

Aika on rahaa
This is a direct equivalent of the English idiom “time is money,” implying that time should not be wasted because it is valuable.

Älä tuhlaa aikaasi turhuuksiin, sillä aika on rahaa.

Sataa kuin Esterin perseestä
Though somewhat crude, this idiom means “to rain heavily,” likened to a downpour from Ester’s behind. It’s used to describe very bad weather, particularly heavy rain.

Ulkona sataa kuin Esterin perseestä, ota sateenvarjo mukaan!

Parempi pyy pivossa kuin kymmenen oksalla
A direct translation would be “better a wood grouse in the hand than ten on the branch,” akin to the English proverb “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” It suggests that having a sure thing is better than risking it for more.

Ottaisit tuon työtarjouksen, sillä parempi pyy pivossa kuin kymmenen oksalla.

Aita on tehty kulkijaa varten
Meaning “a fence is made for the traveler,” this proverb suggests that obstacles are meant to be overcome or that rules are meant to be tested.

Miksi emme yrittäisi uutta reittiä? Aita on tehty kulkijaa varten.

Puhua puuta heinää
This idiom translates to “speak wood grass,” which means to talk nonsense or to speak of something irrelevant or unimportant.

Hän puhui niin paljon mutta puhui vain puuta heinää.

Harvoin se koira älähtää, johon kalikka kalahtaa
A rough translation is “seldom does the dog yelp when hit by a clod.” It means that people often protest or react when they feel guilty or if a criticism applies to them personally.

Hän suuttui kun puhuimme laiskuudesta—harvoin se koira älähtää, johon kalikka kalahtaa.

Antaa ajan kulua
This means “to let time pass” and is used when talking about waiting for something without stress or hurry.

Ei kannata murehtia tuloksia, annetaan ajan kulua.

Olla pihalla kuin lintulauta
The literal meaning of this idiom is “to be outside like a bird feeder,” and it’s used to describe someone who is clueless or unaware of what is happening around them.

En tiennyt kokouksesta mitään, olin pihalla kuin lintulauta.

In conclusion, Finnish idioms and proverbs like these enrich conversations and help convey messages in a uniquely Finnish way. They offer insights into Finnish pragmatism, humor, and the value placed on common sense. By incorporating these into your language learning, you can add a layer of cultural understanding that goes beyond mere vocabulary.

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