April 17, 2021

Sisu – An Untranslatable Finnish Word.

Truthfully, I don’t know much about my background or family history but when I was a teenager, I learned that someone on our tree was from Finland.

During my first year of college, I successfully talked my sister into bringing me for my first tattoo! The deal was she got one as well and it had to be meaningful, of course. I don’t remember how the conversation started but it ended with us agreeing on getting a simple, yet beautiful tattoo that read, “sisu.”

We were the first in our family then two of our Aunts got it, our cousins will be next I’m sure and I even heard rumours that our Grandma was interested!

I’ve spent the past ten years explaining my tattoo and every time the topic comes up, I fall more and more in love with my tattoo and all that it represents to me. Most people assume it means “sister,” which in a different way it does because I got it with my sister and to me, she is the definition of sisu.

The term can be loosely translated as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.

We read it as the equivalent to, “having guts” in English.

In 1940, the opening paragraph of a full-spread piece in the New York Times ventured, “It is not easily translated, because no other language has its precise equivalent.” The headline read, “Sisu: A word that explains Finland.”

They wrote, “The Finns have something they call SISU. It is a compound of bravado and bravery, of ferocity and tenacity, of the ability to keep fighting after most people would have quit, and to fight with the will to win. The Finns translate SISU as “the Finnish spirit,” but it is a much more gutful word than that.”

According to Wikipedia, “sisu is extraordinary determination in the face of extreme adversity, and courage that is presented typically in situations where success is unlikely. It expresses itself in taking action against the odds, and displaying courage and resoluteness in the face of adversity; in other words, deciding on a course of action, and then adhering to it even if repeated failures ensue.”

In etymologically, “sisu” comes from a Finnish root word that implies “inner” or “inside.” This is one reason it is sometimes translated as “guts” or “inner strength.”

Needless to say, it can be interpreted in many different ways! Since I got my tattoo, I find new meanings for sisu all the time.

I remind myself constantly that I have sisu, it’s brought me where I am today.

I needed sisu to get me through college.
I needed sisu to start my business.
I needed sisu to approach my first client.

As I run my business, I’ll embrace sisu every single day.