Word of the Day: Sisu

Ask a Finn to define the national character, and it’s the word most still reach for.

Sisu (pronounced see-su) is an untranslatable Finnish term that blends resilience, tenacity, persistence, determination, perseverance and sustained, rather than momentary, courage: the psychological strength to ensure that must be done will be done.


It originates from the word sisus, meaning “intestines” or “guts”; Daniel Juslenius, author of the first Finnish-language dictionary in 1745, defined sisucunda as the place in the body where strong emotions live. In a harsh environment and with powerful neighbours, it was what a young nation needed. And, in today's less than perfect environment, it's still just as applicable.


In World War II, sisu is what allowed an army of 350,000 Finns to twice fight off Soviet forces three times their number, inflicting losses five times heavier than those they sustained.


More prosaically, it has helped Finns get through a lot of long, lonely, dark and freezing winters, building in the process one of the wealthiest, safest, most stable and best-governed countries in the world.


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