Sunday, 27 November 2011

Enthusiastic Bull or the Art of Finnish Palindromes

This week, I found out that, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the Finnish language holds the world record for the longest palindromic word in "every day use" with "saippuakivikauppias" (19 letters). That magnificent specimen of a word means a "dealer in caustic soda", which does beg the question as to how much daily use that word actually gets. But hey, if Guinness says it is in daily use, then it must be.

As a child, I was fascinated by palindromes. I loved the idea that a word or sentence could be read the same backward or forwards (isn't it ironic that the word "palindrome" isn't one itself?). I can still remember learning the classic: "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!" Aaaah, happy memories of a nerdy childhood...

Anyhow, the discovery of the Finnish world record prompted me to rekindle (all be it briefly) my fascination for palindromes, and to take it to the next level by exploring the bizarre world of Finnish palindromes.

Obviously, Finnish being a language with compound words, the possibilities for creating long palindromic words are potentially endless, even if the resulting efforts are not always very meaningful.  So on the soap theme, I have found:

soapfish bootlegger

soap dish wholesale vendor

soap-bowl-flower-stone-cake-box seller (huh?)

Other equally silly constructions include:

the results of the tomato cell measurement

innostunut sonni
enthusiastic bull

And then there are the palindromic sentences, such as:

Nisumaa oli isäsi ilo aamusin
In the mornings, wheatfields were the joy of your father.

Ananas oli isäsi ilo sanana
The word "pinapple" was the joy of your father

Iso rikas sika sökösakissa kirosi
A very rich pig cursed in a stud poker gang

Iso tupakkavakka putosi
The big tobacco-basket fell down

Isä, älä myy myymälääsi
Father, don't sell your shop

And my own favourite:
Neulo taas niin saat oluen
Knit again, you will get a beer

And then, I found a palindromic Finnish poem:

Uupuu, uupuu puu heiluva
Tires, tires, the waving tree
Havu liehuu
The spruce branch waves
Liehuva havu heiluu
The waving spuce branch swings
Heiluva havu liehuu
The swinging spruce branch waves
Puu, puu uupuu
The tree, the tree tires

Apparently, there are even palindromic people in Finland, including:

Olavi Valo
Emma Lamme
Sanna Rannas
Anni Linna
Asko Oksa

I wonder if those people are into palindromes also. After all they would be in good company. Even Stevie Wonder was interested in palindromes once upon a time, though he was not very good at them: in 1968, he released an album called "Eivets Rednow"... Keep trying Stevie!

PS: For those of you dying for more, a Finnish comedy group, Alivaltiosihteeri, have created a large number of palindromes that can be found here (in Finnish only).


  1. Just found this blog of yours, love it :D

  2. Well thanks Vanessa. Glad you enjoy it!

  3. I always liked 'Atte kumiorava varo imuketta' ~ Atte[name] rubber squirrel look out for the cigarette holder