From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search
"Monument to the Finnish Sisu" on a fell in Lapland

Sisu is a Finnish term loosely translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. However, the word is widely considered to lack a proper translation into any other language. Sisu has been described as being integral to understanding Finnish culture. However sisu is defined by a long-term element in it; it is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain an action against the odds. Deciding on a course of action and then sticking to that decision against repeated failures is sisu. It is similar to equanimity, except the forbearance of sisu has a grimmer quality of stress management than the latter. The noun sisu is related to the adjective sisukas, one having the quality of sisu.

"Having guts" is the English-to-Finnish formal translation, as the word derives from sisus, which means something inner or interior. Dynamic translation (sense translation) of 'sisu' yields the English word 'grit'; which shares all its denoting elements with 'sisu', save for 'stress management', which finds connotative representation in 'grit', via 'grit's' elements of 'resilience',[1] and 'hardiness'.[2][3]


Cultural significance

Sisu has been described by The New York Times as "the word that explains Finland", and the Finns' "favorite word"—"the most wonderful of all their words."[4] During the famous Winter War of 1939–1940, the Finnish perseverance in the face of the invasion by the Soviet Union popularized this word in English for a generation.[5][6] In what might have been the first use of sisu in the English language, on January 8, 1940, Time magazine reported:

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. Last week the Finns gave the world a good example of sisu by carrying the war into Russian territory on one front while on another they withstood merciless attacks by a reinforced Russian Army. In the wilderness that forms most of the Russo-Finnish frontier between Lake Laatokka and the Arctic Ocean, the Finns definitely gained the upper hand.
Time magazine, January 8, 1940[5]

Singled out for kudos for this attribute was "Finland's wiry old peasant President, Kyösti Kallio—73 years old and full of sisu (courage)—last week thought up a new scheme to get supplies for his country."[6] It was also used to describe the Finnish stubbornness in sticking to its loose alliance with The Third Reich from 1940 to 1943:

Finnish sisu—meaning a peculiarly Finnish brand of doggedness, capable of facing down death itself—was at work against the Allies. ... The Finns are not happy. But sisu enables them to say: "We have nothing worse than death to fear."
Time magazine, May 10, 1943.[7]

During the 1952 Summer Olympics, sisu was further described in the context of the continuing Cold War looming over the Finnish capital city of Helsinki:

HELSINKI, host to the Olympic Games, a city of 400,000, was abustle. ... The Finns are not stupidly hiding their eyes from their future, but they are determined not to fall into another fight with a powerful and predatory next-door neighbor 66 times their size (in area, Finland is the sixth largest country in Europe; in population it is the third smallest). Under popular, 81-year-old President Juho Kusti Paasikivi and able, unpopular Agrarian Premier Urho Kekkonen, the Finns have learned to walk the nerve-racking path of independence like tight-rope walkers.
Time magazine, July 21, 1952[8]

Well into the 1960s, sisu was used to describe the Finnish resistance to the invasion of 20 to 30 years prior and its continuing discontents.[9] In 1960, Austin Goodrich's book, Study in Sisu: Finland's Fight for Independence, was published by Ballantine.[10] Also in 1960, a notable reviewer of Griffin Taylor's novel, Mortlake, wrote:

"HAVE you heard of Finnish sisu?" asks a character in "Mortlake" -- and it turns out that sisu is a sort of stamina or staying-power which the Finns have had to develop as a result of living next door to the Russians.

Even in 2009, sisu is so important to being Finnish that "to be a real Finn" you must have it: "willpower, tenacity, persistency."[12]

Other uses

Due to its cultural significance, "sisu" is a common element of brand names in Finland. For example, there are Sisu brand trucks (and Sisu armored vehicles), icebreaker MS Sisu, a brand of strong-tasting pastilles manufactured by Leaf[12] , and a Finnish nationalist organisation Suomen Sisu.

Mount Sisu is the name of a mountain first ascended by mountain climbers Veikka Gustafsson and Patrick Degerman in the Antarctic.

In 2004, Jorma Ollila, CEO of Nokia, described his company's "guts" by using the word sisu:

In times like these, the executives who run Nokia talk up a uniquely Finnish quality called sisu. "The translation would be 'guts,' " says Jorma Ollila, CEO of Nokia, the world's most prolific cell phone maker, in an interview at company headquarters here. (Photograph Caption: Jorma Ollila says Nokia is determined to 'overcome all obstacles.') "But it's also endurance. There is a long-term element to it. You overcome all obstacles. You need quite a lot of sisu to survive in this climate." The climate he's referring to is the bleak and bitter Nordic winters, but he might as well be talking about the competitive, erratic wireless-phone market and Nokia's travails. This sisu trait—anathema to Wall Street's short-term outlook—says a lot about Nokia's response to its recent turmoil.
—Kevin Maney, USA TODAY (italics in original)[13]

Sisu is, like sauna, one of the few Finnish words lent to the English language.[citation needed]

Sisu is not always a positive Finnish term: "pahansisuinen" literally translated means "one possessing bad sisu", a description of a hostile and malignant person.

In popular culture

A Finnish heavy metal rock singer injured himself, without noticing, at a concert, to which a reviewer wrote:

Alan epäillä, että suomalainen sisu ja adrenaliini ovat yksi ja sama asia.—I am beginning to suspect that the Finnish sisu and adrenaline are the same thing.
— Finnish Heavy Metal website[14]

In Robert A. Heinlein's "juvenile" novel, Citizen of the Galaxy, the protagonist was adopted by the captain of an interstellar trading ship which was named, "Sisu". This reflected Heinlein's admiration of the Finnish stand against the Soviets, Heinlein himself being ardently anti-communist. The interstellar trading "family" of which this ship was but a part, is described as being fiercely proud and independent, preferring battle and death to being taken prisoner by raiding pirates.

In the British TV programme Top Gear, Mika Häkkinen explains sisu to James May as a driving trait particular to the Finnish people.[citation needed]

Use in the Upper Peninsula

The term is commonly used in everyday speech to describe stoic toughness. It is widely understood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is home to a large concentration of Americans of Finnish descent. This has extended to include a popular bumper sticker saying simply "Sisu". By analogy, the term has picked up new meanings. Depending on context, sisu can refer to spunk, attitude, self-confidence, and so on. However, sisu is not bravery, nor strength. It is distinguished from courage, especially when talking about the military. Sisu is an ability to finish a task successfully, as defined by Roman Schatz in his book From Finland with Love (2005), and decisiveness. Usually sisu means the will and decisiveness to surmount challenges against impossible odds.

In 2010, a 63-year-old Yooper named Joe Paquette Jr. of Munising, Michigan, walked 425 miles to the Detroit Lions training facility to bring the spirit of sisu to the team.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Masten, A. S. (2009). "Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development" (PDF). Education Canada 49 (3): 28–32.
  2. ^ Kobasa, S. C. (1982). "Commitment and coping in stress resistance among lawyers". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 42 (4): 707–717. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.42.4.707.
  3. ^ Maddi, S. R. (1999). "The personality construct of hardiness: I. Effects on experiencing, coping, and strain". Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 51 (2): 83–94. doi:10.1037/1061-4087.51.2.83.
  4. ^ Hudson Strode, "SISU: A WORD THAT EXPLAINS FINLAND", The New York Times January 14, 1940, Sunday Section: The New York Times Magazine, Page SM4, abstract found at New York Times website. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  5. ^ a b "NORTHERN THEATRE: Sisu," Time, Monday, January 8, 1940, found at Time magazine archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  6. ^ a b "NORTHERN THEATRE: Again, Sisu", Time, Monday, January 29, 1940, found at Time magazine archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  7. ^ "Nothing Worse to Fear", Time magazine, Monday, May 10, 1943, found at Time magazine archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  8. ^ "Sisu", Monday, July 21, 1952 Time (magazine), found at Time magazine archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  9. ^ Horace Sutton, "review: Winter in Finland: Sauna, Sisu, Theater," Chicago Tribune, February 4, 1968, found at Chicago Tribune archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  10. ^ Reporter One: Austin Goodrich. Accessed October 8, 2011.
  11. ^ Nigel Dennis, "Review: How to Develop 'Sisu' on an Enemy Border; MORTLAKE. By Griffin Taylor. 378 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.", July 31, 1960, Sunday Section: The New York Times Book Review, Page BR22, 493 words. Found at Select New York Times archives. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  12. ^ a b Tuula Ruskeemiemi, "Sisu", Six Degrees: the Finnish magazine in English, issue 2, 2009. Found at Six Degrees on ISSUU website. Accessed September 29, 2010.
  13. ^ Kevin Maney, "CEO Ollila says Nokia's 'sisu' will see it past tough times," USA, Posted 7/20/2004 10:06 PM, Updated 7/21/2004 3:55 AM, found at USA website. Accessed June 24, 2009.
  14. ^ Finnish Heavy Metal website, as translated by Google. Accessed September 29, 2010.
  15. ^ Harris, Bill (August 26, 2010). "One very long walk". The Mining Journal.

External links