The Strangest Words in Estonian

Source: Mart Vares, Visit Estonia

The Strangest Words in Estonian

If you've never heard it before, the Estonian language may sound strange, yet melodic to your ears. The long vowels and distinct rhythm of Estonian make it something unique to the ears. In fact, the Estonian language won second in a competition for the most beautiful language with the melodic phrase sõidan tasa üle silla (I'm quietly driving across the bridge).

Unlike nearby languages like Swedish, Latvian, or Russian, Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language. This puts it in the same linguistic family as Hungarian and Finnish and a few other small languages. As a result, vowel length plays an important role in Estonian. Likewise, Estonian doesn't have a distinct future tense and nouns don't have gender, leading to the old joke that Estonian has no sex and has no future. 

'Tere' means hello

The first word you'll learn in Estonian

Photo by Visit Estonia

As a Finno-Ugric language, it can be hard to find familiar cognate or grammar structures. This is part of the reason that Estonian is an especially tricky language to learn for most people. Another unique aspect of Estonian is its vowels. Although plenty of languages make a difference between short and long vowels, Estonian is special in that you can have vowels be short, long, and extra-long. Take a look at some of these compounds and see for yourself.

Long Vowels and Very Long Vowels

Each of these words has four of the same vowel together.

  • jää-äär - edge of the ice
  • kuu-uurija - moon explorer
  • töö-öö - work night

While these words might not be so hard to say by themselves, it can get tricky when you have a phrase like

Kuuuurijad tööööl jäääärel

'lunar researchers at work on the edge of the ice during the night'

'Constructing' a word in Estonian

Sometimes putting together a word in Estonian can be just as hard as putting together a house

Photo by Toñu Tunnel

Making Words in Estonian

The other challenging part of Estonian is its words. As with German, Swedish, and Finnish, words in Estonian are often formed by 'stacking' different word parts onto each other. For example, the word fotokunstnik is made of two words put together foto-kunstnik (photo-artist). 

The tricky part is that words can get a whole lot longer than that! But for now, let's start with some of the shorter words.


Word-for-word, this translates to mean pig-expensive. The word kallis mean expensive and the pig part makes it more intense. What do pigs and high prices have to do with each other? It's not clear, but the phrase stuck.


Whether it's a child, friend, or co-worker, you toss out to talk about a 'lazy person' or 'layabout'. However, there's a deeper layer to the word since it literally translates to "lazy sausage." So you could call someone laisk (lazy) or you could say sa oled üks igavene laiskvorst (you are a real lazy person) just for a bit more flavour. Pun intended!


Here's another sausage-based word. Translated literally valevorst means a lie-sausage with vale meaning lie. It a more interesting way to call out someone for telling an untruth.

Longer Words and Phrases

Training the Mouth Muscles 

Pronouncing some Estonian words can be a workout for your mouth

Photo by Liina Notta, Visit Estonia

Now, well dive into some of the lengthier words you might run into in Estonian.


Perhaps one of Estonian's most beautiful words is 'jõululaululaulja' which means 'Christmas caroler.' 


This is probably one of the most famous weird words that Estonian has to offer with the hyper-precise meaning of the 'hatch a bullet flies out of when exiting a tunnel.' The word's specificity is impressive enough, but kuulilennuteetunneliluuk also has the distinction of being a palindrome, so it's the same thing read backward and forward.

Sünnipäeva nädalalõpupeo pärastlõunaväsimus

At a whopping 42 letters, we have this monster phrase which means "the tiredness one feels on the afternoon of the weekend birthday party." If nothing else, it shows off how incredibly precise the Estonian language can be.

Birthday Tiredness

One gets tired just saying the word sünnipäevanädalalõpupeopärastlõunaväsimus

Photo by MarleenValdmaa

Just For Fun

Estonian isn't just long complex words and length vowel combinations. The Estonian language also has plenty of fun and playful words and phrases to describe the lighter side of life.


Bits and pieces, odds and ends, bric-a-brac.


A state of minor chaos, a disorderly situation, hubbub. 


Literally meaning 'mischief bear,' you can use it for anyone who plays pranks and makes a bit of trouble.

pure mind

In English, you could read this as a worthwhile mental state, however, in Estonian this means 'bite me' and not gently either, but in a rough way like dogs and wolves do.

hell hunt

Speaking of wolves, while this might look like some kind of an infernal chase to English speakers, it actually means 'gentle wolf' in Estonian.

A real 'hell hunt'

Photo by Paul Meiesaar

Tongue-Twister Bonus!

Although this is a whole sentence rather than a word, it shows off just how strange speaking Estonian can get.

Kummikutes kummitus kummitas kummutis

'A ghost with rainboots haunted the chest of drawers'

Last updated : 24.11.2021

In category: History & culture