Finnish words that don’t translate 2: löyly

Having the pleasure of showing a friend from North Wales the joys of Helsinki, I knew that I had to take him to a sauna. I also wanted to try out the wood sauna on the second floor at Yrjönkatu Swimming Baths which I had heard was a particularly pleasant place to hang out.  We were not disappointed. The place itself is a a delight, well cared for with a lovely twenties classicism interior. The impressive stove (or kiuas) in the sauna gave off a subtle aroma

René Descartes would almost certainly have reappraised his philosophy had he experienced löyly.

of wood-smoke and also, when someone threw water through a letter-box slot near the top, good löyly .

OK, so what does löyly mean? Well some people say that it’s just the word for the steam that comes off the stones. But my Finnish Language teacher explained that löyly is something that happens not in the physical world at all but in your head. There is a moment a few seconds after the steam rises (so long as it doesn’t drive you to dive for a lower shelf or out of the door) when you experience a sublime sensation of heat so overpowering that every worry or thought in your mind is banished by it. For me, it is a hit that surpasses anything else – a moment of shock and overpowering of the senses that, so long as you surrender to it, turns to state of complete relaxation, calm and contentment.

So perhaps löyly is a phenomena that confounds the both the dualist and the physicalist. It is something which is neither mental nor physical but both — a transitory place,  an event where the distinction between mind and body dissolves.


2 responses to “Finnish words that don’t translate 2: löyly

  • repspace

    I like the idea that Western Philosophy might make more sense if it had been developed by Finns.
    But for the record, there is also the word löylytys. A “löyly-ing”, perhaps, i.e. a beating. Of the unpleasant kind. Look forward to more untranslateability. R

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