Welcome to another episode of word play from the billboards of Viru Keskus in Tallinn. This bejewelled, white-gloved arm continues skyward, its ringed fingers in a hang-loose (or perhaps reindeer) gesture, thumb and baby finger extended. It’s festive in a glam-rock sort of way with a touch of creepy goth. But only for the English speaker, since HELL in Estonian is a long way from purgatory.
Lumi hell is a descriptive line from an old Estonian Christmas carol: Tiliseb, tiliseb aisakell, lumi hell, lumi hell... (The sleighbell jingles and the snow is... ?) When randomly asked, Tiiu felt it means the snow is delicate (õrn) and sweet (armas), while Lauri referred to its caressing touch (ta paitab). The verb hellitama means to treat, handle or touch lovingly, affectionately. But with too much of a good thing, hellus (tenderness / sensitivity) can also become hard to bear, as in a tender heart (hella südamega), downright physically, when a wound is sore (haav on hell), or in the case of a spoiled child ((ära) hellitatud laps).
Brownies, the youngest members of Girl Guides, are called hellakesed (tender tots) in Estonian and the female name Helle, especially popular in the post WW II era, can be derived from the same sense of endearment. Poet Karl-Martin Sinijärv’s daughter’s name Hedo Hell has been described as ethno-futurist; in this case a modern take on archaic seto (from SE Estonia). Sinijärv, host of the weekly cultural show OP! on ETV, prefers to think outside the box and not label his daughter as naughty or nice. „Isa-Sinijärv ei nõustu last kastistama, on temas siis rohkem elulusti või põrgulikkust.“
More HELLUS all around for the holidays!
Au contraire, the snow is heavenly