Sõnaus is a word invention initiative that was first announced in 2010 by the then President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves to look for better words to help the citizens better communicate with the state. The winning word from that year was “taristu” that has easily replaced “infrastructure”. In 2020 Vabamu picked up the initiative and Sõnaus set the all-time record with 4000 new words.

This time around, President Ilves was in charge of the committee of ten language experts who had the difficult task of choosing 50 best words from the 3350 words submitted, and then narrow the choice down to eight most spot-on and well-sounding words that replace direct translations or otherwise clumsy descriptions of environmental phenomena in our everyday lives. 

For example, the word “kõdusti” was recommended to replace “komposter” (obviously also composter in English), “iilitiivik” instead of “tuulegeneraator” or wind turbine and “digikelts” (digital permafrost) for “digiprügi” or digital waste. The latter was also chosen a favourite of the followers of the Sõnaus Facebook and Instagram accounts, collecting 650 votes. 

The most active school, Jüri Gymnasium just on the outskirts of Tallinn, submitted 240 words and they received a well-deserved prize: an invitation to visit Vabamu and the President’s Office in Kadriorg. Sõnaus was also supported by Green Capital Tallinn 2023 and Institute of the Estonian Language. 

The authors of the winning words were awarded with prizes by Estonian President Alar Karis at the final ceremony at Vabamu on December 8th. This date also marks the 143th birthday of one of the most prolific Estonian language innovators, Johannes Aavik, a Saaremaa-born school teacher, translator and writer who had to flee Estonia in 1944 but even far from home he kept writing on the matters of language innovation until his death in 1973 in Stockholm. 


President Alar Karis congratulates Ingrid Imelik, the author of the most popular new word “digikelts”, on the background NoVa product manager Ede Tamkivi. Photo courtesy of the President’s Office.