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This ad campaign happened to appear around the same time news spread of the passing of prominent American writer Ursula Le Guin, known mostly for her science fiction and fantasy novels. Estonians refer to her as an ulme/kirjanik. Photo: Riina Kindlam


Things, such as this otherworldly ad, can be said to appear like an unelm – a dream, which most people know more as an une/nägu – literally "sleep face" or image, but that's while you're sleeping. An unelm is a dream in the sense of something to attain, which is often unattainable, a fantasy. Ulmeline is fantasy-like. "See oli ulmeline vaate/pilt." – It was a dreamlike scene.


Unelm is a neologism, a new word, derived from the Finnish "unelma" (meaning a dream in the sense of unistus), which in turn is derived from their (and our) noun for sleep UNI. A synonym of unelm is the slightly less common ulm, another word coined during the period of Estonian language modernization in the early 20th century (N.B. Johannes Aavik). Is it a coincidence that ulm is the Arabic word for sleep?...


But the astronaut in the photo seems to want us to know that "Elu on ulme" – Life is a fantasy, a dream, or downright science fiction, since the latter is what the word has come to represent in Estonian.


Wikipedia tells us ulme = speculative fiction: "an umbrella genre encompassing narrative fiction with supernatural or futuristic elements. This includes the genres science fiction (more specifically teadus/ ulme), fantasy (ime/ulme), superhero fiction, science fantasy, horror (õudus/ulme) and supernatural fiction, as well as their combinations."


Rahva/suus, "in the mouths of the people", a work of science fiction, a book or movie, is often referred to as an ulme teos or ulmekas and a similar work of horror, on paper or screen, is an õudukas.


And finally, a nifty expression you might ask if you're not sure what just happened: "Kas see toimus ilmsi või ulmsi?" – Was that real or was it a dream? Ilmsi as in "ilma peal" – real, of this earth, versus ulmsi, the stuff dream are made of.


Ten works by fantaasia- or ulme/kirjanik Ursula K. Le Guin have been translated into Estonian, the first "Pimeduse pahem käsi" (The Left Hand of Darkness) by Krista Kaer in 1981 and the most recent, "Meremaa triloogia I. Meremaa võlur" (The first in the Earthsea Trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea) also by Krista Kaer in 2015. Viljakas (prolific) translator Kaer has translated nine of the ten books by Le Guin available in Estonian.


Riina Kindlam,



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