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head porumist

Seen on the auditorium wall of Narva Eesti Gümnaasium: Head põrumist! But why?


I was initially baffled by this soov , wish of sorts, posted on the wall of the aula (auditorium) of Narva's only Estonian language school, the Narva Eesti Gümnaasium. A gümnaasium used to be synonymous with the secondary school level of education, but many Estonian gymnasiums today are comprised of both põhi/kooli level (grades 1-9), as well as high school level (grades 10-12), in various wings of the same building. 


Põrumine means a jolt, sudden push or shock, as well as the ensuing reverberation. If you bang your fist on a table, the dishes will shake (taldrikud põruvad). If you accidentally hit your head, you may suffer a pea/põrutus(concussion). If you say or do something stupid, you might be accused of being peast põrunud(põrunud in the head), i.e. everything is not as it should be. But the text on the wall refers to läbi põrumine – an expression that means to fail; derived from the idea of falling. A student might say: "Ma põrusin keemias täiega!"(I totally crashed and burned in chemistry.) "Ta põrus valimistel." – S/he suffered a complete defeat in the election.


This is the same thing as saying "Break a leg" to someone about to step on stage. The expression reflects a theatrical superstition in which wishing a person "good luck" is considered bad luck. Estonians are of completely the same eba/usklik(superstitious) mind. They have, in similar reverse fashion, the tradition of calling a crow valge lind("white bird"), so it won't bring along the darkness of bad luck. The hunt(wolf), recently chosen to be Estonia's national animal, also has a multitude of aliases including võsa/villem (William of the forest), kriim/silm (stripy/streaky eye), Püha Jüri kutsikas (St. George's puppy), metsa/töll(someone who saunters (töllerdab)in the forest), and the S-E Estonian susi , so as to not invite bad luck by using its actual name. 


Going on a hike or fishing? An Estonian will wish you "Kivi kotti!"(a stone in your bag), or "Nael kummi!"(a nail in your tire). At a recent performance, dancers were wished pind jalga – a splinter in their foot. 


And so, the wish on the school wall reads: "May you fail your exams miserably!" But means: You will all do really well! 


Photo and text:

Riina Kindlam,



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