Monday, 12 August 2013

Do you have a beamer handy? Kreisiä bisnestä!

But German does something insanely more evil: It takes words from other languages and uses them for its own evil purposes, not caring at all about what the words used to mean in the language of origin.

Take for example this device - a projector:

At some point the German language need to find a word for it. Something that sounds dynamic and cool. Like "beamer". That's a perfect word for it, because a beamer is something or somebody that beams...

Or this:

Hey, let's call it "kicker", since it seems to be an underused word.

Or is this some kind of a counter-attack to the rest of the world calling it "foosball" (from German "Fußball")?

But evilest of them all is this:

"Handy"! Why? Why? A perfectly valid English word kidnapped and abused by German. And not even a noun. But we can make it a noun (laughter).

These readapted English words also cause Germans and other German speaking people to make silly mistakes when speaking English. They can also be used for confusing sentences: "Do you have a beamer handy, or a kicker?"

I admit that I have accidentally said "handy" in an English conversation (with Germans though) when I meant "mobile". I felt so German. Almost like saying "become" instead of "get" (bekommen).

But Finnish is not innocent either: we regularly take English words and either mispronounce them horribly or write them horribly wrong (to make the pronunciation right). The Finnish pronunciation is fundamentally different from the English pronunciation (basically, Finnish is pronounced like it's written, whereas English is pronounced exactly the opposite way).

So we take words like "business" and write it "bisnes" or "crazy" and write it "kreisi", so that when these are read aloud, they sound approximately like the original words but with a rally driver accent (*). But at least we keep the meaning intact! Or take the washing-up liquid "Fairy"-  we pronounce that "fairy", yes, with "ai" (as "ye" in "bye") and "y" (as ü in German or "ew" in "new" in some versions of English).

(*) Please watch this video. It will help you to 1) understand my obscure accent when I speak English 2) how we Finns (do not) communicate.

Next I just need to find a video reference which will help my friends understand why I don't hug them. After 2 years in Germany it's getting a bit awkward.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A cookie to take with

For non-geeks: When a web site shows you data, it can also tell your browser "set this cookie" (which is just a piece of information), and when you request data again, the cookie is sent back, and that's how the web site recognizes you.

This term "cookie" is difficult to translate, because it doesn't mean much and has nothing to do with the actual cookie.

However, in Finnish it has been translated ingeniously to "eväste". Let's have a look why.

"Eväs" (pl. "eväät") is food you take with, for example, on a hike or a train trip. Typical "eväät" is a sandwich, blackcurrant juice and maybe an apple. I'm not aware of an English word that would be an exact translation. "Packed lunch" is the closest that I know, but it seems somehow more restrictive. "Eväs" doesn't necessarily need to be lunch, it can be eaten any time of day. You can take "eväs" with you if you know you need to walk (crawl) back a long way from the bar past midnight, and calling this "packed lunch" seems weird.

The "te" suffix can be used for deriving words like this:
tieto = information
tiedottaa = to inform
tiedote = announcement (something that contains information)

eväs = food to take with
evästää = (abstract) to give advice before something big, so, to give advice "to take with"
eväste = to follow the logic, this must mean something that contains "eväs"; it's not used outside the technical meaning

But then again:

sammuttaa = to put off out a fire
sammute = a chemical that can be used to put off out a fire

Okay, I have no idea what the "te" suffix actually means. Yet, I'm able to speak the language. Weird.

I can imagine that when the HTTP request travels to the server, it needs a packed lunch to eat along the way. Something tasty. Like a cookie.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Own country strawberry

This holiday episode is based on random discussions in Finland.

First: Two weird Finnish sayings.

Oma maa mansikka, muu maa mustikka.
Own country strawberry, another country blueberry.

The meaning of this saying is "your own country (Finland, obviously) is better than other countries", but how this relates to strawberries and blueberries is a mystery to us Finns too.

Mieluummin tätä syö kuin selkäänsä ottaa.
I rather eat that than (literally) take it on the back (that is, get beaten up).

An unenthusiastic way to compliment food, and also a semi-funny saying, because purely linguistically it can also mean that you rather eat the food than smear it on your back.

(Compare to "like burning the ice".)

And second: "did you know about etymology?", that is, two random etymological facts

In Helsinki (and in a couple of other cities, too), the underground train is called "metro" which derives from "metropoli" (in English, "metropolis"). And the "metro" in "metropolis" derives from Greek "meter" which means "mother".

Monday, 24 June 2013

What is allowed to be?

The main Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat publishes a controversial comic, Fingerpori. It is an awesome piece of culture, and offensive on multiple levels, but sadly, most jokes are based on wordplay, so I cannot share the joy with my non-Finnish-speaking friends.

But today they have a joke which works both in Finnish and in German:

Wittgenstein am Imbiss:
"Was darf es sein?"
"Die Frage ist sinnlos."

In English it doesn't work:
Wittgenstein at a hotdog stand:
"What is allowed to be?" "What is allowed to be it?" (This is a slightly old-fashioned (at least in Finnish) way to ask what the customer would like to have.)
"The question makes no sense."

Thursday, 6 June 2013

With false friends like this, I don't need enemies

To get this blog back on track, we'll have a look at words which have different meanings in different languages in a way that might bring unintentional comedy into your life.

persze in Hungarian: of course & perse in Finnish: ass

I had a Hungarian colleague in Finland, and he told this story: He was sitting on a bus, talking on the phone with his mom, going like "persze, persze" (of course, of course) in a bored tone of voice. An older Finnish lady was giving him the most angry and confused looks for saying "ass, ass" in a public place.

latte in Italian: milk & Latte in German: block of wood

It's a bit hard to explain what "Latte" exactly means. As far as I know, a very close Finnish translation would be "parru". The closest English translation I can come up with would be "block of wood", in the context of male genitalia. For example, "Morgenlatte" is "morning wood".

So, in Germany you need to be careful to order a "Cafe Latte" or "Latte Macchiato". If you order just "eine Latte", you might not get what you wanted. Or what do I know.


... or a Latte?

Additional information: My colleagues kindly pointed out that "Latte" is in fact not this thick piece of wood, but a thin one, which is used e.g., between walls and floors (in English "lath", in Finnish "rima"). So here the German language and the Finnish language differ; in Finnish the double meaning is only associated with the thick type.

More information here:

ficka in Swedish: pocket & ficken in German: to fuck

This one is best explained in pictures.

A "pocket info" we saw in some office in Finland (note the relevant picture) which we thought might amuse our German friends:

(Swedish is the second official language in Finland, so brochures like this are in both languages.)

Ficklampa ("pocket lamp" = flashlight)...

... or a ficklampa?

pussi in Finnish: bag & pussy in English

And now I've reached the point of "I better stop now. Right. Now."

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Deutsch kann ich schon

The standard whine of all foreigners trying to learn German is: The genders for nouns make no sense. Der Löffel, die Gabel, das Messer (the spoon masculine, the fork feminine, the knife neuter). And der Betrieb, die Firma, das Unternehmen (the company masculine, the company feminine, the company neuter).

I tried this whine on my colleagues in a slightly different form: normally nouns ending with e are feminine, but then there is "der Name", how annoying is that. This whine was a mistake. They told me that it makes perfect sense, since "name" is masculine in Latin.

Indeed, it sometimes feels like I should learn Latin to be able to learn German. At least it would help.

For example:
"Essential" derives from to Latin "essentia" which refers to "being". Similarly, "essential" in German, "wesentlich", contains "wesen" which somehow is the same verb stem as "sein" (to be), e.g., "ist gewesen" (has been). The verb "essen" (to eat), is, however, not related.

And undoubtedly knowing both German and Latin would be useful:

Unterhalten sich zwei Freunde. Sagt der eine: "Ich lerne jetzt Latein." Fragt der andere: "Warum?" "Ich habe gehört dass man in Himmel Latein spricht." "Und woher weißt du dass du in den Himmel kommst?" "Das weiß ich nicht, aber Deutsch kann ich schon."

(Two friends are discussing. One says: "I'm studying Latin nowadays." The other asks: "Why?" "I heard that they speak Latin in heaven." "And how do you know you'll go to heaven?" "That I don't know, but I already speak German.")

Sunday, 28 April 2013

I didn't read him yet

A couple of weeks ago I posted about a weird sauna experience which was especially surprising because everything had been so normal so far. And of course things started to get even weirder after that.

There is a Finnish band, Eläkeläiset, which makes humppa (it's a music style) "covers" of famous rock songs (in Finnish of course). Like this: originalcover. And apparently this band is a Thing in Germany. We went to see their gig, and it was a weird cultural experience.

However, this blog post is not about that band or that gig, but I have a real (kitchen) linguistic theme here:

Germans have a cute habit of using the pronoun "it" when they talk about a baby, even when he/she is their own and the gender of the baby is definitely known. Like this: "Our baby was born a month ago. It only sleeps two hours max at a time."

"It" has actually been used when talking about babies in English too, but it's nowadays getting rarer.

I'm not 100% sure (hey, this is kitchen linguistics), but I think that Germans use "it" when talking about babies because of the gender system of the German language.

German naturally has separate pronouns for he, she and it (er, sie, es), like in English. But since inanimate objects also have a gender in German, the pronouns are used a bit differently than in English.

For example, Germans say: "Ich habe einen Brief bekommen, aber ich habe ihn noch nicht gelesen." - "I got a letter, but I didn't read him yet." A letter is a masculine, so "he" is used when referring to it. So, he is used with masculine nouns, she with feminine nouns and it with neuter nouns.

I've never heard a German make a "I didn't read him yet" type of a mistake when speaking English. Maybe Germans have a mental model where all English nouns are neuter.

Baby is neuter, das Baby, in German, and that's probably why "it" is often used when talking about babies, but always in a loving tone of voice. I find it awesome because of two subtle connotations: 1) a baby is not a "real human" yet, but it will become one when it grows up 2) babies are genderless, i.e., their gender is irrelevant.

In Finnish, we only have one word (hän) for he and she, and a separate word for it (se). So, "hän" is for humans, and "se" is for non-humans. But in spoken language, we also say "se" when talking about humans, so we really need to use only one pronoun.

This is also the reason why I cannot get he / she / him / her / his / her right in English - mostly I just randomly choose a gender and rely on it being correct in 50% of the cases. This leads into epic utterances like "she got his act together".

But when I say "her wife" or "his boyfriend", I'm usually not confusing genders, because both exist in my circle of friends. And sorry, all transgender folks, I don't use the wrong pronouns because your gender is so confusing - I use the wrong pronouns for everybody.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Like burning the ice

Today I'm going to entertain you with Finnish sayings.

kuin paita ja peppu - like a shirt and a bum
Used to describe very close friends who do everything together. "They are like a shirt and a bum."

kuin jäitä polttelisi - like burning the ice
A suitably unenthusiastic reply to "how is it going". For example, "How's your work?" "Like burning the ice."

In Finland, if you're asked how it's going, you're not supposed to say anything overly positive. The scale is from "it's okay" downwards. So "like burning the ice" means that "oh well, nothing special to complain about, but it's work, so, you know, sometimes I'd rather just sleep in and not go to the office in the morning".

kuin ripulissa piereskelisi - like farting while having a diarrhea
An action that needs to be carried out extremely carefully.

I think I'll stop here, and say like we Finns say after a good party: "Kiitos ja anteeksi." - "Thank you and I'm so sorry".

Sunday, 14 April 2013


Today I will hijack the language blog for telling about the weirdest thing I've done in Germany so far. When we moved the Germany, I had the problem that everything was so normal, and we didn't have any funny anecdotes to tell to our friends and family who stayed in Finland. Now, after 2 years, I have something to tell, so here we go...

In most countries there is a form of entertainment where a naked person entertains an audience who is wearing clothes.

But in Germany, the inverse occupation also exists - Saunameister (sauna master) is a clothed person entertaining a naked audience by throwing water on the hot stones in a sauna, circulating the hot steam by waving a towel and flapping it in the air, and telling jokes on the go (because of the language barrier, I only understand a subset of the jokes, sadly). The most advanced Saunameister I've seen even uses a towel flag for the circulating, and that thing is torturously efficient.

You're supposed to find the experience relaxing (entspannend), if you don't, you will be "Zwangsentspannt" (forcefully relaxed).

Curiously, there is no good translation of "Zwang" in English, even though it translates perfectly well in other languages I know (tvång in Swedish, pakko in Finnish). Zwang describes something compulsory / unavoidable / something you must do, but it's not an adjective but a noun. You could say "wearing a helmet is compulsory" and "Zwang" would be the "compulsory" except that it's a noun.

There are also other Meisters in Germany: Bademeister (bath master) is looking after kids in a swimming pool and Hausmeister (house master) is approximately a janitor. Funnily, some Hausmeisters (but not all) are "vahtimestari" in Finnish, that derives from Wachtmeister (watch master), but Wachtmaster is something different than Hausmeister...

From the Finnish perspective, the Saunameister is exotic in a funny way, and the excessive nudity is only mildly culture shocking. So now to the weird stuff: Klangschalenaufguss.

Aufguss (literally "onpour", auf = on, guss = a noun from the verb "pour") is what Saunameister does: pouring water on the stones, and the related activities for circulating the steam.

Klangschale is apparently translated in English as "singing bowl" (never heard), and it's a metal bowl which produces sound when you hit it with a stick. Some esoteric stuff they say.

And Klangschalenaufguss is naturally an Aufguss where the Saunameister alternates between throwing water onto the stones and rings these bowls. I might have missed the esoteric benefits. I tried not to giggle.

The next weird thing doesn't have any linguistic connections, but I need to tell it nevertheless: The crazy Germans have a sauna with an aquarium in it. And soothing music. So you can watch the fish swim around and listen to the music while you sweat. Finns, let me reiterate: Germans have an aquarium in a sauna.

The experience culminated in Salzaufguss, (salt onpour), where you first do the first round of Aufguss (pouring the water and waving the towel) normally, then go out, rub salt on you skin, come back, and do one more round of Aufguss.

When standing outside (luckily the weather was warm), naked, rubbing big handfuls of salt on my skin, among 50 or so Germans doing the same, I said "This is the weirdest thing I've done in Germany so far".

Monday, 1 April 2013

Goodbye, linguistic cousins?

Helsingin sanomat, the main newspaper in Finland, published an interesting article about linguistics getting political in Hungary: The right wing Hungarians deny that Finnish and Hungarian are language relatives, since it doesn't fit their political agenda.

Since there is no English translation, I'll provide a pirate translation below. The original article is here (published 30.3.2013, written by Maria Manner).

Finnish is no longer a good language relative to Hungarian

Many Hungarians don't want to believe any more, that Finnish and Hungarian are language relatives. The right wing parties are writing a new, glorious history for Hungary, and the Finnish nation is considered too backwards to fit it.

"The claims about Finnish and Hungarian being language relatives are nonsense. It's just communist propaganda! In Finland, the school books have been revised and the old theory removed."

These claims surface frequently in today's Hungary. Online discussion boards and bookstores offer lot of information about Hungarian not being a Finno-Ugric language after all.

Finns, who take the relationship between Finnish and Hungarian as granted, are confused. What is happening to our language cousin?

After the fall of communism, the alternative theory has stricken through in Hungary, explains Johanna Laakso, a Finnish professor of Finno-Ugric studies from the university of Vienna.

"The Finno-Ugric heritage is seen as a plot of Vienna and then Moscow, an attempt to humiliate the Hungarians.", she says.

According to a popular view, Hungarians descend from glorious eastern warrior nations, Scythians or Hunns, and ancient high cultures, for example Sumerians. Even Hungarian students who have just enrolled into university to study Finno-Ugric studies might believe this.

"Even in universities, we need to put a lot of effort to get rid of these false views. My Hungarian colleagues say that many people believe in these alternative theories.", explains Laakso.

The relationship between Finnish and Hungarian was discovered in the late 17th century. A German doctor, Martin Fogel, found similarities in vocabulary and structures of the two languages. Hungarian János Sajnovics established a foundation to Finno-Ugric linguistics hundred years later.

According to modern linguistics, Finno-Ugric languages derive from the same base language which was spoken 4000 - 6000 years ago near the river Ural. Since then, the languages have diverged so much, that the similarities can usually be observed only by trained linguists.

In the beginning, Hungarians didn't think highly of their northern relatives. Since the Middle Ages, they have regarded themselves as descendants of Hunns. The northern nations were seen as "wildlings stinking of fish" who didn't have a glorious history of warfare, says Laakso. The Finnish nation was seen as too backwards.

During the socialist era, Hungarian being a Finno-Ugric language was not questioned, and the alternative views were kept alive only by immigrant Hungarians.

When the communism and its truths fell, the linguistic relationship started to look like communist propaganda, too.

The alternative science is not only alive in Hungary. In Finland, Kalevi Wiik has developed a theory that the ancient Finns were the main nation of northern Europe and their language was the bridge language, lingua franca, of the ancient nations. According to Laakso, the position of pseudo science is particularly strong in Hungary, though.

Hungarians are now rewriting the history, not only based on science, but also on patriotic emotions.

The right wing extremist party, Jobbik, has demanded that the origins of the Hungarian language need to be re-evaluated. The popular right wing nationalist party, Fidesz, is sitting between two stools: Part of the politicians flirt with the alternative history. Two weeks ago, a Fidesz politican said in the parliament that there is no commonly accepted theory supporting the relation between Finnish and Hungarian.

"The real Hungarian linguists don't question the Finno-Ugric origin. But politicians, artists, and many others don't want to believe in it, but instead they support a new, more romantic version of the Hungarian history", says Marianne Bakró-Nagy, a professor from Szeged, Hungary.

The people longing for a glorious history try to get support from genetics.

For example, the Finns are genetically closer to people in the Netherlands than in Hungary.

But the language and the genes don't follow the same routes.

"These people are not interested in the fact that being genetic relatives has nothing to do with being language relatives", says Bakró-Nagy.

Hungarian doesn't have close language relatives. Maybe that's why Hungarians have difficulties to understand, what being language relatives means.

A Finn can compare Finnish to Estonian, meänkieli dialects and the Karelian language, and that makes it easier to understand the different degrees of being language relatives.

The most vocal opponents of the Finno-Ugric heritage are sending hate mail to researchers. Laakso says that many Hungarian Finno-Ugric researchers are afraid of negative reactions, and try not to mention their field of study when meeting new people.

People have also called Laakso a racist and said she's just being envious.

"Many messages I get are clearly from people who feel hurt. It's the same thing with Creationists: if the science doesn't support their holy world view, it must be part of an evil conspiracy.", she says.

A Hungarian linguist, László Fejes, says he gets feedback from the opponents of the Finno-Ugric heritage all the time. He hosts Nyelv és Tudomány, a portal for linguistics and science and has tried to get rid of the false views. Some time ago, Fejes asked his colleague Laakso to send him a pile of Finnish school books, to show that the Finno-Ugric heritage has not been abandoned by Finns.

"It's an old and widely spread legend, but before us, nobody has shown school books to the public.", Fejes explains via e-mail.

There's no consensus on what's the origin of the Hungarian language, according to the new theory.

"The anti-Finno-Ugrics don't seem to be able to decide if they're from Egypt, Mesopotamia or the Philippines. Everything goes, as long as it's not Finno-Ugric", says Laakso.

Annele Apajakari, who worked for the Finnish Navy in Hungary, met the language relative problem often. She says it's mostly a difference between generations.

"Hungarians 35 years old or older who went to school in the old system, know Kalevala (the Finnish national epic) and Väinämöinen (its main hero).", she says.

The younger Hungarians have different views.

"Once I said that our languages are related, and people laughed at me. A good friend of mine, who is well educated and 26 years old said, that no, Hungarians descend from the Schythians, an Asian warrior nation."

Hungarians don't have anything against Finns, though - on the contrary. Apajakari says that Hungarians still think very positively of the Finns.

Our common linguistic roots just don't happen to fit the new patriotic history, since there are more glorious options on the table.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

The audience demands blood

On a reader's request, today's topic is menstruation:

Or rather, different expressions for "that time of a month" (which is a popular but lame euphemism found in many languages).

The prude Germans say "die Tage" (the days) or "besuch von Tante Irma" (aunt Irma is visiting). Or: "die Roten kommen" (the red army is coming).

In Finnish, the 99% use case is covered by the slang word "menkat" (etymology obvious). And for language usage situations which demand a bit unclearer expression, we have "puolukkapäivät" meaning "lingonberry days".

I've also heard a rumour that in Finnish mothers' website, in a support group for people who try to get pregnant, they use the expression "Schumi kurvaa paikalle punaisella autollaan", meaning "Schumi (Michael Schumacher) drives in with his red car".

In Italian, instead of Aunt Irma, their cousin Giorgio comes to visit. Poor guys called Giorgio!

But it's not much better for Finnish men called Jorma or men from English speaking countries called Dick (or Richard). (For the uninitiated in the Finnish language, these two mean the same thing.)

And to move from the euphemisms to bad language puns, the fellow German learners, or elementary school students reading this blog might... oh, whatever.

For understanding the following joke, you need to know that die Regel means not only a rule, but also menstruation. And Bauernregel, a farmer's rule, like what kind of weather on a certain day causes other type of weather on some other day.

Anyway, to the joke:

"Was ist rot und liegt auf dem Feld? Eine alte Bauernregel."

Based on this information, you will also understand this one:

"In der Regel hatten Wikinger rote Bärte."

For the record, the same person that told me these two jokes also told this one:

"Ein Reh bricht aus dem Wald. Blarrrghh." (German learners: brechen = kotzen.)

Do you start to see a pattern?

Anyway, back to the topic.

Apropos blood: Finnish and Hungarian are related languages, but we cannot understand each other and we have very few common words. The word for blood, vér in Hungarian and veri in Finnish, is one of the few words we still share.

I'm aware that making this blog post will increase the inflow of bad jokes insanely. I need to make the following statement:

Menstruation jokes are not funny. Period.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Case closed

A standard whine of non-Germans trying to learn German are the cases for nouns.

German has four cases (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive nominative, genitive, dative, accusative (*)). In contrast, we have 15 cases in Finnish. (But we have very few prepositions. This is why I can never get my prepositions right in English.)

(*) My colleague Herr Doktor E. points out that the cases need to be in this order. In school they're learned in this order, and for example genitive is referred to as "the second case".

The four German cases are used like this:

Nominative: the subject
Der Mann sitzt auf der Bank. (The man is sitting on the bench.)

Accusative: the direct object, and used with a fixed list of prepositions
Ich sehe den Mann. (I see the man).
Ich komme nicht ohne meinen Mann. (I won't come without my husband.)

Dative: the indirect object, and used with a fixed list of prepositions
Ich gebe dem Mann das Buch. (I give the book to the man.)
Ich wohne mit meinem Mann. (I live with my husband.)

Genitive: possession, and used with a fixed list of prepositions.
Das Buch des Mannes ist groß. (The book of the man is big.)
Ich habe nie wegen meines Mannes geweint. (I have never cried because of my husband.)

The fifteen Finnish cases are used like this:

Nominative: the subject
Mies istuu penkillä. (A/the man is sitting on a bench.)

Accusative: the object of a completed action
Söin omenan. (I ate an apple (all of it).)
Ammuin miehen. (I shot a man (and he died).)

Partitive: the object of an incomplete action
Syön omenaa. (I'm eating an apple (but I haven't eaten all of it yet).)
Ammuin miestä. (I shot a man (but he didn't die).)

Genitive: possession
Sen miehen koira on tuolla. (That man's dog is there.)

Essive: being like something, expressions related to time
Miehenä minun täytyy sanoa, että... (As a man, I have to say that...)
Kauniina päivänä on hauskaa olla ulkona. (On a beautiful day it's fun to be outside.)

Translative: transforming into something.
En voi muuttua mieheksi. (I cannot transform into a man.)

Inessive: in
talossa (in a house)

Elative: from
talosta (from a house)

Illative: into
taloon (into a house)

Adessive: on
Istun penkillä. (I'm sitting on a bench.)

Ablative: "on-from"
Nousen penkiltä (I'm getting up from a bench.)

Allative: "onto"
Istu penkille! (Sit down on a bench!)

Comitative: "with my/your/..."
Menen ulos koirineni. (I'll go outside with my dogs.)

Instructive: "with the help of something"
Viihdytin lapsia pelein ja kirjoin. (I entertained the kids with games and books.)

As a bonus, we get to combine a lot of stuff into the endings of nouns. Like this:

taloissammekin = talo - i - ssa - mme - kin = house - plular - in  - our - too = in our houses too

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Learning by mistake

Learning from your mistakes is the most painful and the most efficient way to learn.

Learning from other people's mistakes is way more entertaining.

For example, when playing card games with Germans, in English, I noticed that the Germans "mix" the cards and "give" them (instead of shuffling and dealing them). So it must be "die Karten mischen" and "die Karten geben" in German. In trick games, you might hear Germans saying "stitch" instead of "trick", because it's "Stich" in German.

In the morning, German students stand up and then they learn the whole day, so, aufstehen = get up, and lernen = study. As a hobby, they might "make photos" instead of taking them ("ein Foto machen"). By the way, Hungarians do the same. And they cannot distinguish between "come" and "go". This will be helpful if I ever want to learn Hungarian.

I was chatting with a German friend once, and he used the word "overhear" in a way that didn't really fit the context. I figured that "überhören" must be a German word, checked it from, and indeed, it means "to miss", in the sense of "to ignore a remark", "eine Bemerkung überhören". The same happened with another friend and "überlesen" vs. "overread". For the record, overhear is "(zufällig) mithören",  so if I ever (over)hear somebody saying "withhear", I know what they mean.

Germans also say "to" when they mean "too" (to run, too difficult). It just dawned on me, that in German they actually are the same word. ("It's too difficult to run" - "Es ist zu schwierig zu rennen.")

Not all mistakes are as enlightening though. For example, Germans often mix "some" and "any", for example say "I didn't do something" when they mean "I didn't do anything". I don't yet have any insights (or should I say "some insights") into why they do that. Similar constructs exist in German too.

I feel so culturally adjusted when I accidentally say "become" when I mean "get" (in German "bekommen"). Can I get the nationality faster if I make such embarrassing mistakes?

PS. In many cases, the German way of saying things and the Finnish way of saying things are similar, and the English way is different. Like, in English you can say "no idea", but in German you say "keine Ahnung" instead of "keine Idee", and in Finnish too, "ei aavistustakaan" instead of "ei ideaa". It's so annoying when I say things wrong because I try to use the English way when speaking German, whereas I would've got it right by translating directly from my native language.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

About animals and things

German compound nouns range from weird to cute to hilarious. Personally, I like -tier and -zeug endings a lot.

Fellow German learners, enjoy the following list of animals:

Faultier - lazy animal - a sloth
Pantoffeltier / Pantoffeltierchen - small slipper animal - paramecium
Urtier - origin animal - protozoa
Bärtierchen - small bear animal - tardigrade / waterbear
Gürteltier - belt animal - armadillo
Nagetier - gnaw animal - rodent
Säugetier - suck animal - mammal
Murmeltier - murmur animal - groundhog
Rentier - ? - reindeer
Stinktier - smell animal - skunk
Schnabeltier - beak animal - platypus
Kuscheltier - cuddle animal - stuffed toy
Schlaftier - sleep animal - ("soft toy" (*), a toy that kids cuddle to help them fall asleep)

(*) Is this what it is called?

And the following list of things (**):

(**) Some people say that "Zeug" would be more accurately "equipment" or "stuff". But since this is kitchen linguistics, we'll use "thing".

Fahrzeug - drive thing - vehicle
Luftkissenfahrzeug - air pillow travel thing - hovercraft
Flugzeug - fly thing - plane
Spielzeug - play thing - toy
Schwimmzeug - swim thing - swimming gear
Feuerzeug - fire thing - lighter
Schlagzeug - hit thing - drum kit
Werkzeug - work thing - tool
Teufelszeug - devil's thing - stuff of the devil

Monday, 25 February 2013

Fur gloves in a basket

If your relationship ends If you get rejected in German, you'll "get a basket". Namely, to "give a basket" (einen Korb geben) means to dump reject somebody.

On the other hand, if you get rejected in Finnish, you'll get a pair of gloves, typically fur gloves, instead. "To give gloves" (antaa rukkaset) means to reject somebody, for example, reject a proposal. 

If it was good riddance, you might have just avoided being "under the slipper" (unter dem Pantoffel stehen, olla tossun alla) in both languages. That typically means the position of a husband of a bossy wife.

After avoiding all those traps, Finnish couples still need to fight over who "decides where to place the wardrobe" (näyttää kaapin paikan), that is, the partner who makes the decisions in the relationship. In English and German, it's more important who "wears the pants" or "hat die Hosen an".

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Found in translation

There are two words which have been curiously mistranslated from Swedish to Finnish:

1) Domkyrka (tuomiokirkko). Dom = dome, but also doom, and kyrka = church. So, it means "dome church" in Swedish, but it was translated to Finnish as if it was "doom church". (The Finnish words for "dome", "kupoli", and "doom", "tuomio", are not similar to each other.)

2) Svartsjuk (mustasukkaisuus). Svart = black, sjuk = sick, and "blacksick" in Swedish means "jealous". But "sick" sounds like "sock" (and "sjuk" sounds like the Finnish word for sock, "sukka"), so it was translated to "black socked".

I wonder if this phenomenon exists between other languages!

(I've heard that the "glass slipper" in Cinderella would be a mistranslation of "fur slipper", but I'm not so sure if it's true... )

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Tuesday greasy

Today is Mardi Gras, literally, "greasy Tuesday", or "Tuesday greasy", to be more accurate, since some languages like to put the noun first and the adjective second, and use other Yoda-like constructs. In English, it's apparently "Shrove Tuesday" or "Fat Tuesday".

In German, it's part of Fasching or Fastnacht, which, etymologically, derive from fasting.

In Finnish, the word "laskiainen", a word similar to descent ("lasku") or descending ("laskeutua"). Religious entities claim that "laskiainen" means descending from normal life to fasting. Ask anybody else, and the answer is that it refers to the most popular Mardi Gras amusement, descending down a hill on a pulk (yes, it is an English word, comes from the Finnish "pulkka").

Linguistics aside, a fun cultural fact: Fasching in Germany looks very much like 1st of May in Finland, in terms of people wearing funny clothes.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

16 shades of white

It's an urban legend that Eskimos have an unusually large amount of words for snow.  

I wanted to prove that there are not that many words for snow in Finnish, and I started listing the words which are part of my active vocabulary. When I got to the "word for snow stuck under a hoof of a horse", I knew it wasn't a great success.

Snow in different temperatures:
loska, sohjo (slush, between snow and water, on the ground)
räntä (sleet, between snow and water, when it's falling from the sky)
suvilumi, suojalumi (moist snow, occurs when the temperature is close to 0 C or above, ideal for building snow castles)
pakkaslumi (lightweight snow when the temperature is considerably below 0 C)
puuterilumi (powder-like, very lightweight snow, this term is mostly used by snowboarders)

Snow formations, snow in different places:
tykkylumi (semi-moist snow which piles on trees or roofs)
hanki (even layer of snow covering the ground)
hankiainen (the crust of such a layer, but only when it's hard enough to walk on)
kinos (snow piles formed by the wind or such)
tiera, tilsa (snow stuck under the hoof of a horse, bottom of a ski, or a similar place)

Ice formations, ice in different places:
kuura (frost on the ground)
huurre (frost in other places)
kuurankukka (snowflake-like ice formation on a glass pane)
riite (very thin ice on a lake)

For the curious, here is a longer list of snow-related words in Finnish, but most of them are not even part of my passive vocabulary.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

What rains?

When "it rains" or "es regnet", have you ever thought about what rains? Soon you will know.

It's the Numen.

Numen is an all-encompassing spirit, will, or entity, which is omnipresent and does things like raining or snowing, whenever it feels like it.

In Finnish, we don't have numen, but we just say "Rains." ("Sataa.") which suits our terse way of expressing ourselves just fine. We can also say "Outside rains." ("Ulkona sataa."), but "outside" is not the subject of the sentence; a more accurate translation would be "Rains outside.". We don't have a word for the verb "snow", so we just say "Rains snow." ("Sataa lunta."), but snow is again not the subject of the sentence, but the object. All these are perfectly valid Finnish sentences, even though the last two are a bit more verbose than we'd like to.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Frisur egal

The other day I went to a hairdresser to get a haircut. They didn't really speak English, so I tried to handle the situation with my incomplete German.

I explained that I want my hair "ein bisschen kürtzer, aber nicht zu viel... ich möchte einen, err... uh... Ponytail (waving hands) machen". They looked at me in confusion, then: "Ahh! Pferdeschwanz!" My strategy of just using the English word, trying to pretend it's a German word, didn't quite cut it. It was quite close though (ponytail vs. horsetail).

I told about this to a German friend, and he said that das der Pony is a different kind of hairstyle, in English fringe. (Did you know that word? I didn't.) That was a close call!

The discussion then moved on to Vokuhila which is a German word for a horrible hairstyle (vorne kurz, hinten lang).

And as always, there is a third level, when I told yet another group of German friends about these discussions. One of them told this joke: "Suche einen Mann mit Pferdeschwanz, Frisur egal."

I'm not going to translate it.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Nun fließt dein rotes Blut

I got my hands on a German piano practice book for kids (Das Erste Klavierbuch, The first piano book).

It contains the following merry song:

"Ein Jäger, ein Jäger, der ging wohl in den Wald, und fröhlich, und fröhlich gar bald sein Jagdhorn schallt. 

Da kam ein junger Has' daher, der Jäger traf ihn gut. Ach Häslein, ach Häslein, nun fließt dein rotes Blut."

Freely translated to English:

"A hunter, a hunter, was walking in the woods. And merrily, and merrily, his hunting horn did toot.

A young rabbit came from the woods, was right away shot. Oh bunny, oh bunny, now flows your red blood."

(Competing translations are encouraged!)

Conclusion: Germany has its own idea about age-appropriate content.

Friday, 25 January 2013

verbify(body part) =

In many languages, the word "kiss" has nothing to do with the word "mouth". In Finnish it of course has.

We have a grammatical construct for verbifying body parts and other nouns. This is how it works:

verbify(mouth) = kiss (suu - suudella)
verbify(hand) = shake hands (käsi - kätellä)
verbify(eye) = look at something carelessly (silmä - silmäillä)
verbify(head) = deduce (pää - päätellä)
verbify(foot) = take a small walk, get some fresh air (jalka - jaloitella)
verbify(finger) = touch lightly (sormi - sormeilla)

Logical, right? How about these:

verbify(thumb) = tamper with (peukalo - peukaloida)
verbify(nerve) = fret (hermo - hermoilla)
verbify(knee) = zigzag (polvi - polveilla)
verbify(wing) = freeride (siipi - siipeillä)
verbify(jaw) = make bad puns (leuka - leukailla)
verbify(cunt) = piss off verbally (vittu - vittuilla)
verbify(ass) = be annoying / screw up (perse - perseillä)

And a very recent addition to the Finnish language:
verbify(boob) = breastfeed (tissi - tissitellä)

Verbified body parts also exist in English:
to hand: "can you hand me that paper"
to mouth: "he mouthed two words"
to eye: "X said she eyed Y for the role"
to stomach: "that's quite hard to stomach"
to cock: "he cocked his head to the side"

Before you rush to comment "But that's not a verbified body part!!1!", I know! This tongue-in-cheek addition was necessary to maintain the pseudoscientific touch of the blog.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Iron teeth

During a random kitchen discussion with a guest (German), we discovered that both in German and in Finnish, the first set of teeth is called "milk teeth" (Milchzähne, maitohampaat). 

But the second set has a way cooler name in Finnish: they're called "iron teeth" (rautahampaat). In German they are boringly "bleibende Zähne", and in English, correspondingly, permanent teeth.

Eisenzähne, anybody?


The English Wikipedia calls the first set of teeth "primary teeth", but "milk teeth" gives some Google hits, too. Some dictionaries claim it is a metaphor for "period of infancy". Maybe the native English speaker blog readers can tune in and tell what "milk teeth" usually means, if anything.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cake in the oven

Kitchen linguistics, noun: Amateurish and/or scientifically incompetent half-humorous linguistic and etymological discussions over breakfast or a cup of tea. Origin: in Finnish, "kitchen psychology" is a negative term used for non-scientific psychological discussions / advice, for example, self help books.

Kitchen linguistics has been a long-term hobby of my better half and me. We live in Germany, are studying German, speak English at work and with our friends, and try to keep up with the latest Finnish street-cred-increasing phrases. This creates a lovely linguistic confusion which provides food for thought, and material for this blog.

Today's topic: Placenta. Surprisingly, the word for placenta has something to do with cake in many languages.

It started when a Romanian friend of ours informed us that in Romanian, there is a cake called Plăcintă. And indeed, the origin of the English word placenta is a Latin word meaning cake.

I explained this to a German friend, and he pointed out that in German, the word for placenta is Mutterkuchen (mother-cake).

The third instance of this discussion occurred at a dinner table at work (attendees: a German, a Hungarian, a Finn, a Czech, and a Romanian), where we concluded that the saying "a bun in the oven" should be updated to be "a cake in the oven", to be more accurate.