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