Friday, 12 December 2014


I just recently learned that "der After" in German means... well, butthole. If you're a Finn, this should ring a bell; "ahteri" in Finnish means butt in general (and also the back part of a ship).

It's a mystery how I managed to live in Germany for almost 4 years without bumping into this word. Even more mysterious is how Germans manage to eat After Eight with a straight face.

After this realization, many English concepts acquire unexpected side meanings. For example, "aftershave" might mean something completely different to Germans and the English speaking world.

I had also wondered previously why many German-speaking countries use the French "après ski" instead of "after ski". Maybe this is the reason.

Speaking of butts, the Finnish post just recently published these stamps to honour Tom of Finland, the artist who basically invented the leather-driven gay style.

Too bad I had just sent a bunch of unnecessary but required papers to the tax office when I got my set of stamps. I really had to fight the urge to re-send the papers, just in case, and of course with the stamp pictured on the right side.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Life is short, mostly dark and gloomy

Christmas is almost here!

To understand better the weird culture I'm coming from, you can have a look at some popular Finnish Christmas Carols (short summaries in English).

Downside: The list is depressingly accurate: most Finnish Christmas carols are exactly like this. There are only few which are neutral instead of outright melancholic, as in, they're not directly mentioning death, poverty or misery. All the cheerful ones are imports and frowned upon by real Finns.

Upside: There are metal versions for most of the songs.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Put out the wrong way

There's an incredibly useful Finnish phrase which I'd really need in other languages too, but it doesn't exist, as far as I can tell.

Here it goes: "put out the wrong way" ("väärin sammutettu") as in, the fire was put out but it was done the wrong way. It is used for mocking a situation where someone cannot legitimately criticize the end result but they criticize the process instead.

The story behind is that a fire brigade is pissed off because a volunteer fire brigade got to the scene first and put out the fire. The real fire brigade arrives and the chief says that the volunteers did put out the fire, but they did it the wrong way.

In everyday life, it can be used like this:

"Isn't this cake delicious?"
"Well yes, but did you really need to use all three bowls for making it?"
"... put out the wrong way."

It's especially useful in kitchens since there are many ways to cook, and the taste should matter more than how the cooking was done.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Get well well

Subjected to boredom, brains tend to generate random thoughts. Here's one from me and one from my better half (you can try to guess which is which).

1) In most languages you say "Get well soon", but in German you say "Gute Besserung", to wish that Besserung (the process of getting well) is not quick but... good. So literally this means "Get well well". Why would the Germans say that? How can the Besserung not be gut?

2) If Big Bang Theory had a porn parody (link NSFW obviously), what would it be called? It cannot be called Big Bang Theory because the original series is already called that. Big BANG Theory?

Thursday, 13 November 2014


I'd like to tell you about a funny language situation that happened in a suburban train this week. I boarded the train after a middle-age-plus woman. She walked along the aisle, looking for a seat. There was an empty one, she didn't take it, so I took it. Then she changed her mind, turned back, saw that I had taken the seat, and mumbled: "... Wurst..." (sausage). I was so proud that I understood why she would mumble that! ("Wurst" = "egal" = "the same" = something you don't care about. "Es ist mir Wurst" = "It's sausage to me" = "I don't care about it".) I'm sure that would've utterly confused me 3 years ago. Why would the lady mumble "sausage"?

Next topic: random things people tell me because I have a language blog.

1) Apropos mnemonics

There's a German memonic: MesseR - Rechts (knife - right) + GabeL - Links (fork - left), so, when setting a table, the knife goes to the right and the fork to the left.

And a Finnish joke about a mnemonic: Why do women like to drive a Volvo? Because it has such a handy mnemonic on the steering wheel: VolvO, V like "vasemmalle" (to the left) and O like "oikealle" (to the right). Notable was that this joke was told by a German, and I had never heard of it before.

2) Apropos comma and its usefulness in marriages

By the way, an offensive Finnish expression for somebody who pays too much attention to detail is literally "comma fucker" (pilkunnussija). An almost equivalent German term is "Korinthenkacker" (raisin pooper).

There are plenty of creative ways to insult people in German. For example, you can say that someone is a "Schattenparker" (somebody who parks his car in the shade), "Warmduscher" (somebody who takes warm showers), Frauenversteher (somebody who understands women), Jeans-Bügler (somebody who irons his jeans) or Handschuhschneeballwerfer (somebody who throws snowballs with his gloves on).

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

More entertainment

Hi there, friends of kitchenlinguistics, and greetings from France.

By the way, the alleged inability and / or unwillingness of the French people to speak English is not true.

In the last post I relayed a traffic joke ("Straßenunterhaltung"), so here's a traffic sign in France which German-speaking people might find funny:

The actual theme for today's post is: jokes which require knowing multiple languages to be funny (and even then it's questionable).

This kind of loose or awkward connection between topics is called a "donkey's bridge" ("aasinsilta") in Finnish. The term is clearly adopted from German ("Eselsbrücke"), but it means something different in German: "a clever method used to remember something".

So here's a joke from my husband:

"What's the slogan for French low-carb enthusiasts? No pain, no gain."

(Pain = bread in French.)

And one from me:

"Penis size is not normally distributed. There is a long tail."

("Tail" in German, "Schwanz", is a slang word for penis.)

I tried to think how to end this post smoothly, but I couldn't come up with anything. What's the word for a clumsy or an awkward ending?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Full body sweat

My better half and me fear that our Finnish will over time become a relic of how Finnish was in 2011 when we moved out of the country. We won't lose the language, because we still speak it together (as much as married people speak, anyway), but at some point we will hopelessly lose touch with how it's used in Finland.

To prevent this, we often ask our Finnish visitors to give us an update on what's going on in the new language. One time it resulted in a hilarious sweat-related conversation which I will relay here.

In the summer, your might sweat so much that dark spots appear in your T-shirt around your armpits. In modern Finnish, these spots are apparently called "policemen" (poliisit).

Then the discussion turned into Finnish sweat-related army slang. It turns out that there are several handy slang words for describing how exactly you are sweating.

For example:

kahi - kainalohiki - armpit sweat
pehi - persehiki - ass sweat
muhi - munahiki - dick sweat (*)
pahi - pallihiki - ball sweat
kovahi - kokovartalohiki - full body sweat

(*) Literally, muna means "egg", but it's a slang word for dick. It makes no sense. I am so sorry.

It would be much more logical if egg would refer to testicles, like it does in other languages (for example German). There must have been a linguistic confusion at some point.

The only explanation I have is that the plural "eggs" (munat) means the male genital area in general, and somehow it then happened that the singular then started to mean the most prominent body part in the area.

The upside is that this provides endless amusement for our weekend breakfasts which often involve eggs in one form or another. Every time we come up with at least 3-5 egg-related statements or jokes. It never gets old.

Thursday, 3 July 2014


The only purpose of this post is to route bad puns.

So I got this picture from a German friend of mine. He thought I would find it funny, which I did.

I immediately thought of a colleague of mine who actively reads this blog and who will surely find this funny too. So here you go.

(If you don't speak enough German to understand the "joke", I'm sorry. It's too dry to be explained.)

I'll route here another joke which is funnier but unintentional. During last year's Oktoberfest, the Munich police thanked neighboring countries for collaboration (the last paragraph on the page). Or at least tried to.

"Das Polizeipräsidium München begrüßt die engagierte Unterstützung aus Italien und Frankreich. Polizeivizepräsident Robert Kopp ergänzt dazu: "Diese gemeinsamen Steifen sind ein sichtbares Zeichen einer beispielhaften internationalen polizeilichen Zusammenarbeit. Wir freuen uns, dass wir diese auch heuer in der bewährten Form fortsetzen können.""

"The Munich police headquarters welcome the dedicated support from Italy and France. Police vice president Robert Kopp adds: "These joint patrols boners are a visible sign of exemplary international police collaboration. We're happy that we can continue in this established form this year too.""

Taken into account that most women visiting Oktoberfest wear Dirndls...

... that is somewhat easy to believe.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Not Bad!

German can sometimes be confusing, if you know English.

Do not worry, that is a stop (Not = emergency).

And this is a pretty decent bathroom cleaning product (Bad = bath).

It goes the other way around too. A German friend of mine told that he was confused when working on smashthestack, a war game. Non-geeks, do not worry, you don't need to know what a war game is to find this funny (you only need to like puns, which you do, since you're reading this blog). Anyhow, the game has levels which are labeled like level01, level02, level03 etc. And then there was level03_alt. The German in question told me that first he just disregarded the level, because he thought it's just and old version (alt = old), and only later it occurred to him that this is actually English ("alternative"), not German.

Friday, 23 May 2014


You all know that rock bands like to insert random umlauts (the little dots) in their names, like Motörhead. But you might not know that a German band, die Ärzte ("doctors") - who have a legitimate Ä in their name - take typographic trolling one step further and write the Ä with three dots instead of two. The fictional band Spinal Tap takes it to the next level and puts the umlauts over the n.

But the rock world still has unused umlaut potential. For example, Janis Joplin could've written her first name as Jänis and at least 5 million people would find it hilarious - namely, jänis means hare in Finnish.

For a long time, I found it so weird that somebody would be called Janis. I only associated it with jänis, and only recently it dawned on me that it might have something to do with Janice.

My surname, Hölttä, has umlauts on its own, too. Both ä and ö are letters in the German alphabet, but still my name gets misspelled a lot in Germany. The most common misspelling is "Höllta", which I object for two reasons. Reason one, it brings the name closer to the German word for hell (Hölle). Reason two, it breaks the vowel harmony. Let me explain...

In Finnish, we have a thing called vowel harmony. It means that a, o, and u cannot occur in the same word as ä, ö and y. E and i can occur with both kinds of vowels. So, if you have used a in the first syllable of a word, there's no way you can use ä, ö or y in the next. Suffixes and such obey the harmony too, for example, "talo + ssa" (in a house) and "metsä + ssä" (in the woods).

Because a colleague of mine, Herr Doktor E., objects this notion, I need to specify that vowel harmony applies to the parts of compound words separately. For example, you can have a word like "herätyskello" (alarm clock) which consists of "herätys" (wake up) and "kello" (clock) and it's harmonic enough for our purposes. I'm not going to tell him that there is one exception to vowel harmony, namely "tällainen", which has probably evolved from "tämän lainen" (literally "this-alike").

The Estonian language is very close to Finnish, but doesn't obey vowel harmony. That's why Estonian sounds funny to us Finns. A bit like Dutch sounds funny to Germans.

Let's backtrack to my surname. It has been unscientifically proven that people whose names are closer to the beginning of the alphabet are more successful in lifeAnd I remember hearing about a tech company where all the interns' surnames started with A...

When I married and took my husband's surname, I took a step in the wrong direction: my maiden name began with "Ha", and "Hö" is slightly worse. But moving to Germany was clearly a wise choice - in Finnish å, ä, and ö are in the end of the alphabet (so we have a, .., z, å, ä, ö), but in Germany ö is next to o.

Å, by the way, is a Swedish letter which denotes a sound that used to be a, but has shifted towards o due to the vowel shift. It is pronounced as o.

I think vowel shift is a great thing. Germans, of course, wanted to be special, so they did a consonant shift instead.

If Germans need to use German in an environment without umlauts, they tend to replace ä with ae and ö with oe. Finns, subjected to the same conditions, just replace ä with a and ö with o. If you want to guess my e-mail address, this is the key to the success. One exception though: the word "näin" means "I met (somebody)" (literally: "I saw") and the word "nain" means "I fucked (somebody)". In that case, clever Finns transform "näin" to "naein". Three consecutive vowels - beautiful!

There is also a slightly artificial Finnish word, "hääyöaie" (hää - yö - aie), which means "wedding night intention". I'm not going to try to use it a sentence.

The vowel boundaries cause confusion between speakers of different languages. The other day, I used the German word "weniger", and I got back a comment that I should say "weniger" and not "wäniger". I sincerely thought I said "weniger", but the boundary between e and ä doesn't lie in the same place in Finnish and in German. If I carefully say e, it will be perceived as e by Germans, but if I'm sloppy, it will be perceived as ä. And when Hungarians say my name, it sounds as if they were saying Moorja instead of Marja.

There is a rumour that Germans cannot distinguish between the Finnish words "herkkä" (sensitive) and "härkä" (bull). You can try it out yourself! (Use the "listen" button.)  And ignore the translation, it is wrong. Correct translation would be "a sensitive bull".

Monday, 12 May 2014

Cousin's godparent's namesake

I mentioned earlier in a comment that Finnish words for relatives are much more complicated than the corresponding English ones. Let me expand that a bit.

I already wrote that we have a different word for uncle, depending on whether he's your mother's brother ("eno") or your father's brother ("setä"). The word for aunt is the same ("täti"), independent of whether she's your mother's or father's sister. You also need to specify whether nieces and nephews are your brother's or sister's kids (they're just called "sister's daughter", "sister's son" etc.) This caused great difficulties when Donald Duck was published in Finnish. Initially, Donald was translated as "setä" (uncle from father's side) of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and they were Donald's "veljenpojat" (nephews from brother's side). But then Don Rosa started publishing the comics expanding the history of the duck family. It turned out that Donald is actually "eno" of Huey, Dewey and Louie, and the translators were in trouble. They decided to keep using "setä" nevertheless. and only use "eno" in the historical comics, where it really matters.

In Swedish, it's important to specify whether your grandfather or grandmother is from the father's side ("farfar" / "farmor") or from your mother's side ("morfar" / "mormor"). English and German don't distinguish between them, and in Finnish we have a set of side-neutral words (which literally mean grandfather / grandmother): "isoisä" and "isoäiti", but we can also specify it if we want to ("isänisä", "isänäiti", "äidinisä", "äidinäiti").

There's an additional Finnish word which is closely associated to the words for relatives, namely "kaima" - somebody who has the same name as you. It's almost like namesake, but namesake - according to Wikipedia - means especially somebody / something that has been named after somebody. "Kaima" doesn't share this meaning - it means especially somebody who has the same name by coincidence.

Instead of godfather and godmother we have god-aunt, "kummitäti", and god-uncle-from-the-father's-side, "kummisetä".

The expression "serkun kummin kaima" (cousin's godparent's namesake) means a distant relative who you feel like you should include in your Christmas card sending list but you don't want to, or a relative who you're not sure how exactly you're related to.

Like in English, we call siblings who only share one parent with you half brothers ("velipuoli") and half sisters ("siskopuoli"). That's logical, since they share half of your blood, in a way. But we also call step parents "half parents": "äitipuoli" (lit. mother half) and "isäpuoli" (lit. father half). That makes no sense.

And to keep up with the "words and expressions they don't teach you in school" undercurrent of this blog, there is a cute almost-relative name in Finnish, which is very hard to translate: napalanko, literally "bellybutton (napa) brother-in-law (lanko)" (or maybe "brother in bellybutton"). It means a person who is two steps away from you in the sexual relation network, and as the name suggests, your "napalanko"s are men who have had sex with the same person as you (before, after or at the same time, doesn't matter). Theoretically, the same term for women would be "napakäly" (bellybutton sister in law) but it's not widely used.

The corresponding German term is much more obscene: der Lochbekannte, literally meaning "hole acquaintance". I don't even dare to think what the female term would be. With the Finnish term, it's obvious that the gender of the person you're talking about matters, that is, you need to refer to him or her as sister in law or brother in law, but in the German world view, it seems that the gender of the pivot person is more important.

I am not aware of the corresponding terms in any other language and googling failed me. Maybe it's better this way. But if this term exists in your mother tongue, or in a language you know, feel free to comment.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Is H a dirty letter?

I was reading a book "Facts and Fallacies of Software Engineering". It said there that the author would've wanted to call the book "Fifty-Five Frequently Forgotten Fundamental Facts and a Few Fallacies", and people would then call it "The F-Book". But the publisher said that F is a dirty letter, and while D and H are also dirty, F is clearly the dirtiest letter of the alphabet and this is unacceptable.

I can understand why F is a dirty letter, and I can also somewhat understand why D is a dirty letter, but I have really hard time coming up with any frequently used dirty words that begin with H. The only ones I can think of are "ho" and "hump", but I think I'm missing something... native speakers (or non-native speakers), please help me out!

Sunday, 9 February 2014


The blog is not dead. Or if it was, it's resurrected now.

A colleague of mine was posting to Google+ about Verkehr, which is a German word that makes childish foreigners giggle in so many ways. It means "traffic", at least most of the time. But then there is a hilarious word Geschlechtsverkehr, literally "gender traffic", which means (sexual) intercourse. In some contexts, plain "Verkehr" has this meaning, too. You got to appreciate the potential for bad jokes here - it's much greater than in English.

So in this context, I want to relay two jokes from my husband from his early German learning days:

1) "Fernverkehr (long-distance traffic)? That's like cybering, right?"

2) "Ersatzverkehr (substitute traffic)? That's when your wife is not at home, right?"