Sunday, 1 November 2015


Being a bit of a name geek, choosing a name for our kid was a Thing. Not a thing that requires long discussions - I believe that big decisions are best made on a whim. We chose an international name, and a colleague of mine, Mr C., was disappointed that we didn't use the opportunity to give a weird Finnish name with a lot of vowels and umlauts. And indeed, we could've chosen a name like Aino, Päivi, Päivä, Aija, Eija, Aila, Eila, Tuula or even Unnaluuna if we went really overboard, or for a boy, Kyösti, Päiviö, Yrjö (see below), Yrjänä, Pyry, Syksy, Kuisma or Eino. Eino would've been a confusing name for Germans, since it's a boys' name but pronounced the same way as Aino which is a girls' name. Naming twins Eino and Aino would be really evil. For the English-speaking world, Finnish male names Kari and Toni have some confusion potential too.

In Germany, there's a shop called Yorma's. I find it hilarious and probably other Finns do too...

Jorma (which is probably pronounced the same way as Yorma, since the Finnish J is pronounced like Y in "yo", not like J in "jail") is a Finnish name, most popular in the generation born in 1940s - 1950s. Since then, it has acquired the side meaning of a penis (so it actually could be accurately translated as Dick) and understandably decreased in popularity.

A typical Jorma would look like this:

The picture is of a Finnish celebrity who is not called Jorma, but Juha.

You might have heard that in the US, a company leader of a big company is more probably called John than a woman. Finns made their own statistic: a Finnish company leader is more probably called Juha than a woman.

I promised more information about Yrjö, which is also an old Finnish name, with an even older sound than Jorma. Since its' peak times, it has acquired a side meaning of "puke". Curiously, it's also the Finnish translation of the name George from the times when people used to translate names. While I was pregnant, I threw up more than 130 times (I actually kept count, though there was one day when I lost count around 8), and we joked that if it's a boy, we'll name him Yrjö. Yrjö is also the middle name of my father, so we could've gotten away with it. Luckily (for her), we didn't get a boy.

The most common first name - last name combination in Finland is Timo Virtanen (see a list of other common combinations here). There are 233 of them. Timo Virtanen is a pretty boring name. A typical Timo Virtanen would look like this:

This again is a Finnish celebrity, who's not called Timo but Matti.

Matti is the Finnish version of John in the sense of "John / Jane Doe". in Finnish they are called "Matti / Maija Meikäläinen" (meikäläinen is an informal word for "one of us"). In German, "Max / Anne Mustermann" is used in many contexts. "Mustermann" is apparently translated "paragon", but since "paragon" was not part of my active vocabulary, I would've translated it as "Pattern-man" instead. For other languages, see here.

The page also contains similar placeholder names for things. I could write a separate blog post trying to explain a Finnish name for a generic, unspecified or unnecessary machine, "hilavitkutin", which makes no sense at all but sounds like a convincing name for a machine that actually does something (it will most probably "vitkuttaa" (verb) "hila"s (noun) but neither of them means anything sensemaking in this context).

I also want to note that this post is about given names, and there is a whole lot to say about surnames - I'll write a separate post about that. I won't write a post about naming volcanoes, since the Icelandic are giving them so ridiculous names, like Eyjafjallajökull, that there's nothing reasonable to say about the topic.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

The more the stupider?

There is a saying in English, "the more the merrier". In Finnish, there isn't an equivalent saying that I know of. Instead, we say "stupidity intensifies (lit. condenses) in a crowd" ("joukossa tyhmyys tiivistyy"). It means that people sometimes do stupid things in a group - things they wouldn't do alone.

It's probably not a surprise that Finns have a negative attitude towards groups, especially if you have seen this picture of a bus stop in Finland:

I think it's just wise to stand outside of the stabbing distance...

One American thing Finns ha-- umm... are not very fond of, is that a stranger might start a conversation with you in a grocery store. Stranger in this context is somebody you are not best friends with. We want to buy our groceries alone! (And wait for the bus alone.)

Finns consider "not disturbing people" one of the greatest virtues, and that's why we have such a restrictive social code regarding when it's okay to start a conversation (or even say hello). In many situations we assume that others want to be left alone and yet we secretly hope that somebody would socialize with us. So tragic.

I'm slowly getting used to the question "How are you doing" / "Wie geht's?" in the non-literal sense. For example, at work I try to answer with a cheerful "Oh, pretty good", as instructed by an American colleague. But I think I always have a stupid facial expression when I say it, so my colleagues probably think I'm crazy.

One very confusing situation is when a doctor greets me with this question, so... what am I supposed to answer? It feels so stupid to say I'm doing well - obviously I'm not doing well since I need to see a doctor!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Most pregnant

Since I've successfully finished being pregnant some time ago, here it comes: the pregnancy kitchen linguistics post!

In addition to having a bun in the oven, the word "pregnant" means "Having numerous possibilities or implications; full of promise; abounding in ability, resources", and the most common non-pregnancy-related usage is of course "a pregnant pause".

(Curiously, there are also comparative and superlative forms for "pregnant" - and at some point "most pregnant" was indeed very descriptive.)

However, the English word doesn't give justice to the 24/7/40 feeling of "kill me, kill me now" the same way the corresponding Finnish word does. "Raskaus" (pregnancy) means literally "heaviness", but in addition to "heavy", "raskas" can mean "tedious", "difficult", "painful", or "sad". The origin is maybe (this is kitchen linguistics so we don't really care) the Latin-based "gravidity" (note: gravity).

Side track: Germans, so politically correct. Before moving to Germany, when my husband was browsing jobs online, he saw job titles like "Software Engineer (m / w)" and asked me what "m / w" meant. I said "well, it could mean männlich / weiblich (male / female), but that would be a bit silly, I don't know...". Turns out it really means that. Names of occupations such as "Engineer" have a much stronger association to the male gender than in English, and if you use "Engineer" as is, it'll mean "male engineer". There are several linguistic and typographical hacks and forms of varying awkwardness to make words include both genders.

Another instance of German online political correctness can be found on university websites: Wintersemester is abbreviated "WS", but Sommersemester is abbreviated "SoSe". After a second, it's obvious why.

However, Germans have no problems with abbreviating Schwangerschaft (pregnancy) "SS" in the colloquial Internet. Once I felt slightly weird clicking a discussion thread link "Lachsschinken in der SS" (after googling whether it's allowed to eat this type of ham). For a moment I feared that the discussion might after all be about the culinary preferences of the said organization...

By the way, Germans also colloquially abbreviate Muttermund (cervix, literally "mother mouth") "MuMu", which is cutely creepy or creepily cute depending on which way you look at it.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Ludwig Theodor Theodor

In the last two weeks, I've had the following discussion almost every day (ton of paperwork, the post strike, missing letters, spelling difficulties).

"Heinrich, Ökonom, Ludwig, Theodor, Theodor, Ärger"
"Hä? Also Heinrich, Ökonom, Ludwig, Ludwig, Theodor..."
"Nein, Ludwig Theodor Theodor!"

So like this:

And not:

(How hard can it be?)

Here's a useful bit of information for non-Germans trying to get by in German: Buchstabiertafel. Curiously, Ä is Äquator, which is spelled with e in most countries (equator), the same for Ökonom (economist). And both Äquator and Ärger are pronounced with E, at least in my opinion (but I already observed that Finns and Germans perceive the boundary between Ä and E differently).

Thursday, 2 July 2015


The German media has found the Finnish word "kalsarikännit" and they apparently find it funny.

I wanted to offer a deeper look into this word, so that Germans and other non-Finns could appreciate the nuances better.

As explained, the word consists of two parts: "kalsari", the singular of "underpants" (kalsarit), and "kännit" (drunkenness). Especially, "kalsarit" refers to old-fashioned male underwear, in the 70s style.

It's also often associated with an essential garment in Finland, long underwear ("pitkät kalsarit"), worn by both genders.

Coincidentally, I'm posting this in July, which is the only month in Finland which you might be able to survive without long underwear.

"Kännit" (plural) or the singular "känni" is usually translated as "drunkenness", but the English word is not nearly as versatile as the Finnish one. For example, you can "take a känni / kännit" and that means getting drunk. You can also attach adjectives to it, e.g., "that was a horrible känni" to describe how it was being drunk. And when you're "in känni" ("kännissä"), you're drunk.

There's a well-known song "jouluaattona kännissä", "drunk in Christmas Eve". And because the French pronunciation is so weird, it sounds exactly the same as "jouluaattona Cannesissa", "Christmas Eve in Cannes". I think it's worth travelling to Cannes during Christmas time just to be able to use this joke in a Facebook status.

(This joke was ruthlessly stolen from my better half without asking him. Haha! Note: he should read the small print of our marriage agreement.)

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Your mileage may vary

I've always hated the English saying "your mileage may vary" because I intuitively misunderstand it every time I read it.

I associate "mileage" with experience. The more "mileage" a person has, the more experienced he/she is. To me the saying reads "you might disagree with the statement I made because you're so inexperienced". Every time. Even though I know it doesn't mean that, but simply "it may be different in your experience".

So it's a pretty annoying saying, in my opinion. YMMV.