Sunday, 1 May 2016

First of May spoonerisms

Happy First of May! In Finland, First of May is a huge carnival-like celebration. In Germany you barely notice it. We went for a First of May walk and all we saw was a red balloon and a pile of puke. Can't get much lamer than that.

And since First of May is also the day of bad student humor, this episode is about a category of bad jokes I often miss in my current language environment. Kitchen linguistics presents: sananmuunnos (word transform). Sananmuunnos jokes are all about dirty anatomical expressions straight from elementary school backyards, preferably combined with religious vocabulary, so if you don't like that kind of humor... why are you still reading this blog?

Seriously speaking, it's somewhat non-trivial to explain why such childish and inappropriate jokes are entertaining also for people who consider themselves intellectual. At the end of the blog, I'll tell my guess.

So, sananmuunnos works like this:

pehmeä nis (a soft bunny) - hmeä penis (a stiff penis)

There are a couple of extra rules for how diphthongs and long/short vowels work, then just a dash of vowel harmony... all of those come naturally to us Finns, a certain way to transform just "feels correct" (or produces a result that means something naughty).

An example of a Finnish sananmuunnos joke: "Vaikka piha on liukas niin pulu ei kaadu." (Even though the courtyard is slippery, the pigeon doesn't fall over.) It's left to the listener to find the applicable transforms, so the sentence becomes "Vaikka liha on piukas niin kalu ei puudu." (Even though the flesh is tight, the cock won't harden.)

Sananmuunnos jokes are similar to - but not the same as - spoonerism in English and Spoonerismus in German. Often they follow a slightly different logic than the Finnish ones:

"Three cheers for our queer old dean!" (rather than "dear old queen")

Or, the transformed version is something somebody accidentally says: "Ich werde zu deinem Geburtstag nachher noch Buchen kacken, äh, Kuchen backen." (I'd shit books… beech trees (Hello, I'm an idiot!) eh, bake a cake, for your birthday.)

In the pure Finnish sananmuunnos jokes, the transformed version is never said aloud.

Now that's the theory. To illustrate the importance of sananmuunnos to the Finnish society, I have two anecdotes.

The first one (link in Finnish): A colleague of my mother in law died, and he was famous enough to have an obituary published in the main newspaper. In addition to his day job as a teacher he was a sananmuunnos hobbyist. And so it was written in the obituary that he wrote a book Paljas uneksija ("Bare dreamer" - although "uljas paneksija" is "a brave fucker") under names "Rudolf Ankku" ("Adolf Runkku" means "Adolf Wank") and "Pertti Joffán" ("jortti peffaan" means "dick into butt"). "I'm not sure if such jokes are appropriate in an obituary", I commented. "That person's obituary wouldn’t have been appropriate without such jokes", said my mother in law.

The second one (link in Finnish): To increase the voting rate in the Finnish church elections, the Finnish (Lutheran) church published a video, written by an independent screenwriter, where animated characters were debating the role of the church in the modern society. One of the characters criticized the "musty masses" of the church. Only that "musty masses" (tunkkaiset messut) is a sananmuunnos of "menstruating pussies" (menkkaiset tussut). "Oops, we didn't realize", commented the representative of the church. "Maybe it's a sananmuunnos, maybe it’s not", said the screenwriter.

And finally, my guess on why all this is socially appropriate: since the naughty version is never said aloud, sananmuunnos allows Finns to use weird, cryptic and improbable expressions, and all the naughtiness is in the head of the listener. Maybe the listener won't notice and just thinks "well, that was a weird choice of words", or maybe he notices, and that creates a shared, secret joke between them.