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Finnish words and their (funny) direct translations

January 3, 2007
I’ve lived here for over eight years now and I have a bit of a handle on the Finnish language. I’ve never had much of an affinity for languages – I was terrible at French in high school. So even though I have lived here so long, I still consider Finnish a nightmare – even worse when people start speaking in dialects I can’t get my head around! Like when my mother and father-in-law start speaking Savo. Don’t get me started…
In any case there are lots of fun words out there, especially when you translate them directly from Finnish to English. Here’s a few for you:
  • arpakuutio – lottery cube (=dice, one of my students said “lottery cube” one day in class and I just about died laughing)
  • sekasorto – mixed oppression (=chaos)
  • hiihtoputki – ski tube
  • joulupukki – “Christmas goat” is the direct translation – but we’re talking about SANTA CLAUS here!
  • vaara – means a hill or a rise (only in some parts of Finland), but also refers to a danger or a hazard
  • kurkku – throat… or cucumber – very strange…
  • One of my students threw in his contribution when we were talking about food: ground beef – maa liha (earth meat)…
One of my colleagues at work gave me this one (I killed myself laughing):
Liian pitkä sana kylttiin: (A word too long for a sign)
Aamupalaverihuone (Room for morning meetings)
Olisiko pitänyt miettiä toisen kerran ennen sanan jakamista: (Was there a second thought to this before the word was broken up?)
Now if you understand Finnish – think HARD about this one… It actually reads:
Blood room
So let that be a warning on how you hyphenate words in Finnish – you never know what you’ll end up with!
Something that almost always causes a misunderstanding for me is when a Finn tells me that he / she / someone they know “broke” something. I immediately think, “Damn, broken <insert body part here>, that must have hurt.” With a bit more probing into the issue, I often find out that, no, <named person> didn’t break anything, it was only a twisted, strained, bruised <body part>. In English there is a (big) perceived difference between something that is strained, sprained, etc. vs. something that is broken.
The Mr. has told me many stories about when he was younger (read: crazier) and how he broke such and such body parts when he was hanging out with his buddies or playing sports. In fact the Mr. has never broken a bone in his body – but it sure sounds like he has!
Lesson to be learned: Keep your ears open and ask lots of questions!
2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2007 8:52 pm

    Hey there Carmen, Long time no hear.
    How are you doing? Languages are difficult. I have been learning and teaching Emerald  sign language. I love it and she has been picking up really fast.  I love the photos you have posted.
    Hope to hear from you soon.

  2. Noomi permalink
    May 17, 2016 2:32 pm

    Ahaha! I am a Finnish born Australian & both my parents Finnish so I speak English & Finnish. I found this very funny to read (I would say I am fluent in both languages, other than a few modern & technical words that I may not have come across as most of my Finnish has come from speaking with a small group of Finns in Australia & my parents, and then at school in Finland for a year.) It’s true that Finnish to English meanings can be very different to direct/literal transelations. I often type words into Google for fun just to see how ridiculous they end up.

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