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Finglish words and phrases that drive me nuts

March 2, 2015

Update:  After a proofread, I had to make some corrections to my own Finglish! 😛

I have been in Finland for a long time and long ago and far away I noticed the use of a few words/phrases by native Finnish speakers that drive me absolutely crazy when they speak / write in English. I see these a lot at work and when people have given me things to edit, I have darn near pulled my hair out.


There’s only a few, but here you go:

persons: “Last year QRST Corporation employed 450 persons globally.”

It should read something like: “Last year QRST Corporation employed 450 people worldwide.” I actually wrote an e-mail to the Plain English Campaign in the UK to ask about the use of the word “persons” in hopes they could tell that it was indeed acceptable. It is – and is not.

John Lister wrote to me:

“Persons and people are both linguistically acceptable as the plural of person. However, people is by far the more common in everyday language.

Persons is used very rarely, and only in very formal language. It’s probably more common among writers of English as a second language. This is partly because the writer may have learned English from very formal textbooks, and partly because it is linguistically more logical (adding the s to make a plural).

We would always prefer people because it is much more natural. The word persons will stand out and draw attention to the style of writing rather than the content. (In fact, the word stands out so much that it’s very
useful to use when spoofing ‘officialese’.)

In most cases, the best style is the one the reader doesn’t notice.”

Thank you John!

I also see a lot of “In the year 2015″ – I have often changed that to just plain old “In 2015.” The way I have understood it when I see it on paper is a straight translation from Finnish to English.

I also cannot stand the use of the word “crystallized” in company press releases. It sounds clumsy and overdone. Find another word! <grits teeth>

The one that gets my goat the most, however, is the use of the phrase (again directly translated from Finnish to English and NOT grammatically correct IMHO) “to take into use.” (Ota käyttöön)

“We will take the new software into use in June.”

Let me correct that in a couple ways:

  • The new software will be deployed in June.
  • We will start using the new software system in June.

In fact our internal company dictionary at work doesn’t even register the phrase “ota käyttöön.” I sure would like to know where it came from!

Some Finns struggle with prepositions and that’s okay – it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the previously mentioned things do.

Okay, but if we turn the tables…

I have had Finnish language teachers and other people who have read my atrocious Finnish writing say that they can tell I am a native English speaker when they read my writing… It is one of the laments in my life: I wish I had more time to invest in studying more Finnish and not want to scream my head off when a teacher covers my written work in red pen marks… I am of little or no use to the Little Miss when she is doing her äidinkieli (mother tongue) homework because I can’t spell in Finnish to save my life. One other thing that makes it bad is no one ever corrects me, so I wonder how bad some of my e-mail messages have been. I am sure I have written something, which I thought was correct and the Finn at the receiving end scratched their head with a WTH was that? Or they laugh because I wrote something that means something completely different – although I am sure they get what I mean.

Elämä on… <sigh>

23 Comments leave one →
  1. martink permalink
    March 2, 2015 12:31 pm

    That is the way Finns are taught at school to do literal translations from Finnish to English not so much to communicate.
    Persons sounds more like henkilö while people sounds more like the plural of ihminen and nobody employs ihmisiä.
    Apparently you are too young to have hear about

    You don’t give the Finnish for Crustallized but again that could be like Strategia on kirkkaana mielessä or something that is kiteytyneenä. again literal translation.
    There is a vakiintunut word käyttöönotta which includes both deployment and starting to use. The problem with deployment is that most of the Finns have not heard that before their professional life.
    If an English farmer can get by with only 600 words why can’t a nonnative English speaker Finn?
    The good part with Finnish is the the pronunciation is regular (that does not mean equal) compared to the writing.That can be tough if you are accustomed to the same letters having varying pronunciation.

    Just keep at it, you’ll get better. I have and acquaintance who claims he learned Finnish in two months. Two bad he did not learn any better after that.

    • March 2, 2015 2:13 pm

      Martin, I am a lot older than you think… But that is the first time I have ever heard that song you put up in that link. 🙂

  2. March 2, 2015 1:04 pm

    *snort* Oh boy, can I so relate to this post! However, some of the things that get your goat, don’t even phase me anymore. It’s just Finglish. And I know my English has deteriorated, sometimes more than others.
    I have found that when I need to write something in Finnish, if it is really important, I will chat with a trusted Finn-friend quickly and ask for help, or I will sometimes Google examples to see if I can find what I need elsewhere. 😀 It isn’t always perfect, but…oh well.

  3. Urmas permalink
    March 2, 2015 1:07 pm

    Have you watched these? No? 😉

  4. March 2, 2015 5:43 pm

    This was really interesting! I can see myself making all of those mistakes and not having a clue that there was a mistake 😉
    To me ‘people’ sounds like spoken language and quite vague while ‘persons’ sounds like proper written language (kirjakieli) and feels more accurate if there’s a number, like in your example. It could very well be that our school books have taught us old fashioned language.

  5. anonymous permalink
    March 2, 2015 8:30 pm

    “Persons” sounds like individual people as opposed to “people” which sounds like a collection of people. Which is probably why policemen like to use it – “people” can be understood to mean the populace or some part of it.

  6. March 3, 2015 7:17 pm

    Why not just be happy Finns finally dare to use a language that is not native to them? It’s pretty natural a native tongue influences any new languages learned, what’s the problem if you kbow what people mean? Also, English was not as widely used just 20years ago, mainly because Finns typically don’t want to use a language they may make mistakes in… but I’d think it makes the life of foreigners an awful lot easier that the attitude has some what changed in this country.

    • March 4, 2015 12:09 pm

      But I am happy… Finnish people have made leaps and bounds in using the English language!

      I just thought I’d get some pet peeves off my chest.

    • Sonia permalink
      March 4, 2015 5:44 pm

      I don’t think that anybody is being mean, freebutfun.

      Of course it is good that (at least within the wolves’ ring) Finns are willing to communicate in English. True improvement comes through communication. Even I have used Finnish for years now, my sentences must feel to natives like a uncontrolled sack of flees, still most of the people appreciate the effort anyways. That is good! Corrections welcome, too.

      I have linguistic background with tendency to perfectionism. I was waiting for Day X, when I wake up one day and speak Finnish flawlessly. Changing jobs from a (more or less) English-speaking environment to the current, international, yet in a purely Finnish unit, taught me that there was only one way: jump and swim. Otherwise I’d need nine cat lives till Day X. Using Finnish on the job (and in education) was the best “school” in addition to chewing on the grammar in the school bench.

      But I think it’s a valid point, especially for people with linguistic background, to compare and explore issues like this. Because they are contagious. So if a native brings it up, there is hope that others learn to make it better. Personally, only then I finally understood that “ilotulehdus” (joy inflammation, heh?!) is wrong and th right word is “ilotulitus” (fireworks). 🙂

      • March 5, 2015 6:52 pm

        I don’t think anyone is mean either :), and i certainly didn’t mean to be either. Oh, and I have a linguistic background too, but clearly I am not a perfectionist 😉

        And yes, of course it is helpful to tell people about typical mistakes IF they want to improve their language skills. I eg appreciate it very much.

        But then not everyone is (was) a linguist and not everyone is encouraged by correction, especially
        if it is made by somebody who is annoyed by mistakes. I know a lot of people who are too insecure to use another language because they are afraid of making mistakes. Wouldn’t it be better just to encourage people to use it in the name of communication and give people the time they need to learn it? And if they don’t, at least they make an effort which should, in my opinion, be appreciated.

      • Sonia permalink
        March 5, 2015 10:41 pm

        Well said, freebutfun. Sure, it depends on the context and preferences. Usually, there is even no time for corrections. But even frequent use makes the difference of getting better all the time anyways, even with imperfections.

        It is true that the school system focuses (focused?) too much on rules and grammar instead of the ability (and courage) to communicate.

  7. Sonia permalink
    March 3, 2015 11:05 pm

    I am not native, but let me add my top 5 of Finnglish:

    5. Articles! Where are the articles?! Gimme back my articles! – I was infected by scattering the articles, too.

    4. Buy _from_ the shop. Ask _from_ engineer. Ablative and elative strike back. (-lta/-sta in plain words).

    3. I thank before getting something, in ANY other language. Even if these languages have a proper word for “please”. “Ein Bier, danke”. “The cheque, thank you”. Nooo!

    2. “Don’t remember” rather than “forget”, maybe, because “en muistanut (ostaa…)” is more common than “unohdin”…?

    1. I truly cannot stand English words thrown into a Finnish sentence and spelled like Finnish by purpose (well, understandable if it’s a Finnish accent, but these “sküpe” “äp-plä” or even whole sentences “read” Finnish way, uh). It makes quite an uneducated impression in my opinion. And damages a language.


    But let me show you the triple language madness in our house (don’t take it seriously):
    The Finn: “Skyscraper, what is it in German?”
    Me: “Wolkenkratzer”
    The Finn: “So… Cloudscraper? It should be rather Himmelkratzer”.
    Me: “And in Finnish? Pilvenpiirtäjä? So it should definitely be “Wolkenzeichner” and “cloud drawer”
    The Finn: “What? Pilvenlaatikko /joking?”


    Madness 2.0:
    Me: “Laitan auto päälle” (direct translation from German: “put on the car” / “anlassen”)
    The Finn: “Autoa käynnistetään, ei laiteta päälle”
    Me: “(Joking 😉 ) Now don’t _you_ tell me that I cannot “laittaa auto päälle”, when in your language you “open the TV” (avaa televisio) and “have s*x as a hobby” (harrastaa seks!ä)


    Madness III:

    Language salad: got a text message in Finnish during my holiday that our cat has been petted and fed. Strange enough, “to pet a cat” in Finnish is the same verb as _iron_ a cat (silittää). Then in German, “fed” is the same as “lined/padded with a cloth” (gefüttert). So hard to say if the cat was ironed and lined or petted and fed or even… fed up? 😀

    • March 4, 2015 12:11 pm

      Ha ha! Sonia, you have some great examples!… I should start writing down some of the Finglish that happens in our house – it is getting entertaining now that the Little Miss is getting in on the mix. 😀

  8. LinguaFranca permalink
    March 4, 2015 8:30 pm

    Finglish is one globish dialects spoken by billions of persons globally based loosely
    on english.
    Many copanies have already taken it into use in finland too

  9. Sonia permalink
    March 8, 2015 10:30 pm

    Still one: Conference hosts who can not learn speakers’ names properly. Also: subtitle names on TV, e.g. recently Vihreät Ozan Yazar (his name is Yanar). Foreigner in Finnish politics, woo hoo, must be a quota.

    But the point: after a conference speech, conference hosts usually forgot that damn foreign name again, so they notoriously say “And now you can ask HIM kvestions” (…when the speaker was a …woman). I am not sure, is the influence of “hän” for both genders worse than the actual negligence to guest speakers and not addressing them by their names.

    Quite a blunder for e.g formal and polite British culture or strongly title-oriented cultures.

  10. szakib permalink
    March 11, 2015 7:21 pm

    LOL, you left out my main pet hate: “side” ~= “point of view”. As in: “from my side it is OK”; “From the architecture side, this building is perfect, but from the maintenance side it is a mess”.
    This drives me up the walls and I hear it several times every day. (Not sure about the Finnish original.)

    • Sonia permalink
      March 11, 2015 10:03 pm

      True, this is a good one. I just wonder if I am overusing words with “-wise” construction, because they are common in German. This things influence the vocabulary choices a lot! Fun to observe.

  11. olie permalink
    April 6, 2015 12:52 am

    I never thought I’d reply about a grammar question, but this question helped clarify the same issue for me:

    If you have 450 people and take away 449 of them, how many ‘people’ do you have left?

    Person(s) is the correct way to list people with a number amount.

    hyvää pääsiäistä!

  12. April 14, 2015 2:41 pm

    “Take into use” indicates a process, whereas “start using” is an event. Very different things…

    • April 15, 2015 5:17 am

      Michael, I never heard the phrase “take into use” used until I moved to Finland. It doesn’t show up in any dictionaries I use… I just find it a very odd phrase that doesn’t sound grammatically correct.

  13. puukilainen permalink
    August 14, 2015 11:50 pm


    I thought I might offer an insight on the issue of not getting any grammatical corrections or feedback on your grammar in day-to-day situations.
    It’s quite commonly thought as impolite and rather presumptious to point out other people’s mistakes to them. So instead of us telling you the correct ways to pronunciate words or the correct spelling of a word, we tend to wince on the inside and try really hard to understand what you are trying to put across without giving you corrections after every other word.

    Most Finns will be glad to help you out, if you ask them to. For instance in a situation where you are not sure about the correct phrase or pronunciation, just ask the people you are conversing with to help you out. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure about this phrase: Is it *example 1* or *example 2*?”

    In general correcting other people’s grammar is thought to be somewhat rude. It’s like saying that you think the other person is stupid (of course this applies only in a face-to-face situation, not in the comments section). On the other hand, if you yourself state aloud that help would be welcome, we are more ready to give aid.

    The prevalent assumption unfortunately is, that people will ask for help, when and IF they need it (in a society that greatly glorifies the people’s ability to hang in there on their own, asking for ANY kind of help can be immensely difficult for some). Sincere offers of help are too often misinterpreted as signs that people around you think you are weak, incapable and stupid. That’s also one reason why many people decline offered help, even though anyone can see that they really need it.

    But to summarize: Don’t wait for people to offer you help. Instead ask for it and you will get the advice you need. 🙂

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