Etymological Dictionary

The birth of words

3.3.2020 12:04
About words, their origin and explanation.

Over the weekend, my friend posted a picture of his long-haired, fifteen-year-old self on his Facebook wall, and called the young heavy man in the picture a hunsvot. It gave me the idea to think about the birth of words from the perspective of word art.

Words are not born out of nothing, but from the amalgamation of different cultures. In the book The origin of Finnish words: an etymological dictionary it is said that there are basically three types of words: old and original basic words, basic words borrowed from other languages, and words formed from both of these by deriving and combining. The origin of Finnish words is an incredible information package about the Finnish language, but very academic. If you want to read about words in an entertaining way, you should check out Veijo Mere's book The birth of words. Meri may take artistic liberties in her explanations, but reading the book is easy and pleasant.

Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa, the cosmopolitan, troll and humorist of his time, has reached Mertak's most insane explanations. In his book Kalevala and Egypt, Finland's golden book II (1935) he proves that Egyptian culture was born with the contribution of Finns who migrated there. Wettenhovi-Aspa's book may not stand up to critical scrutiny, but it is funny. It says, for example, that the name Egypti is based on the word Äijäkupitta. Wettenhovi-Aspa's theories don't stop at Egypt, but words of Finnish origin can be found all over the world, according to him. It is obvious that Buckingham was originally Pukingham and Berkeley Perkele. Finnish is the original language of mankind...

Wettenhovi-Aspa was a humorist, but his language theories traveled in popular culture through Ior Bock, who developed his own alternative history, all the way to the 1990s and to the musician Petri Wall and his band Kingston Wall. With regrettably tragic consequences. You can read more about this in Viljami Puustinen's book Kingston Wall : The saga of Petri Wall. A reprint has been taken from Wettenhovi-Aspa's Egypti book, which can also be easily found in the library. In Vesa Sirén's great book Always smoked a cigar: Jean Sibelius through the eyes of his contemporaries is written about Wettenhovi-Aspa this beautifully: "The unreliability of the most original memoirists such as Sigurd Wettenhovi-Aspa is warned separately."

The history of the origin of Finnish words is, of course, the opposite of the Wettenhovi-Aspa theory. Most Finnish words and dialectal expressions come from other languages, usually Swedish or Russian. Good examples of these are the word potslojo, which my father often uses when he goes to sleep, and ettone, which means rest. Potslojo comes from Russia, Ettone combines German and Swedish. Dialects can be very local, even village-specific. For example, as a Kangaskylä-Melkonieme native, the term oljami, used in Koitsanlahti and Rautjärvi, recently became new to me, which means spending the night with relatives. The geographical distance between the villages is only twenty kilometers.

The funniest dialect or new part I've ever heard was found on the album of the band Mika Byman & Kovat Otteet from Kymenlaakso To the deep south and from the song Latna moro. Latna Moro was an unfamiliar term to me. By googling, I found many interpretations for it, I think the best one was "that was it". You can shoot a lot with it. Apparently the word also means fatigue or death. Except that To the deep south is a great album, I also learned new words from it. It's worth a listen.

Dialects and slang are word art at its best. Thirty years after completing my military service, I can still admire army slang, where a descriptive and usually funny slang expression has been developed for almost every thing: the blue sports outfit was a smurf suit, the swimming trunks were little black, the light brown nightgown was called by the term that Eppu Normaali sings about on his album Scary rhymes, grim stories "is innocent and simple My only hobby". I believe I watched the birth of a new slang word in real time at a forest gig, when my comrade in arms, inspired by the movie we watched the week before, called the UV light tube used for lighting a rambo candle. The term became established immediately.

Due to its personality, the Finnish language is so alive and original that at least one new language has actually developed on its basis: Quenyan, the high-elf language created by JRR Tolkien in his books. Tolkien was so enamored of Finland that he read Kalevala in the original language. We can be healthyly proud of our multicultural mother tongue. Words are forgotten, maybe even die, but more are constantly being created. The language lives and breathes, let's take care that it does not atrophy.

Yes, it sucked. What does it mean and where does it come from? You can find out, for example, from the book Veijo Mere that I mentioned. Available in libraries.

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