Dear reader, I have something to ask you. I am taking the plunge and mentioning Finland, something I have avoided fastidiously for my 18+ years at Ball State so as not to get inaccurately and permanently categorized as being from Finland. If you could refrain from labeling me that way, I would be so thankful. My genetic material is from there, I have relatives there, and I have made an effort to know the language, but almost my entire life has taken place elsewhere. I have about the same amount of information about Finland as a casual tourist, and will live there one day only if my retirement plans go horribly wrong.
The rain on that July day in 2016 in Helsinki was unreasonably chilly. I took refuge in a trendy library and visited the restroom. After a glance around to check that no other library patrons were present to disapprove of my behavior, I set to studying the graffiti in the restroom. The spontaneous, unedited nature of graffiti –in restrooms or elsewhere– interests linguists, often offering insights on language change in progress, among other things.
An inscription written in a bold hand drew my eye: my name was in it. I’ll opt for euphemism in translating the strongly worded message: “Stick those darn kuha stories where the sun don’t shine”.
How had it come to this?
At some point in 2015, an anonymous genius had realized that a certain pun in Finnish was perfect for a meme. It begins with an ordinary, humorless sentence that fits this frame: “[positive outcome] so long as [condition]” – for example, “Everything is fine so long as you remember to enjoy life”. “So long as” in Finnish is “kunhan”. The fun begins when we replace “kunhan” with the shortened form “kuha”, which is vernacular and therefore creates a mildly humorous contrast when inserted in profound statements. In addition, “kuha” also refers to a type of fish, the pike-perch. Continue reading