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“Finnish is easy. All you do is tape-record English and then play it backwards.”

~ Berlitz Language School on Finnish

The language is much like the Finns themselves - it has nothing to do with Russia or Sweden, despite their proximity. It has nothing to do with the fins of a fish either. Finnish, I think, was invented by an ancient king who commanded the people in his dominion to speak like him upon the penalty of death. The monarch's name I shall give as Toivo I, or Toivo the Stutterer. It was Toivo's lingual philosophy that 'why use one letter when two or three would do.'

A farmer named Mikael Agricola continued Toivo's work and started developing a grammar for Finnish. Reportedly, his head imploded after half of the job was done. No one was brave (or stupid) enough to follow his footsteps so Finns only got a partial grammar. They solved this problem by combining words and putting all extra stuff in the end. The drawback was that the words became even longer.

Take the word for cigarette lighter. It is savukkeensytytin, which is the reason why so many Finns carry matches. Young people may use a redundant form of this: "sytkäri" (Berlitz:shEHWtt-kaeR-Ri), but this habit is gradually eradicated on midsummer festival rituals.

When the Finns start a word they see how many foreigners they can weed out on the first syllable. Take the Finnish word for "93". The first three letters are "yhd". That eliminates a lot of competition right there. For the full Finnish word for "93" I would advise you fasten your seat belts and put on your crash helmet. Here it goes - "yhdeksänkymmentäkolme". According to Berlitz, that is pronounced simply: "EWHdayksaenKEWMmayntaeKOALmay". Finns have died of old age trying to count to 100.

Part of the problem with the Finnish language is that Finns don't mess around with little bitsy words at all. If they are going to use the word "the" or "a" or "by" they just stick it onto a nearby word as an ending.

And don't think you are going to get away with not pronouncing every letter, either. Nothing is wasted in Finnish. Sometimes, when they use a couple or three vowels in a row, they'll put two little dots over the tops of some of them just to break the monotony. Those little dots mean something. In the word "pencil sharpener", which is spelled "kynänteroitin", they put two little dots over the "a" and that means it is pronounced like an "a" and an "e" slopped together. It also means that you are going to find a lot of dull pencils in Finland. To say "pencil sharpener" in Finnish, for example, you should start with a bottle of good Finnish beer. Take a deep breath, roll back your eyes and say:

KEWnae (run the "a" and "e" together now, remember?) nTAYR (stop here and have a sip of beer) roa (then comes a very, very small "i" that fools a lot of people, but, without it the word means "spinach" or something entirely ddifferent from "pencil sharpener") ttin (more beer, please).

During a recent visit of Finland I never saw a crossword puzzle. The papers weren't large enough to cover both horizontal and vertical I guess.

Finnish is related to Hungarian by a previous marriage. That's why the second language of Finland is, of course, Swedish. Everyone speaks English, however, so don't worry if you ever go there.

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