Last night I came accross this meme from Very Finnish Problems:
This meme hit such a nerve that the next day, I can't help but blog about it. I can't remember how many times I've been asked by eager students to explain the meaning of järjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän and the even longer negative version epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän. These words make me let out a heavy sigh every time. It's impossible.
Here's the thing: in Finnish, it's possible to construct endlessly long words. These aren't even words, really, but theoretically correct forms that don't actually mean much. In English grammar, a similar classic that you may or may not have heard of is Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, a grammatically correct sentence that doesn't really mean much when you look at it more closely. Epäjärjestelmällistyttämättömyydelläänsäkäänköhän is similar, it's composed of parts that all mean something, but the meaning of the entire thing is really slippery and nonsensical. Like a poem or abstract painting.
So, what are the parts that make up this modernist poem of a word?
First, we have to verb järjestää, 'to organize'. From that, we get the noun järjestelmä, which means 'system' or literally something that is organized. Then, we make it a verb again. We get järjestelmällistyttää 'to make into a system'. And then we make it a noun again! Because why not! Järjestelmällistyttämättömyys is 'the act of not making something into a system'. See how we're wading into Jabberwocky territory? I'll stop here, but feel free to keep going in the comments!
But yeah, the meme does have real point. Finnish words are often really long, which can be super confusing and annoying when you're starting out. We like to stick stuff together to make new meanings, and then we stick stuff at the beginning and end to convey things like tone, negation or asking. What are your favorite or most hated long Finnish words?
These past few weeks, I have been thinking of learning a new language that will make me a multilingual. I tried to learn Spanish simple phrases and it was not easy but fun to learn. Learning a new language requires an eagerness to learn and of course studying hard would be a great help. I also saw that meme in my social media and it made me think that learning Finnish words is really hard and confusing especially for the beginners. It was nice that you have at least given us some facts about Finnish words.
Thank you for your kind words! Sorry I only saw them now! As a teacher, these kinds memes are really frustrating even though I really do understand the need for them, as actual words are long also and can look really daunting to the learner, though they're actually not that hard. In English, long words are often fancier, harder versions of things that can be expressed more simply (gragantuan instead of big). In Finnish, long words are usually just words, formed of familiar parts, that would be written serately in English: suklaajäätelötuutti = chocolate ice cream cone.
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Ask a Finnish Teacher / Toiminimi Mari Nikonen
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