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Lesson Transcript

Michael: What are some common Finnish idioms?
Anni: And how are they used?
Michael: At FinnishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine the following situation: Karen Lee hears an idiom she's not familiar with. She asks Reetta Ranta,
"What does "matti kukkarossa" mean?"
Karen Lee: Mitä matti kukkarossa tarkoittaa?
Karen Lee: Mitä matti kukkarossa tarkoittaa?
Reetta Ranta: Se tarkoittaa, että rahat ovat loppu.
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Karen Lee: Mitä matti kukkarossa tarkoittaa?
Michael: "What does "matti kukkarossa" mean?"
Reetta Ranta: Se tarkoittaa, että rahat ovat loppu.
Michael: "It means that money has run out."

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we'll talk about idiomatic expressions, or
Anni: sanonta.
Michael: Idiomatic expressions, or idioms for short, are expressions with a meaning that's very different from the individual words that compose them. We use idioms if we want to convey what would be a long message using as few words as possible. When translated directly, they can be both confusing and hilarious, especially to non-native speakers. It's important to learn idioms when studying a new language like Finnish, as they provide a window into better understanding a culture and its people.
[Recall 1]
Michael: Let's take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Karen Lee says "What does "matti kukkarossa" mean?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Päivi as Karen Lee: Mitä matti kukkarossa tarkoittaa?
Michael: If we're going to translate the expression literally, we would get "checkmate in the purse." To make things more interesting, it could also mean, "Matt in the wallet." But how can a man fit inside a wallet? Or what does chess have to do with it?
Michael: If you're just learning Finnish and hear this for the first time and do not know that it's an idiom, you would think that it's absurd. But what this expression really means, as Reetta explains, is that your money has run out. To put it simply, to have Matt in the wallet is to be broke, or that
Anni: ei ole rahaa,
Michael: "to have no money." There are two possible explanations for this idiom, and both can be quite interesting. The first one is that "Matt" may refer to the biblical Matthew, or
Anni: Matteus
Michael: and the line in the New Testament saying, "I will be with you always." What this implies is that Matt will hang around no matter what happens. Yes, even after you've run out of money. Another explanation, and one that's related to the game of chess, or,
Anni: Shakki
Michael: is that the word "Matt" here is taken from the word,
Anni: Shakki Matti
Michael: which means "checkmate." And we all know what happens when the king is dead—no provisions.
Michael: In this lesson, you've learned that idiomatic expressions, or
Anni: sanonta,
Michael: are expressions with a figurative meaning used to help the speaker get their message across better.
Michael: While many Finnish idioms might be similar in meaning to that of English and other cultures, they use expressions that are unique to the Finnish culture and context. Take this idiom, for example:
Anni: Kokeilla kepillä jäätä.
Michael: It means "To test the ice with a stick." This is equivalent to the English expression "to dip one's toe in the water," although it makes more sense to be used in Finnish considering how famously cold the winters are in Finland. Here's another Finnish idiom with a reference to the country's long winter season:
Anni: Sukset menivät ristiin.
Michael: This means "to get your skis crossed." No one wants their skis to cross as it can lead to some big trouble, and that is what this idiom implies—to get something mixed up with someone else, or rather, ending up having a quarrel or a different opinion with someone. Speaking of winter, here's another idiom talking about the matter.
Anni: Menneen talven lumia.
Michael: This means "The snow of the past winter." We all know that the snow of the past winter is long gone, so there's no point in thinking about it anymore. What this idiom means is that old news or an issue of the past is no longer worth discussing. Finnish has animal-related idioms too. Here's an example:
Anni: Ampua tykillä kärpäsiä.
Michael: This one means "To shoot flies with a cannon." We know how impossible it is to hit a single fly with a cannon, so, with that idea, it's clear that this idiom refers to the act of exerting too much effort into achieving something that's obviously impossible. It could also mean making simple tasks more difficult than they need to be. Here's another one:
Anni: Olla pullahiiri.
Michael: or "To be a bun mouse." We all love sweets, but the Finns love for candies, butter buns, and cinnamon is just like no other. That's why they have this expression, which means "to have a sweet tooth." Now, mice can be cute, but rabbits are arguably cuter. Here's one rabbit-related Finnish idiom:
Anni: Jänishousu
Michael: This literally means "rabbit pants." It sounds like a nice name to tease someone, and it actually is, although we don't recommend that you do because it's equivalent to the insulting expression "chicken" or "scaredy cat." Just like the cat or chicken, rabbits are easily startled and will flee when threatened. That said, being "rabbit pants'' means being a coward. How about another rabbit-related idiom?
Anni: Olla jäniksen selässä.
Michael: This means "to be on a rabbit's back."this may be reminiscent of the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who seemed to be always in a hurry. To be on a rabbit's back actually refers to hurrying, so for a matter that is not that urgent, you can say that you're not on a rabbit's back. Before we end, allow us to give you a couple of food-related idioms starting with.
Anni: Sillit suolassa
Michael: This translates to "herrings in salt." Traditionally, herrings were preserved in salt barrels. This idiom describes having too many people in a tight space. And, finally, there's this idiom:
Anni: Maksaa mansikoita
Michael: This means that something "costs strawberries." In Finland, there is no summer treat better than strawberries, so much so that Finns would pay as much as they can just to have them, and they can also be quite expensive. In other words, this expression describes something that is very valuable.
Cultural Insight/Expansion
Michael: The Finnish language is full of interesting idioms. What makes the language unique, though, is that many of the words used in these expressions have no direct equivalent in English or any other languages. Some even have more than one meaning. Take this expression, for example:
Anni: Kuusi palaa
Michael: These two words each mean "six" and "burn," respectively, but, in Finnish, the expression has nine different meanings altogether. The first word could refer to the spruce tree, the moon, or the number six. The second word could mean "to burn" or "to return." With all these in consideration, this simple idiom could mean "the "spruce is on fire," "six of them are on fire," "the number six is on fire," "your spruce returns," "your moon returns," "your moon is on fire," "six of them return," "the number six returns," or simply "six pieces." That said, it's not really clear what this random Finnish idiom means.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Anni: Hei hei!
Michael: See you soon!