Sunday, 4 September 2016

Word for the day

English is a rich language, partly because we are good at incorporating words from other languages and cultures. But there are some words we use which haven't really been incorporated but there is no equivalent single word, only a phrase. Like the wonderful German word (and emotion) schadenfreude for example. (As it's not really English it's often put in italics like I just did).

My word for today is Finnish: myötähäpä.  It is pronounced something like mew-oh-ta-happier (with short a sounds) and means the sense of shame or embarrassment you feel on behalf of others, say from watching The Office or a friend or relative embarrass themselves.

An emotion I'm sure I have engendered in those close to me many times!

4 of the 5 vowels (the o's and a's) in myötähäpeä have those double dot things above them. Now what's the word for those? It seems to be umlaut in Finnish as well as German.

The Finnish alphabet has two umlaut vowels: Ä (a-umlaut) and Ö (o-umlaut). I understand the letter Ä is not the letter A pronounced differently. They are different letters and have nothing to do with each other. They are listed as separate letters in the Finnish alphabet (on almost opposite ends of the alphabet), they are pronounced differently, they act as completely different and independent letters in words, and they are not interchangeable. Just because they happen to look similar (with the only difference being the two dots on top) doesn't mean that they are the same or even related! The same applies to Ö and O. They are completely different and separate vowels, have nothing in common and are not in any way interchangeable. Removing the two dots from the letter changes it to a different one. Changing an Ä in a Finnish word to an A is no different than changing eg. an E to an U: The meaning changes completely. Whereas in German the umlaut produces a different pronunciation but not a totally different character or meaning - maybe just plural (I think, happy to be corrected).

Now don't forget this and confuse an a with ä, or you could cause a degree of myötähäpeä!

PS My skill for the day was to learn how to type umlaut characters on an android keyboard....

PPS We'll probably have to get better at this stuff to sell to Europe post Brexit. I wonder if English will remain an official EU language? After all, it's the one nearly everyone speaks.... and they will want to sell to us (a blog for another day...)

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