Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A public service announcement for our Finnish friends

I left this as a comment on Phil's blog on a post discussing whether getting cold makes you more prone to getting a cold, but it's one of those little things about my otherwise wonderful adopted homeland that really annoys me so I might as well stick it here as well.

As a former English teacher I would just like to point out to all the Finns who write and speak otherwise impeccable English, that there is no such thing as “a flu”. There is only “the flu”. This is correct English although not correct microbiology because, of course, any virologist would point out that the influenza virus is permanently mutating. If any Yanks, Aussies or other dubious colonial-types try to take issue with this, they’re simply wrong. The language is “English” after all…

What Finns mean when they say “I have a flu”, is “I have a cold”. “The flu” is muscle aches, high fever, shivering: the real miserable bed-ridden deal. “A cold” is snot running out of your nose or a slightly annoying cough. The fact that many Finns I have worked with over the years conflate the two lead me to suspect that you are a nation of work-shy fops, and coming from an Englishman that’s an insult indeed.

I’ve never understood the 'stickyness' of the “a flu” mistake. Many friends with wonderful English who would snobbishly laugh at the juntti-ness (or scroll down for a good explanation of a juntti here) of a fellow countryman saying in English that they “eat medicine” or will “open the television”, still insist that their minor sniffle is “a flu”.

It’s a bit like the stickyness of describing alpine skiing as “slalom”. It’s not slalom unless you are dressed in lycra, have hand guards on your ski poles and are racing against the clock smacking into large numbers of blue and red spring-loaded gates. That is Slalom. The rest is just “skiing”, or “downhill skiing” if you really suspect that the person you are talking to might think you mean cross country skiing, which 99% of native English speakers won’t when you say “skiing”.

Here endeth the day’s rant.


Akinoluna said...

Doesn't have anything to do with Finnish, but it really annoys me to hear people talk about having a "stomach flu" or a "24-hour stomach flu". It's not a flu! From what I understand, it's food poisoning.

Or my old favorite: "Put on a coat/hat/gloves. It's cold out and you'll get sick!" If that was the case I'd be dead by now. Just the other day I was outside with wet hair and it froze into crunchy hair sticks. Ha.

Anonymous said...

I have understood, that the cotton-English of Georgia US is the closest form of spoken English from the 16th century. If this is correct, then we should check from them the correct phrases, such as "a flu vs. the flu".