Thursday, 26 May 2011

How's Your Butter?

When I first decided to make a little effort to learn Finnish, I began reading every label I could find. Before long, I learnt that the Finnish word for butter was “voi”. Armed with that knowledge, I tried to spot the word “butter” wherever I could – all part of reinforcing my newly acquired vocabulary obviously.

That's how I noticed that butter was very important to Finns. Or so I thought.

A short while after learning the word butter, I was taken to Helsinki's renowned karaoke bar Pataässä, a somewhat seedy but entertaining place favoured by celebrities and drunks. While there, I noticed from the lyrics on the screens that many Finnish songs had the word “voi” in them. I was somewhat surprised that Finns should be so passionate about butter, but, hey, in a harsh climate, the fatty and calorific qualities of butter are probably essential for survival. So why not sing about it?

Then, some time later, I heard someone ask “kuinka voit?” I looked up the word “kuinka” in the dictionary and found it meant “how”. From the context, I was able to guess that the expression actually meant “how are you?” – though how odd that it should be expressed as “how's your butter?”

I am a man of the world though, so I know and love that every language has its quirkiness. How cool that a language should place such emphasis on butter, of all things!

Sadly, my new found excitement was quickly dashed. I soon discovered that “voi” also means “alas” as well as “he/she can/is”, and “voit” means “you can/are”.

So no songs about butter, no enquiry about the state of one's butter after all...

Disappointing really.


  1. It is a shame really, I rather like the idea of asking someone how their butter is. I may start using it in English...

  2. - Kaksi karjalanpiirakkaa, kiitos.
    - Mitenkäs munavoi?