Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Dedicated to Kone

One of Finland's largest company specialises in lifts, escalators, and moving-walkways. The company is called rather brilliantly Kone, meaning quite simply "machine" or "engine". Not even "machines" or "engines", just "machine" or "engine" in the singular form.

As it happens, I am rather fond of kone. Not so much the company, but the word itself.

For students of the Finnish language, kone is one of those great words that can be learned once, and used many times. Many pieces of machinery are called something-kone. So the effort of learning new machine-words is therefore halved in many cases: you just need to learn the "something" bit at the front. Furthermore, that "something" is usually quite obvious. For example, pesukone is a machine for pesu (washing): yes, a washing-machine! Genius.

Needless to say, words like kone are just bliss for people like me with a poor memory, who are looking for easy ways to learn and remember Finnish vocabulary.  That's why I am always on the look out for kone-words. Sad, but true.

Here are some examples of kone-words I know: pesukone (washing machine), tiskikone (dishwasher), ompelukone (sewing machine), kirjoituskone (writing-machine = typewriter), lentokone (flight-machine = aeroplane), tietokone (data-machine = computer), höyrykone (steam machine or engine), and kaivinkone (digging tool machine = digger). Impressive, huh?

Admittedly, I can get a little carried away with my hunt for kone-words. In the past, for example, I have been guilty of being an over-zealous creator of kone-words.

More recently, my finely tuned kone-ear also let me down. I overheard a Finnish Mum use the word putoskone while talking with her baby daughter. Not wanting to miss out on new vocabulary, I asked her what kind of machine that was. She looked at me blankly for a while, then suddenly burst out laughing: "I didn't say putoskone, I said 'putosko ne?' meaning 'did they fall down?'"

Of course, the Mum was not speaking "proper" Finnish (as taught to foreigners and hardly used by natives). She should really have said: "putosivatko ne?". But there are no more putosivat-machines than there are putos-machines, and I am not sure I would have spotted that either. Sigh.

Returning to Kone (the company), it's ironic that none of its core products are actually kone-words in Finnish (e.g lift = hissi, escalator = liukuportaat and moving-walkway = liukukäytävä).  But then Kone is no longer in the machine-business: it is now "dedicated to people flow".


  1. You can also say "Jätkä on kone!" (literally a young man is a machine) which is something like "You're the man!"

  2. The current presidential couple used the word "pusukone" (= kissing machine) of their new dog. The dog is apparently very eager to lick faces.