Todd Neva
Guest Blogger Todd Neva

Many American Finns, descendants of 19th and early-20th century immigrants, retained several Finnish words in their family cultures. I remember my grandma calling me something like “bego boyga.” She would never translate for me, so I could only surmise it meant good boy.

We also had “gundaba,” the heel of a loaf of bread, and “mukada,” summer sausage. Grandma Neva used to make “roonifellia,” rice boiled in milk and sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.

Most of these words were passed on verbally, and since exposure to Finnish is so limited, these words get butchered. I wasn’t even sure some of the words were Finnish. Grandma tended to add an a at the end of some English words — coffee-a. And potatoes were pota‘.

When I’ve had an opportunity to meet real, bona fide suomalainen, and when I’ve shared some of these words with them, they barely understand what I’m saying.

I told one Finnish woman that my grandma called me “bego boyga.”

“Knife boy?”

No, I’m sure she wasn’t calling me knife boy.

When I moved to the UP, I learned the preferred Finnish name for the creamed rice dish is “reesiboodoowa,” which translates rice porridge. I was told by one Finnish-speaking American, “I never heard of ‘roonifellia.'”

My Finn-ness was shaken. Sure I still had “mukada” and I knew the correct way to pronounce sauna (sow’na), but what is this rice dish to be called? And what kind of boy am I?

I eventually figured out how to pronounce Finnish words. The K sounds like G. The P sounds like B. The Y sounds like OO. The I sounds like EE. The R is trilled, so sounds like a D. The V sounds like an F. (By the way, this is not so unique with Finnish, rather English has the unique pronunciations.)

“Gundaba” is spelled kantapää.
“Mukada” is makkara.
“Reesiboodoowa” is riisipuuroa.

I was getting my bona fides.

A friend from Finland visited and confirmed “roonifellia” is indeed an old term for grain pudding. It took a bit of research, but I found it. “Roonifellia” is spelled ryynivellia. Ryyni is the Finnish word for groats, which is a hulled grain. Think grits. Velli translates into gruel, but it’s usually used for a thin berry sauce. This would explain why the dish my grandmother made is much creamier than the puuroa served here.

And my Finnish friend helped me find myself. “Bego boyga” was not puukko poika, knife boy, but I was most likely my grandma’s pikku poika, little boy.

And the a at the end of these words — that means some. My grandma was likely saying kahvia, some coffee.

But American Finns also add a to variants of other English words. The Finnish word for potato is peruna. Pota is plain Finglish.

Today’s guest blogger is my husband, Todd Neva. He normally blogs at about topics of suffering, grief, and living well in spite of one’s circumstances. The crock of riisipuuro is compliments of Mona Erickson. 

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Speaking Finglish

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3 thoughts on “Speaking Finglish

  1. These words are very familiar. I would still fight for the kantapaa of a fresh loaf of bread!

  2. You were the youngest of several children, so little boy makes sense. Thinking about your grandma speaking Finnish makes me smile.

  3. I was looking for the spelling of “kantapää” because I just baked some bread and by the time I photographed it one was strangely missing, haha. I found this article when searching, I knew it wasn’t spelled “gundaba” but that certainly is what it sounded like when my dad was speaking on the matter! Wonderful.

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