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If you've been in the semiconductor, electronics, or mobile business for some time, chances are that you have been to Suomi. At one point it was the leader in mobile phone handsets. You just might not have realized it. It is the Finnish name for Finland. The original Finnish alphabet didn't even have an "f" so it couldn't be called that. Like many languages, it only has some letters to deal with foreign words. French has a "k" and "w" for that reason. So where did Suomi come from? It turns out that nobody knows. Here's a BBC piece about someone who tried to find out where the name originated...with little success. Oh, and they call its capital Helsingfors.
It's the blog day before Labor Day so time for an off-topic post. Let's look at what places are called in English compared to what the locals call them. And what foreigners call some places in the English-speaking world.
You might have been to zhōnggúo if you didn't go to Suomi. The Chinese word for China isn't anything like China—that name came from Portuguese and seems to derive from the Qin dynasty that unified the country. Sometimes China is called "the middle kingdom" since zhong means middle or central, and guo means...well, to me it means country, although I assume it can mean kingdom, too. America is meiguo 美国 (it's phonetic but the characters mean beautiful country) and Britain is yingguo 英国 (phonetic for England, characters mean hero country). In fact, most European country names in Chinese are phonetic but the characters mean something somewhat random. Here's a map. I showed it to several Chinese people and none of them got what it shows. These are the Chinese names of European countries translated back into English. Look at Sweden—very lucky soldiers. Or Finland...I mean Suomi, which is 芬兰, pronounced fenlan but means orchid fragrance. I like Latvia, too—pull off via. Doesn't that sound like some new More than Moore feature for 3D packaging?
While on the subject of China, why did Peking suddenly become Beijing in English? It's not like it changed its name in Chinese. Or Canton became Guangzhou. The Chinese didn't consider it important enough to change their three-letter airport designations. Beijing is PEK and Guangzhou is CAN. After the 1949 revolution, the Chinese language had two changes. One was the introduction of simplified characters in the 1950s and 1960s. Outside of China everyone still uses the traditional ones, so fish looks like 鱼 in China but 魚 outside. The second change was the introduction of pinyin as a standard Romanization in 1958. In that, 北京 was Beijing, and so gradually it changed as anything written in English inside China was mandated to use the official pinyin spelling.
By the way, Beijing is pronounced with a hard "J". It seems that in English, if people don't know how to pronounce a foreign name, they pronounce it as if it is written in French. But "jing" means capital and is pronounced along the lines of "jump". All four compass directions have capitals. The word "bei" means north, so Beijing means north capital. The Chinese for south is "nan" and there is indeed a Nanjing. The word for west is "xi" and...well, there is no xijing since it's called Xi'an today. Terracotta soldiers. That little apostrophe is important since it shows it is two syllables, not the same word as xian which is one. The Chinese for east is "dong" and there is an east capital, just not in China. Tokyo means east capital in Japanese, dong jing in Chinese.
I am in India for CDNLive India right now...or Bharat as it is called in many of the Indian languages. I'm in the city that used to be called Bangalore, but is now called Bengaluru, along with calling Madras Chennai, and Bombay Mumbai. Of course, these are the old names, and in many cases were only used in English. For example, Bombay was always Mumbai in the local language but I've also been told people liked living in a city that was so famous it had a special international name, and still use the English name.
I'm not sure why we change all these names in English. Plenty of other cities already have a different name in English. Vienna is Wien in German, and the Austrians don't seem to get upset. Munich is München. For some weird reason, we make Lyons and Marseilles plural even though they are singular in French. Nobody pronounces Paris in English as if it were a French word. If you are a fan of Game of Thrones, you probably know that Dubrovnik in Croatia was used for King's Landing. But in Croatia, Croatia is called Hrvatska.
It's not just in English. The French call London Londres, and New Orleans Nouvelle Orléans. The Chinese call San Francisco jiù jīn shān (旧金山), which literally means Old Gold Mountain. And yes, that's the normal everyday name and you see it on things like airline departure monitors.
So I think I'll be a contrarian and call everywhere by the less common name. No more Finland, it's Suomi. No more Guangzhou, back to Canton. I'm in Bangalore in Bharat.
And before I go, here's a wonderful illusion from Japan. Or Nihon as I'm calling it from now on!
Have a great Labor Day weekend, and Breakfast Bytes will be back on Tuesday.
A couple of years ago in one of these off-topic posts, I wrote about optical illusions in What You See Isn't Always What You Get. I recently came across this illusion where your brain really can't work out the shape of what is being seen and so the arrow always points one way. If you keep watching, you'll get to see the real shape. The illusion was created by Kokichi Sugihara, a mathematician at Meiji University (in the East Capital!).
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