Otherwise, by the way…

When you learn a language, there are often words that lie just outside your active vocabulary. You hear them often enough to make you wonder what they mean, but rarely enough to keep you from looking them up. Well, for me, one Finnish word has crossed that line! The word is muuten, and it’s a Finnish adverb with its own Twitter hashtag! Must be important, thought I. This is a word I always thought was a throwaway one. But if it’s so next-to-meaningless, then why does it have its own hashtag?

The dictionary tells me it means 1) ‘otherwise’ and 2) ‘by the way’. For example: 1) Pidä kiirettä, muuten myöhästyt. ‘Make haste or else you’ll be late.’ And, 2) Oletko muuten huomannut, että…? ‘Have you, by the way, noticed that…?’

Meaning 1 is etymologically gratifying: muu, adj. means ‘other’, and the -ten suffix is found in e.g. miten, ‘how’, which gives us the ‘-wise’ sense. The second meaning, ‘by the way’, seems to be the one used on Twitter. 

And how it is used! Here’s a random selection of tweets with the #muuten hashtag:

  • Oli #muuten todellakin katsottava pätkä! (@WilmaLaihanen)
  • It was, by the way, a piece really worth watching!
  • En #muuten juurikaan tykkää mistään juustoista. (@IlkaaPo)
  • I don’t, by the way, really like any cheese at all.
  • Jamal Crawfordilla on #muuten eniten 4-pisteen pelejä koko  #NBAfi’n historiassa. (@JesseHeikkinen)
  • Jamal Crawford has, by the way, more 4-point games in the whole history of the NBAfi.

(Maybe someone can enlighten me on what the NBAfi is.)

Now, I could be translating all of these wrong and some of the tweets above could have the meaning ‘otherwise’. If it does indeed mean ‘by the way’, what does this say about Finns and their tweets? My own theory is: much the same #btw, #justsayin and #justsaying do about English speakers – that they are sometimes a little wary about their opinions sounding too harsh and want to soften the blow. And that sometimes people want to hide their online passive aggression behind a handy hashtag. And that it functions, if only rarely, as a miscellaneous hashtag (#misc) for odds and ends.

I would, by the way, be really curious to hear Finns’ thoughts on this. Just sayin’!

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2 thoughts on “Otherwise, by the way…

  1. Very interesting! It reminds me of our conversation yesterday on the Russian hashtag #япрекраснаспорунет. Hashtags are certainly taking over on social media, and they’re an aspect of language and culture that is fun (if frustrating at times) to explore!

    • I find myself strangely unenraged by hashtags. I think they’re very handy and can capture the spirit of the moment during large, momentous events of public interest. They allow you to put words to something without having to make a real sentence. As they say (and this word really enrages me!), “simples”.

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