Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pülk for the win!

Siim Teller relates the story of the pülk - the new Estonian noun for a small portable mp3 player. A few days ago, the major news outlets carried a press release of the Amateur Linguists Union; it had ostensibly just held a ballot to select an authentically Estonian name of iPod-class devices. Among the submissions, the pülk just barely pipped the trühmul, said the Union's president, Kalmar Kalkun.

Except that the press release, delivered to the venerable Baltic News Service that never bothered to check it, was apparently the product of intoxicated minds playing a practical joke in the course of a particularly good party. As someone who's worked in newspapers a bit, let me tell you, it's not even all that funny. :P

The significance of this is that the Estonian language places great stock in phonetics and onomatopoea. While no more preposterous than the much-maligned (and real) rüperaal, the pülk is an incredibly funny-sounding word, especially when joined by its marginally unsuccessful sidekick, the trühmul. The fact that the name of the President of the Amateur Linguists Union translates as Squid Turkey only adds to the entertainment - it's laughable, but still plausible.

The upshot of this entire affair is that the pülk has made its rounds in corporate email lists, and solidified by this revelation, it has every chance of gaining the sarcastic support of Estonian youth. The pülk is liable to get a lot more popular usage this way than if Eesti Keele Instituut came out with it.

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