"If I'm Not Mistaken, but I'm Not Mistaken, if I'm Not Mistaken by Any Chance"

Catchwords? Quips? Bywords?

Kadri Peebo

The heading is a quotation from Winnetou*, and its frequent usage among the particular social group (in this case, schoolchildren) has rendered it the status of a so-called catchword or quip. The students themselves have called such expressions imitations, sentences in use, brainlessness, nonsense, parodies, sayings, but still the prevalent Estonian terms are kild `quip' and parool `catchword'. The quotation above is in many ways a good example to characterize catchwords as such in general: there is a great number of quotations among catchwords as the material somewhere between the border-lines of linguistic and folkloristic phenomena (approximately a half of the texts that provide the material for the present article); they are characterized by timeliness, quick response, a small content of information, affection, language puns, And, last, but not least, the quotation above applies essentially also to the present article, because in the course of reviewing the material the question arose - in addition to other, smaller suspected misinterpretations - of whether the catchwords or quips actually exist. In the following discussion the author has tried to answer the question. Other more profound conclusions cannot be held true as a result of scantiness of the material available, since it is not at all certain that the applied texts would give an essentially and proportionately truthful picture of the actual situation.

The results of the competition of collecting schoolchildren's tradition (1992) brought relatively few catchwords to the Estonian Folklore Archives - mainly from Antsla School, and a handful from Tallinn, Hiiumaa, Viljandi, Loksa, Järva-Jaani, Põltsamaa. The material of the past few years has been contributed by Elva Secondary School and Kaarepere 9-year School. It concerns primarily students of forms 6 to 11 and their way of speaking. In addition, the author has used the card catalogue compiled by Arvo Krikmann that contains analogous texts, documented by the Folklore Department of the Museum of Literature before 1986. By way of comparison, the author has used the collections of pupils' jargon or slang from 1935 and 1937 (Tartu Primary School, Rakvere Pro-gymnasium, Rakvere Co-educational Gymnasium), that are deposited in the Department of the Estonian Language at Tartu University. Altogether, the survey is based on ca 700 different catchwords - a small and quite arbitrary selection. So the following classifications are conventional, merely pointing out some of the widespread phenomena in modern student folklore and language.

The Origin of Catchwords

1. It is known (or approximately known) where about a half or so of the expressions originate. These are exact as well as distorted quotations from very different sources.

A relatively great number of the sayings have been taken over from teachers; and besides individual turns of speech and jokes, these can also be of different origin (e.g. from anecdotes, TV, classical proverbs, ):

Lapsed, arvestage nüüd sellega `Children, consider that...' (teacher of history); I want to livõ! (original in English); Pilt on, häält ei ole `Picture is OK, but without sound' (teacher of history, when a pupil does not answer); Tohhoh ul'lu küll! `Good heavens!' Minul on küll õrn hääleke `And I have such a sweet voice' (teacher of mathematics, actually with a loud voice);

1937: See on lihtsalt skandaal `It is an outright scandal!' (Expression used by our venerable headmaster when something had happened, and whence the disciples have picked it up); Juba joo `Come on'; Kus lips ja neep? `Where are your necktie and button?' (teacher of Latin, when a pupil had no necktie and his collar-stud was open).

The number of known direct quotations of oral or written expressions of fellow students is not great, and they are mainly connected with certain situations. As a matter of fact, the catchwords are, as a rule, acquired from each other, but in most cases the users have already forgotten whom they are quoting or since what time.

Sudaani majandus läheb ülesmäge põhja `Sudan: The economy is sinking uphill' (Toomas Pikamäe, lesson of geography. Topic: developing countries); Ärge minge ära, me pakume teile kohvi `Don't go away, we'll make you coffee' (became a catchword of the class after a camp where the frontier guards paid them a visit. Teachers were not present at the moment and one of the boys said the words as above to the frontier guards. Actually, he is a real coward.).

These cases represent a situative meaning, to which the "comes-to-my-mind-and-makes-me-smile" effect is added. There are also sayings taken over from public figures, the origin of which is still remembered.

Enn Leisson: No peab ikka olema pealuu ehitus! `Well, that must be a singular build of cranium!'

Of course, this is not only Enn Leisson's expression, but in this case the pupils of that particular school picked it up from him.

Marika Villa: Liiklusolud on meil paranenud tänu bensiini puudumisele `Our traffic has improved, due to lack of petrol'.

The latter examples actually belong to the next large group of origin, namely that of different types and genres of mass communication. Eero Julkunen calls this part of modern folklore medialore (1989:49). Thus, the catch words evidently belong to the so-called "media jokes" that represent short remarks, gestures, words or mere sounds that suggest the outlines of a role, characters or typical words of a program. E. Julkunen emphasizes that their aim is to point out the comic of the figure or of the whole program. It is presumed that the recipient knows the background of the joke (Julkunen 1898:53-54). In general it probably applies to catchwords as well, but it seems that among them one can find items that are used out of context and sometimes people have even forgotten where these expressions were taken from.

A number of them originate from animated cartoons: Uhuu, nigu siil udus `Cooee! Like a hedgehog in the fog' ("Siil udus"/Hedgehog in the Fog); and Oota sa! `We'll see!' ("Oota sa!"/We'll See!) - these have been in currency for a long time. Huvitav kokkusattumus. Ja mina ka! Kas te ei leia, et me võiksime kuidagi ühineda? `What a coincidence, so have I! Don't you think we should join somehow?' ("Naksitrallid"/Three Strange Fellows); Ega hobune ei magagi `The horse is not asleep' ("Pöialpoiss"/Tom Thumb).

Many of the direct and distorted quotations come from advertisements, especially in the recent times: Aga minu isa kasvatab rapsi/lapsi! `My father grows rape/ brings up children; prolonged "e" sound in the words esimest korda `for the first time' in the advertisement Doonorlus (Donorship).

According to E. Julkunen, Finnish students also hardly ever use an advertisement as a whole - they take a passage or a word from it instead and use it in a new context (1989:54). Eero Julkunen has been a teacher at a nursery school, which actually is the only opportunity to study and observe the quips and their actual situations of usage. He states that, for example, boys aged 5-6 years use the ad of Tupla chocolate "Tupla-City on lännessä kaupunki" in quite different situations where it sounds downright absurd: when putting on overcoats, eating or playing; girls sometimes jump to the rhythm of ad slogans or words; a seven-year-old girl confessed that she used the expression even when she was alone. So, uttering sentences from advertisements is a typical nonsense-language of people of the same age, that is used to give a rhythm to work or situations and that functions as a communication filling the pause for both the speaker and those present (Julkunen 1989:55-56).

If the quips have been picked up from comical and other programs, the personality of the utterer plays an important role:

Mes-mes, mes sa räägid seal? `What-what, what did you say?' (Andrus Vaarik).

Among the contemporary material, one can find examples, the origin of which can be established only with the knowledge of an enormous amount of MTV programmes, video films, bands and their repertoire, In addition to quotations, the vocabulary of mass media is adapted to the situations of everyday life: Vaikust. Saade! `Silence. We're on!', etc.

The catchwords taken from films have most certainly also spread through TV.

"Kevade"/The Spring: Ei noh, pidusse tulen ma küll `Oh well, I shall come to the party for sure'; Mis nad siis tulevad meie õue peale kaklema! `But why are they coming to quarrel in our yard?'; Uus poiss peeretäs! `It was the new boy who broke wind!' (When something is done, it is always the new boy who did it); "Suvi"/The Summer: Tumadan ukradina! `The bag's stolen!' (in Russian; when somebody's schoolbag has been hidden); Igatahes, igatahes! `At any rate, at any rate'; "Viimne reliikvia"/The Last Relic: Kohe näha, et vanad sõbrad `Obviously, they must be old friends!'; "Siin me oleme"/Here We Are: Me oleme Tallinnast, me maksame `We are from Tallinn, we shall pay'; "Nukitsamees"/Bumpy: Üks on loll ja teine on laisk ja mina pean üksinda rabama `One is silly and the other is lazy and I have to labour and toil all alone!', etc.

For a witty answer, names of the characters of films or books and their meanings are used: Imelik! [vastus:] - Tootsi sõber oli Imelik `Strange! (Answer:) Toots' friend was Imelik.

Quips from theatrical performances (often via TV):

Kord Vestmann all ja Piibeleht peal, siis jälle Piibeleht all ja Vestmann peal `Sometimes Vestmann is down and Piibeleht is up, sometimes Piibeleht is down and Vestmann is up' (E. Vilde, "Pisuhänd"/Treasure-bringer);

Miä ole härra Aaberkukk` Me, I'm Mr Aaberkukk' (O. Luts, "Äripäev"/The Business Day), Hispaanias on hirmsad vihmahood `The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plains' ("Mu veetlev leedi"/My Fair Lady).

Radio programmes find duly less response among schoolchildren than TV does:

Tere hommikust, põllumehed! `Good morning, farmers!' (from the jingle of the farmers' programme); Siller! (jingle of a children's programme); Puuetega! `Disabled!' (from an entertainment programme).

From the catch phrases of radio reporters, Paar sõna Eesti Raadiole `A few words for Radio Estonia' has been in currency for a long time, in different situations and accompanied by different gestures, etc.: When you are passing somebody, you put your hand to his or her bottom and say it.

Single lines, verses or phrases from songs can also spread only through mass media:

Kaua sa kannatad `How long can you stand' (Justament); Kas teil on veel ruumi? Ei, kõik on täis `Sorry, is there space for me? - No, all's full' (Apelsin); Alloo, Aafrika `Allo Africa' (Dr. Alban); See tunne pole uus `This feeling is not new' (T. Varik);

1937: Kas kulsite? `Did you hear?' (A question that comes from a song and that now has become the nickname of the boy who performed it; used, when a teacher says something or something that the pupils already know).

Medialore is, according to E. Julkunen, quickly acquired, spread and lost. The longest life-span is that of the heroes of serials (e.g. Tarzan), characters of entertainment programs as well as some phrases from advertisements. Medialore is characterized by a consumerist approach: the offered material is quickly used up and a new one is chosen. The phenomenon is also characterized by fragmentarity, shortness, visuality; it points outward from the usage situation (the source of communication is always an invisible participant in this social situation!). It represents situation folklore - it can be used quickly and in different situations. Medialore is legitimate and permeates many social strata (everybody has seen it!). It is a uniting factor of a culture that favours differentiated and isolated way of life. Anonymity and neutrality suit perfectly with the various social situations of the contemporary culture that are characterized by evasion of individuality. At the same time, medialore offers an opportunity to express oneself - you can take it or leave it. Medialore means taking the reality in one's possession. Information is brought into usage and made into a social unit of currency (Julkunen 1989:61-62).

Quotations from books and their variants are today considerably less numbered than those from mass media:

Kuningal on külm! Kuningal on häda! `The king is cold! The king is in plight!' (A. H. Tammsaare); Nii ühte kui teist ja leibä pole vajagi `Both - do not trouble yourself with bread' (Answer to the question "What can I offer you?"); Kes hommikuti külas käib, see asjatult ei longi `He who pays visits in the mornings is not strolling idly' ("Winnie-the-Pooh"; quotations can come both from the book and from the animated cartoons); Kuule, miks su kõrvad nii pikad on? `I say, why are your ears so long?' ("Punamütsike"/Little Red Ridinghood; it can already be considered an oral tradition); Kui sa tuled, too mul jäätist (kaustikut, jne.) `When you come, bring me an ice-cream (a note-book, etc.)' (A. Haava); Ja siis tulid röövlid ja tapsid meie Ferdinandi `And then the robbers came and killed our Ferdinand' (J. Haek).

In 1937, Tarzan as a character has been used in various contexts and meanings (e.g. a teacher who beats with a violin bow and pinches with two finger-nails). Antique literature and history have also been used as a source - there is a whole story connected with Cicero's house in Laeca and the headmaster's study is Canossa, because the staircase that leads there is narrow and pupils come back with tears in their eyes. (A modern pupil would probably know hardly anything about Cicero or Canossa.)

As in the contemporary folklore in general, there is often no border-line between literary/written quotations or those from TV, radio or video on the one hand, and popular idioms on the other - at least the users themselves do not feel it. Bywords, proverbs and their distorted, take-off variants are often recorded successively or alternately under the same entries of catchwords, quips and sayings. For pupils, there seem to be no difference here. It is only afterwards and with a scholar's eye that one can distinguish the quotations and their sources from classical short forms.

Ega sa klaassepä poig ei ole! `You are no son of a glazier!'; Kalkun ka mõtles, aga pärast pandi ikka pannile `A turkey also thought, but still ended up on a frying-pan'; Liigne agarus on ogarus `Excessive enthusiasm is craze'; Oma silm on ikka - prillide taga `One's own eye is always behind the spectacles'; Kel ei vea kaardimängus - see kaotab `He who has no luck with cards is a looser'; Ma süü oma naasõ är, ku üts noist ei olõ müts `I'll eat up my wife if one of them is not a hat';

1937: Terane kui puunott `As smart as a log'; Pikk sirge poiss nagu käiavänt `A boy as tall and upright as a grindstone crank'.

One can find a number of popular comparisons in the contemporary material:

Loll kui köstripull `Daft as a parish clerk's bull'; Nõna leemetäs nigu mahlakask `Nose is trickling like a tapped birch'; Vahib nagu vasikas uut aiaväravat `Gapes like a calf at a new gate'; Vahib nagu lehm lennukit `Gapes like a cow at an aeroplane'; Nagu kits käia otsas `Like a goat on a crank'; Sa tead sellest samapalju kui siil vettehüppest `You know about it as much as a hedgehog does about diving'; Käivad/ujuvad ringi nagu maksahaiged tursad `Hanging (or swimming) around like liverish cods'.

The latter sayings are not classical, but nonetheless, concerning their content and form, they function as bywords.

The compilers of dictionaries of slang have been in trouble with that: it is often difficult to determine whether a phenomenon belongs to slang or popular idiom - for example, words connected with alcohol and sexuality are often popular, but they are also used in slang (Karttunen 1980:13-14). Juhan Peegel places soldiers' phraseological expressions somewhere between linguistic creation and phraseology. "There one can find proverbial sayings, bywords and comparisons as well as simply good expressions that one is not able to pigeon-hole." (Peegel 1976:341.)

Single detached sentences from anecdotes can also be used as catchwords:

Tuu om mu oma asi, pallo mul liha võileeva vahel om `It is my own business how much meat I have between my sandwich.' (Anecdote about an elephant between a sandwich.)

2. The origin of the rest, about a half of the material, is not known. They are, in most cases, created by people themselves, puns, but of course, there are also quotations that the bystander cannot recognize or the origin of which is not even known to the user. Using a bit of fantasy, one can guess the source of one or another saying, but it still remains just a guess:

Keda ei ole kohal, hõigaku! `Who is absent, call out!' (checking in a bus whether everybody is present). This is a widespread joke of the type Kedagi pole kodus! `Nobody's at home!' - for example, in Winnie-the-Pooh Rabbit says something like that. Tere talv! `Hello winter!' - in former times the games of pioneers were held under titles like that (e.g. "Põuavälk"/Summer Lightning, etc.) Expressions like that were also used in the headings of wall newspapers and in the titles of children's programmes, etc.

Characteristic Imagery, Forms and Methods of Catchwords

1. First, one has to remember that one is dealing with spoken language and any treatment should be based on these premises. In the present case, however, the material was collected without any special set of questions and there is very little additional information about the presentation, situation of usage, etc.

In many cases, intonation is certainly important as a factor that affects, or even reverses, the meaning. For example, a widespread way of expressing negation is with mere intonation in such affirmative clauses as Ei ole jah vast `It is not, is it'; Palju on! `It is too much!' etc. The expression Jah - sina oled tark `Yes, clever you are,' written down in 1937 includes a remark: (with a smirk). Irony is expressed in all these retorts as well as in the following ones: Ole mõnus! `How smart!'; Mida veel! `What's next!'

Intonation can produce other changes of meaning or connotation besides irony: Värdjas kild! `A bastard of a quip!' means `interesting', `pleasant'. When intonation does not change the meaning, it is still important, at least in all kinds of commands and interjections:

Mine ära, mis sa tahad! `Go away, what do you want!'; Uks kinni - meil on talv! `Shut the door - it is winter here!'; Vaat mis välja mõtles, lapsele suitsu pakkuma! `Look what he has cooked up - to offer a child a cigarette!'.

1937: Aga nalja! `Oh jokes!'; Aga õige! `Oh yes, right!'.

In case of quotations, people try to imitate the source as closely as possible. 1937: Missugune õpilane! `What a pupil!' (a teacher's expression).

Already Andrus Saareste has written, relying on the results of the experimental phonetics of his times, that in case of an affective turn of speech, the range of intonation is much wider than in ordinary speech (1927:170).

As regards the accentuation of stress and pauses, there is little information about it in the collected material, but as a matter of fact, variation of stress is a common method in the speech of pupils. For example, the following examples were recently used as set phrases: Igavesti lahe, igavesti tore! `Absolutely fine, absolutely cute' (with emphasis on the first word).

There is also little information about the gestures that sometimes can even be considered elements of play: when you pass somebody, you put your hand on the top of his head and say, "Radiation!" (Kiiritus!)

Facial expressions can also be observed only when staying in the respective environment for some time.

1937: Yes, clever you are (with a smirk).

A number of such occurrences of non-verbal communication could be pointed out after having observed and studied them in detail. The loudness, pitch and timbre of voice and the tempo of utterance are classified under paralinguistic phenomena; kinetics includes all sorts of gestures and facial expressions (about this feature, see Kimmel-Tenjes 1993:535-559).

2. Naturally, in the creation of quips people make use of all opportunities offered by the language itself and its different layers. In any case, it has to be striking, creative and witty, which qualities can be achieved with certain means in quotations as well as in the so-called personal catchwords.

One of the sources can be, for instance, slang, which in itself is in most cases metaphoric language. The border between slang and catchwords is fairly hazy (as is the case with language and classical phraseology). Dictionaries of slang include some phrases of two or three words that could as well be considered catchwords, but at the same time others that might as well be classified under slang, are missing.

In his graduation thesis, Tõnu Tender has given examples of such expressions: kullõ kõrvuga mitte vanaesä kõtunabaga `listen with your ears and not with your grandpa's navel'; jalost, ma olõ Sõmerpalost! `keep clear, I'm from Sõmerpalu!' (meaning `get out of the way') (1992:44). Slang contains perhaps slightly more information - in most cases it is known what a particular word means (this has enabled to compile dictionaries on the principles of a thesaurus). A catchword can often be used in very many different situations and meanings, according to one's mood and necessity, even up to absurd. This is, however, far from being a universal characteristic feature.

So, catchwords are approaching phraseological expressions, using among other things slang words:

Arvad, et nauditud (suitsetatud), võib minemea minna) `So you think you have enjoyed (smoked) it and now you can leave' (`To enjoy' is a slang word, but in certain situations people use the whole expression); No on lasteaed! `What a nursery!' (`nursery' obviously means silly, childish people).

In these expressions the meaning of slang words is more or less definite. But what is the meaning of individual words in the following sayings, remains vague:

Kas su isa on elektrik? `Is your dad an electrician?'; Ei tea, pole loomaarst `Don't know, I'm not a vet'.

Dialects also provide nourishment for the creation of catchwords, as does the whole language. The mere quality of being dialectal adds a certain humorous tone to the contemporary expressions, and it seems that it has been the case as early as in the 1930s. People use both the local dialect and (for example, in North Estonia) the South Estonian language, etc.

1937, in Rakvere: toronaine `market woman'; elukombed mend `manners lost'; nuur miis, ära noki `young man, stop pecking'.

1992, in Antsla: Kost said? Bennu Ameerikst saatsõ `Where did you get it? Bennu sent from America'; Supikulbi pääle mõtlõd kõik aig `You're thinking about the ladle all the time'.

In these days, foreign languages are an even more productive basis for the emergence of new phenomena in the schoolchildren's tongue.

Antsla: Unvergesslich gut!; The spirit (i.e. inspiration) will not come upon me; I want to livõ!; Hüvä päivä!; Come as you are!

1937: Was wollen Sie willen?; Achtung! (when a teacher is approaching); Hokey (OK, agreement); mine perse `go to hell' pronounced as [main prs].

In the contemporary slang of Tallinn there are 15 % of loan-words, according to the model quiz carried out by Mai Loog in 1989 (1989:167). Tõnu Tender says, relying on the information given by the students of the Pedagogical University, that in the language of musicians there are 39 % of borrowings (1992:41-42). In 1935, Paula Palmeos wrote in Üliõpilasleht (Students' Newspaper) about the jargon of the students of Tartu and remarked that the majority of borrowings come from German, and that via German culture a number of Latin loans have appeared; there are less borrowings from Russian, English, Finnish, etc. It is clear even without a special study that nowadays the proportions are different. The phenomenon can be explained, at least partly, with Andrus Saareste's words, "If a speaker can more or less speak a foreign language in addition to his/her mother tongue, it can often happen that, being under the influence of a strong feeling and searching for a more expressive phrase, he/she grasps for the foreign element. Everybody has had a chance to notice that in the state of a very strong affect, such as fury, one starts to curse in a foreign language" (1927:167). Of course, catchwords do not appear under the influence of a strong feeling or an affect only, so the quotation can only be a nuance among other reasons for using foreign languages.

As for the vocabulary, puns based on homonymy, actually quite an old phenomenon, are very characteristic:

Tilgub, tilgub! Kust tilgub? `It is dripping, it is dripping! From where is it dripping?' (the question is homonymous with "Urine is dripping"); Raske oli ta lapsepõli, kaevu ei olnud. Kust pidi ta jooma? `He had a hard time when he was a child - there was not a well. Where did he have to drink from?' (the question is homonymous with "He had to drink urine").

Words of another level are also played with:

Onju, eksju on parem sõna kui onju? `"Isn't it" is better than "Is it not", isn't it?'

Proper names have probably always given ground for jokes. Nicknames are a separate, very interesting topic, but many proper names have also become common nouns in slang.

1937: woman teacher = juula; 1992: a person younger than oneself = bärta. There are, however, expressions where the semantic stress is clearly on the proper name: Kes ütles, et Lurich on surnud? `Who said Lurich was dead?'

There is a game, widespread particularly among younger pupils, with rhyming words of several meanings, something like that:

Vaatan kaugelt munamägi - lähen lähemale - Tõnis Mägi! `From afar I see a hill; when I get closer - Benny Hill!'

Vaatan kaugalt mutter - lähen lähemale - Meelis Lutter! `From afar I see a screw: when I get closer - Tommy Drew!'

Place names are often used either as euphemisms for an indecent word, or, to the contrary, in a derogatory and ironical mening:

Sõida Pärnu! `Go to Pärnu'; Oled Järvakandist või? `Are you from Järvakandi?'

3. The latter examples already referred to euphemisms that are prevalent in slang as well as among quips and figures of speech:

Mine kakku! `Go to cakes'; Mine Türri! `Go to Dickenham!';

1937: Kas lõuaalune sügeleb või tahad ööbikuid kuulata? `Is your jaw itching or do you prefer to hear the nightingales?'; Viska viiesega allveelaevastiku heaks! `Pass a fiver for submarines!'; Õnnista sendiga Aleksandrikooli! `Give a cent for the benefit of Alexander School!' (The two latter ones are used when borrowing money).

Dysphemisms or intentionally rude, vulgar turns of speech are at least as widespread as euphemisms:

Tõmba vesi peale! `Go with your slops!'; Imiku ila! `Baby drool!'; Et su naine siile sünnitaks! `May your wife give birth to hedgehogs!'

Metaphorical features are evident already in the examples above. In case of catchwords, the ordinary meanings of words can expand or change infinitely. For example, in the schoolchildren's speech Go away means `Stop talking nonsense!' (Ära aja!), `Stop it!' (Jäta!), `You fool' (Loll!), or the expression of any other repelling attitude.

In some cases, a metaphor is developed into extensive allegoric or symbolic images:

Ma lähen ära teise liivakasti ja ei pissi enam sinu liivakasti. Kust sa siis saad märga liiva, et kooke teha vohh! `I'll go to another sand pit and won't piss into yours any more. Where, then, can you get wet sand to make cakes from, see?'

Comparison is certainly a very productive method that was touched upon above, in connection with bywords.

Irony is a very characteristic image that was dealt with in connection with intonation:

A good man you are! As smart as a log; etc.

All these means of figurative speech - especially hyperbole and litotes - render the text a grotesque and absurd quality:

Pea on paistes, et saabas ei lähe jalga `One's head is so swollen that the boots won't go on'; Pange tuli põlema, ma ei kuule `Turn the light on, I can't hear you'; Suu kinni, kui minuga räägid! `Shut your mouth when you're talking to me'.

1937: Ta on nii kõhn, et varesed lendavad ribide vahelt läbi `He is so lean that crows can fly through his ribs'.

The absurdity of the utterance itself is often increased by the absurdity of the situation, which feature was dealt with in connection with the quotations of advertisements: See on Vant, ta läheb okastaime kastma `This is Phant, he is going to water the prickle-plant'; Saraaajeva! `Sarayeva!' - obviously an interjection of whatever meaning, to be used in any situation; Kostroma juust! `Kostroma cheese!'.

Sometimes several catchwords have formed a constant group, e.g. they are used in dialogues: Maga välja! [Vastus:] Seitse! `Sleep off! [Answer:] Seven!'.

Quoting Alan Dundes, Seppo Knuuttila raises the question what are the factors that influence such a wide spread of absurd anecdotes and what makes these waves disappear as quickly as they appeared. The simple hypothesis of topicality and ennui are not sufficient. Dundes is of the opinion that one has to inquire what is happening in the world during these waves of anecdotes and in what way the events and motifs reflect each other (1992:131). Marjut Kivelä says that the explorers of humour have considered the surrealistic world of absurd humour to be the aspiration to oppose the one-sided mechanical thought of the world of science and technology (1982:8).

Deliberately erroneous usage of words is an old method of joking that schoolchildren do not hesitate to take advantage of: loogeline `winding' for loogiline `logical', kiibari auto for kiirabiauto `ambulance', etc.

4. On a sentence level an unexpected turn in the second half of the sentence or in a subordinate clause has a similar effect:

Kes teisele auku kaevab, see viib ise labida ära `He who digs a pit for another, must take the spade away himself';

1937: Küll sul on hea nina, anna las ma katsun `What a good nose you have, let me touch it'.

It is also possible to operate with subordinate clauses where all the words are in their ordinary meanings:

Ma ei saa aru, kuidas sa aru ei saa, et ma aru ei saa, et sa aru ei saa `I don't understand why you don't understand that I don't understand that you don't understand'.

This group includes also widespread puns of the following type:

Ma armastan sind ... (paus) kividega loopida. `I want you (pause) to be stoned' etc.

The special characteristic of figurative language is that it need not always be exuberant. To the contrary, the effect is often achieved with laconic means: Pioneer `Pioneer' - and everything is clear; Häirib `disturbs me'; Olen Kalevipoeg `I am Kalevipoeg'.

Other quips strike with their verbosity, redundancy:

A-klass peab pidu, B-klass õpib, A-klass tellib lõpuriided, B-klass õpib `Class A has a party, class B is studying; class A orders clothes for the graduation ceremony, class B is studying'.

1937: Mats ära trambi, vaata missugused su jalavarjud on nii kui paavjaanil `You lubber, stop trampling, look what footies you have, like a baboon'.

The striking effect is increased by an ellipsis: nii palju siis sellest `well that much about that' - the expression was originally probably an affective ellipsis, by now it is standard language:

Nii palju siis hobustest `That much about horses'; Pauk ja puusärk `Blast and casket!'; Aga nalja! `Oh jokes!'.

1937: Kui noorem õpilane tervitab, öeldakse: "See su kohus!". `When a younger pupil greets you, you answer, "Your duty!"'

The situation is the same with a marked order of words and sentence stress:

Vett ei joo ja jala ei käi `Never drinks water nor goes on foot'.

As one should expect, there are many interjections and commands among catchwords (more than one third of them). In addition, some narrative or interrogative sentences are interjections or commands according to their content:

Tult vai ei tulõ? `Are you coming or are you not?'; Mis sul mu isuga pistmist on? `What business is my appetite to you?'; Mis mõnel mehel on vahetund või? `Somebody having a break or something?'

Naturally, this relationship is by far not precise - schoolchildren have often omitted punctuation marks altogether, and moreover, the same sentence can be used in different functions.

Psycholinguists have considered the imperative to be one of the primordial fundamental forms of language: it is a declaration, assertion of oneself (e.g., see Hörmann 1970:288). In a group of pupils or at school age in general, this aspiration seems to be particularly relevant.

5. Naturally, acoustic means are also used, such as end rhymes:

Korras nagu Norras `Okay as in Norway'; Jes, mine ess `Yes, go to S';

and alliterations and assonances:

siililegi selge `(sth. is) obvious even to an opossum'; seltsimehed seinalehed kodanikud konnapojad vennad ventilaatorid, juppidest jumala uus `buddies bluebottles, fellows feed-pipes; brand new from bits'.

Phonetic changes can bring about a comic effect, thus fostering the survival of the quip: niigu merd `oodles (of sth.)'; miis viiga `what's wrong?' (with prolonged vowels). A. Saareste has given examples of phonetic changes under the influence of various emotions. For example, labialization in case of irony: io-io = ja-jah `yes, yes' (1927:172).

The Content of Information

is an important parameter of catchwords. But it appears to be, however, a slippery subject that perhaps could be dealt with, if one relies on a great amount of material collected in the actual situation of usage.

1. What information is contained in the quotation See on Vant, ta läheb okastaime kastma `This is Phant, he is going to water the prickle-plant'? Probably, if a bystander cannot grasp the meaning of the utterance, it is because both slang and catchwords function, to some extent, as a cant? Or is there no information after all?

2. Some texts contain some kind of information, to which a superfluous part is added: Vaikust. Saade! `Silence. We're on!' The word "silence" can be understood in the direct meaning, but it may as well be that the quip is sometimes used in a different context. Head uutmisaastat! `A Happy Innovative Year' can be a New Year's wish, but probably also as a simple interjection such as Tere talv! `Hello winter!', etc.

3. For us, there is some information in a classical phraseological unit such as Ega sa klaassepä poig ei ole `You're no glazier's son' (it is essentially a command: "Get out of my light!"); Mina olin puu otsas kui pauk käis `I was in a tree when the crack sounded', etc. But what about meaningful communication if a classical short form has, for example, turned into a parody? Kel ei vea kaardimängus - see kaotab `He who has no luck with cards is a loser'; Oma silm on ikka - prillide taga `one's own eye is always behind the spectacles'; Ma süü oma naasõ är, ku üts noist ei olõ müts `I'll eat up my wife if one of them is not a hat'.

More information is given by commands and prohibitions: Pane uks väljastpoolt kinni! `Shut the door from the outside!', but by no means by all of them: Suu kinni kui sa minuga räägid! `Shut your mouth when talking to me!'.

It seems, however, that in case of catchwords getting information is secondary. In this case, these are, in the first place, a means of contact and thus a highly social phenomenon. It would be interesting to know how a schoolchild who uses catchwords when talking to others talks to him/herself. Does he/she use catchwords in an evening contemplation in his/her own room?


is directly connected with the content of information. The most important thing is that these expressions are repeatedly used stereotypes, otherwise we would not be able to talk about catchwords.

In their collection The Social Psychology of Language (5/1986), socio-linguists say that a stereotype is exaggerated trust that is related to a social category. Its function is to justify one's behaviour towards that category. There are different opinions as to whether stereotypes are fixed to typical individuals or a group as a whole. (Hewstone-Giles 1986:11-12).

Additional information about the situations of usage of the collected material is available in case of 5% of newer and 30% of older texts:

Uus poiss peeretäs! `It was the new boy who broke wind' (when something is done, it is always the new pupil who did it); Tumadan ukradina! `The bag's stolen!' (when somebody's schoolbag has been hidden).

This of course does not mean that the usage could not be expanded or altered in the course of time.

1937: Kindel linn ja varjupaik on meie kooli väljakäik `A firm stronghold is our loo... ' (said when seeking refuge from a teacher in the loo); Pauk ja puusärk! `Blast and casket!' (when somebody hits another).

The diversity of situations and meanings of usage, their constant transferability and scarcity of information raise the question

What Are These Catchwords Needed For

1. One of the reasons of talking is considered to be the wish not to be silent (Hörmann 1970:8). That must also apply to catchwords as phenomena that bear little information.

2. The aforementioned fact is connected with a primordial wish, and in fact a function of language, to declare: "Here is someone! I am here!" (the so-called utterance of contact) (ibid).

Beside the pre-historic stage of the development of a language, this phenomenon is also characteristic of the contemporary usage.

3. The pursuit of group identity and social identity causes imitation of each other, with a stress on the state of belonging together, behind which there is actually the desire to please. H. Hörmann explains, relying on Hayakawa and Glinz, that being in a phonetic/acoustic contact with each other is never neutral, and that it has an affective meaning. The recognized values are placed all together between two or more persons and that is not only the way to arrange things and phenomena as such, in order to relate them to human beings, but also a means of drawing mental lines between different people. The manifestation and confirmation of that main feature, the connection, is characteristic of both a simple interjection and a post symbolic usage of words that is no more expected to communicate information, but only to serve the ritualised unity through social contact (Hörmann 1970:9). Could that be the principal function of the quips that bear little information? And what about the absurd which is absolutely void of information? Perhaps it is born at the very time when the human necessity for, and lack of, contact is at its peak?

4. Catchwords are certainly used to demonstrate one's being well versed with something, being in the know (with TV, videos that are considered to be "in", etc.).

5. One cannot overlook the function of play - creativity, joy, wit.

6. Alongside with the emphasis of group identity, an opposite tendency works: that of opposing oneself to others. This manifests in derision and mockery, particularly among younger pupils, and later in irony or simply in demonstrating one's skill of expression.

7. The abovementioned factor is connected with a constant desire to evaluate (and often, to express a negative judgement).

8. Alongside with other social functions of stereotypes, the function of self-defence has also been mentioned, which is related to the necessity to justify oneself. A human being wants to develop attitudes that help him to achieve the desired goals, that harmonize with extensive systems of values, impress his social environment and protect him from the recognition of his own inadequacy (see e.g. Hewstone-Giles 1986:18).

9. Naturally, the wish to set one's own group against the other ones (e.g. teachers), the desire to re-formulate, the spirit of protest, as well as the need for a jargon, are of importance. Leea Virtanen says that the tradition of schoolchildren has, for the most part, the character of a parodical counter culture, where the authorities of the grown-ups are made fun of (1982:442).

10. The habit to use irony and vulgar speech to overcome serious subjects, to demonstrate one's supremacy over these, can also be observed in the soldiers' tongue. "In this way, the grim reality, when renamed, appears in a new, arrogantly contrastive light and that can create a psychically different, more favourable atmosphere" (Peegel 1976:340).

11. Quips are often necessary to fill up the pauses in conversation, to jump from one subject to another (so-called pause-filling communication).

12. Minute linguistic units give rhythm to situations and activities.

13. However, a certain need for a transmission of knowledge and information has also its place somewhere.

Schoolchildren's phraseology is a topical, dynamic, rapidly changing, and at the same time surprisingly persistent tradition. Very characteristic of its time was, for example, the expression of 1937:

Ta oli pritsimeeste peol, sest ta puudub alati esmaspäeval `He was on the firemen's party - because he is always absent on Monday'.

But the following examples, recorded in 1937, are still current:

Ära tule selga elama - turnib seljas `Don't you come to live on my back; (someone is) sitting on my back'; Ära jura! `stop that bullshit'; üks kruvi logiseb `a button is missing'.

Contemporary quips that come from advertisements, videos, etc., are partly certainly transitory and impermanent. But if the expression is particularly striking or well-sounding, it can be "in the repertoire" for quite a long time: See tunne pole uus `This feeling is not new' comes from a popular song of the 1970s.

According to Juhan Peegel, a part of the vocabulary of the Estonian National Corps can be traced back to the jargon of the Tsarist army (1976:340). The expression Go away! seems to be something universal: a record of 1937 reads Mine ära, sa oled kole `Go away, you are awful'; in the contemporary material there is Mine ära, mis sa tahad `Go away, what do you want' and simply Mine ära! `Go away!' I remember from my own schooldays that people used Mine ära, ma ei salli sind `Go away, I can't stand you'. At the same time, Mine ära `Go away' could also mean "Stop it!", "You fool!", etc.

As one should expect, there are more classical short forms in the older material than in the modern pupils' folklore. Referring to Jim Freedman, Seppo Knuuttila says that under the circumstances where the relations between human beings are occasional and transitory and the opportunities, and supply, of contact are abundant, superficial joking and mockery are the devices for establishing and altering social relations. On the other hand, in the societies where human relations are fixed and strongly determined by social normative, joking is also traditional, not to say ritualized. Thus, superficial and free ways of joking are characteristic of a modern many-layered society (Knuuttila 1992:165). But where runs the border between traditional and superficial joking?

As for the specific features of age, it is conspicuous that younger pupils use primarily abusive and mocking nicknames, derisive remarks, ditties, rapid speech, rhymed retorts, in the same way as in Finland. There are always the same paksmaod `potbellies', prillipapad `specs daddies', punapead `redheads', etc. Later, bitter humour becomes more frequent, and traditions show that pupils want to resemble the grown-ups. Traditional mockery takes on stereotypes and there exists a traditional world of pupils where to they are compelled by the adults, whether they want it or not (Virtanen 1991:442-443). It has been assumed that a mocking relationship is a peculiar union of friendship and antagonism, respect and disrespect, it is a certain alliance between two persons where, under the prevailing cultural situation, one has a flat obligation to mock the other one (Knuuttila 1992:168-169).

The usage of catchwords seems to be particularly characteristic of secondary school pupils, and to a smaller extent to those of medium level. Getting older, one need not fight for oneself any more. The take-in jokes fall off and there will be spare time for other witticisms. Of course, creativity develops, and little by little, there arises the desire to appear before an audience. (For example, the older pupils do not imitate each others' clothes so much, they try to be original.) Individual creation of words and quick reaction gain moment. And still, the catchwords are, for the most part, hackneyed and often repeated, spreading in waves of vogue, which is probably one of the reasons why adults use comparatively few catchwords: constant repetition wears the expressions out and the original striking effect is lost. In case of secondary school pupils, both tendencies work: the feeling of belonging together, the need for contact; and at the same time, the desire to be different. One's words and behaviour are in interaction.

In order to compare the usage of language of younger and older pupils, as well as that of other social groups, the collected material does not suffice. All that one can do is to pose questions. Paula Palmeos has found that in the students' slang of her times there were many words that were common with the slang of primary and secondary school pupils, and also, that there were overlappings in the slang of students and soldiers. She has also asserted that men coin more words than women, the latter take them over from men (Palmeos 1935:506). From the modern point of view, there is nothing to say about the last statement - one cannot even imagine how to track down the first user of a certain quip.

Do catchwords exist, after all? Theoretically, perhaps, they do not, but practically they do. It is extremely difficult to list the characteristic features of quips. They can be quite ordinary sentences, quotations, classical short forms becoming catchwords only after being repeatedly used as catchwords. Specialists in folklore may call them bywords, but the pupils themselves never do so.

While in slang it is the formal and semantic markedness that has been considered essential (about it, see Tender 1992:38-39), in case of catchwords the determining factor seems to be the markedness of usage. In most cases, catchwords are affective turns of speech: "From among synonyms, the speaker tends to choose those that are more affective, full of emotion, more expressive, he is inclined to prefer lexical elements that bring about a better solution to the emotional tensions of the speaker and make an impression on the feelings and minds of the listener that is as deep as the situation requires" (Saareste 1927:164-165). Certainly, a number of expressions, by now standard language, that we habitually use, have at one time been affective turns of speech (e.g. catchwords) that have lost their original markedness. For example, people of very different ages and social strata have been using the expression Niipalju siis sellest `Well, that much about it' for quite a long time and the original emphatic quality has begun to fade.

The language of schoolchildren and other separate groups has in many ways been considered the outpost of the development of our language. They are constantly giving new linguistic expressions into the standard language. And the lack of slang is in turn a tried sign of the extinction of a language. Inquiries show that slang does not exist in the speech of young Estonians living in Sweden as well as in that of young people living in the Estonian villages of Siberia. It is only a living language that produces slang (about it, see Tender 1992). Probably, then, quips as a living, mobile and youthful layer of phraseology could also serve as a nutritive soil, at the same time feeding upon the earlier, existing tradition.

Estonian Folklore Archives
Tartu, Estonia


* The heading of the current article in English is a verbal translation from Estonian.


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