Letters When we spoke to the world's most celebrated Finn, Linus Torvalds last week we were curious about the Finnish expression "Your cow is in the ditch", and appealed for help.
As ever, erudite Register readers have come to the rescue.
The expression means roughly: "he has selfish reasons for seeing this one succeed", points out Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho.
An example we liked was: "Have you heard about Jorma Ollila driving up the Nokia stock price?" ... "Well, he's got his own cow in the ditch, you know," writes Tuomas Hakkarainen
Only it's not quite so pejorative, as Derek Sellin and Vesa Pajula, amongst others, point out: "The phrase itself is not a bad nor a good thing," writes Vesa.
"Most of the time this is relatively mild criticism, and is usually not used to refer to outright corruption," writes Dare Talvitie.
But as Hamalainen Teemu notes: "If it was a legal matter, he would be 'jäävi' or 'legally disqualified from deciding a given matter due to a conflict of interest'"
And the derivation is fairly obvious once you think about it. As we had to...
"The origin of this expression is most probably in the agrarian roots of Finnish society (we didn't become an industrial nation until after WW2 when we had to pay huge reparations to the Soviets)," writes Esko Halttunen.
"I would guess that it would be that when you were driving cows to the pasture and if one of them fell into a ditch, it tended to get stuck there and it was important to get it out. Well, a cow being as big as it is, there's no way one man can pull a fullgrown cow out all by himself, so that usually meant asking the neighbors for help, and naturally the owner of the cow had the most interest in getting the cow out, so he would try to be very persuasive."
Harri Rautila suggests updating cow for car to bring the phrase into the 21st century, but we do like it as it is, and think it should be adopted as widely as possible. Here's a start, anyway.
Many thanks also to Sami Silaste, Teemu Marjalaakso, Pauli Ojanpera Sampsa Laine, Jukka Lind Pirjo Sollasvaara, Jyry Kuukkanen, Rami Aapasuo and the rest of you for your contributions. And we won't be calling Finland a Scandinavian country again, OK? ®