Scandi Words and Phrases of Beauty Part 6: Ostrobothnia/Österbotten/Pohjanmaa

As if it wasn’t enough for us that the Finnish names for months owe everything to very Northern interpretations of the cycle of nature and nothing to Roman gods, we have to include the Finnish name for the historical region of Ostrobothnia in this latest Words and Phrases of Beauty entry for very similar reasons.

The Latinisation ‘Ostrobothnia’ sounds grandiose, as is the case with Latinisations for geographical regions across Europe (Styria, Scania, Carinthia). Unsurprisingly, the Swedish ‘Österbotten’ from which this Latinisation is derived sounds more earthy and, funnily enough, is easier than the original Latin to comprehend and appreciate as a linguistic construction given that it translates literally from modern Swedish as ‘East Bottom/East Ground’, and therefore the opposite of Västerbotten, in Sweden. Wikipedia tells us that ‘botten’ in Swedish historically referred to a gulf, in this case, presumably, the gulf between Sweden and Finland – hence the name Gulf of Bothnia. But we wouldn’t mind some corroboration or verification on this front. If, as Wikipedia says, ‘Bottenviken’ literally translates as ‘Gulf-gulf’, surely this is true of the very name ‘Gulf of Bothnia’ itself? The gulf of the gulf?

Staring deep into the Gulf's core

Staring deep into the Gulf’s core

But if it’s the earthiness of a proper name that helps to summon up an authentic vision of the geography it alludes to, how about the fantastic ‘Pohjanmaa’ in Finnish? At a stroke ‘Ostrobothnia’ becomes something far simpler and yet so much more evocative. Think about all the possible translations. ‘Bottom Earth’? ‘Ground Earth’? ‘Northern Land’? ‘Bottom Land’? Surely this is what Tolkien was trying to conjure up with the idea of Middle Earth – except this is a real place and the Finns got there before JRR himself.

Once again, just like the Finnish names for months (‘pearl month’, ‘hay month’, ‘mud month’, ‘yule month’) the Finnish language manages to be reductive and truly precious, terse and epic. We welcome any further examples in this particular canon.


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