A cockroach has appeared in my blog, even before today. Therefore you may come to the conclusion that I have a thing about cockroaches… And you would be right. I think there is a psychological something or other going on there, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Nope, I’m writing about language. Regardless, the cockroach is a central part to this particular story. Let me begin:
Two nights ago I was sitting on my sofa, reading, when I heard a disturbing sort of rustling sound from behind my living room table. As it continued for a while, I finally thought: okay, the time has at last arrived: I have a mouse. And as the creature came rustling out from behind the table, I still thought that it was a mouse, as it was quite sizable. But no, at a closer look, it turned out that this was a huge cockroach. I freaked out but managed to kill it after a while, with some fervor.
The next day, coincidentally, the exterminator came and I eagerly welcomed him and his poisons. (Usually I don’t invite him in, as typically I don’t have a problem with critters and bugs. Just saying.) I then directed the man towards the area I had spotted the roach and referring to the bug I told him that: “He went under the radiator. Please spray in that spot over there.” What struck me was that I assumed the cockroach was a “he.” Why? Why is it that I would never call a cockroach a “she?” Interesting, that. Also interesting is that I called him a “he” instead of “it.” Despite having a serious aversion to these insects, I still managed to speak of him as a person.
The reason why this particular subject stayed with me is that in Finland, where I grew up, we usually describe insects and people alike as “it.” There are no words like he or she in Finnish, separating gender, although there does exist a word for the genderless (s)he = hän. The language is unusually unisex, which I think is cool. But I have to say, after 18 years in the US, I have started to notice that I dislike it when people say “it” (se) when referring to each other. Even though it is common policy in Finland, now with some perspective I often find it demeaning. I have to say, I much prefer the word hän. If saying ‘hän’ didn’t make me sound like such a foreigner, I would use only that. But these days I am questioning whether there is an underlying, subconscious disrespect and detachment written into the language itself, by using the word ‘it’ of each other.
Ah, the richness of language. The culture lives in it. Oh, the myriad words for drunks, drunkenness, phases of being drunk in Finnish. But then again, the English word “shallow,” describing a person of little depth, doesn’t even exist in Finnish, in my knowledge. Hehe…
In conclusion, I don’t know that the cockroach deserves my personalization of it. He/it is not an invited guest at my house and is clearly trespassing. Nevertheless, perhaps the words ‘he’ or ‘she’ help me be a little warmer towards whatever creature I am describing: human or animal. Although most likely a mere pipe dream, I wish that ‘hän’ would invade the Finnish language gradually–creeping in, like a sparkly, magical, rainbow-cockroach, sprinkling some added warmth and stardust on the language and subsequently–the culture.
By the way, in the photo: not a cockroach. Just a regular Finnish kovakuoriainen. (=beatle;))