Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Pikakirjoitusvihko" and pikakirjoitusvihko

Ron Padgett's How to Be Perfect has a poem whose title sent me in search of help: "Pikakirjoitusvihko." "Pikakirjoitusvihko" is a long poem written in the spirit of what I like to call dailiness — a series of aphorisms, notations, quotations. For instance:

Courtesy is more efficient than the lack of it.


If I get a fatal disease, I am going to be very mad at it. I will blame it for my death.


"The worth of that is that which it contains, / And that is this, and this . . ." (Shakespeare, almost Gertrude Stein, Sonnet 74)
The last entry of "Pikakirjoitusvihko" notes that the word pikakirjoitusvihko is Finnish and appears on the cover of "this notebook," presumably the one in which the poet has been writing. So I suspected that the word means, simply, notebook. Google could not confirm my hunch, returning only eight results, four of which are references to Padgett's poem. I tried a Google image search, hoping to find perhaps an illustration from a Finnish stationer, with no luck. Next, Babel Fish, which, I found, doesn't do Finnish. I then e-mailed my friend Norman, linguist and translator, who worked out a possible explanation:
pika=express (like express train)
kirjoitusvihko=exercise book
vihko=notebook, booklet

express exercise book

Does that make sense?
Norman, who has some knowledge of Finnish, used an online Finnish-English dictionary (I didn't imagine that there was such a thing). As he explained though, it wouldn't have helped me:
You would have found kirjoitusvihko, but it is not easy to know where you are supposed to split a Finnish word. Knowing that kirjasto is "library," I guessed that pika must be the first element.
But Norman wanted to check with another translator, Sheryl, who pointed out that the word divides after pikakirjoitus, which means "shorthand" or "stenography" (express writing!). So pikakirjoitusvihko means "stenography notebook" or "steno pad."

Norman adds:
Icelandic, like Finnish, has a calque or loan translation . . . hraðritun, which also means "express writing" (hraðbraut means "expressway").
Kiitos, Norman and Sheryl! And kiitos, Ron Padgett, for sending me on this journey.

Now I'm going to look up stenography.

More, in an e-mail from Ron Padgett:
I had the same trouble. Thinking that I had bought the notebook in Kiev, I went to the Ukrainian Museum here in NY to ask for a translation, but of course they were puzzled by the word and said they didn't think it was Ukrainian. Some time later something made me think of asking Anselm Hollo, and of course Bingo! "Stenographer's notebook," he said. Which, in light of the poem, turned out accidentally to be the right title. Then he tried to teach me how to say it in Finnish. He's still trying.

Related reading
Calque (Wikipedia)
Anselm Hollo (
Ron Padgett (
Red-headed woman with reporter's notebook (Jean Harlow, taking dictation)
TElephone EXchange NAmes in poetry (from a poem by Ron Padgett)

comments: 5

Tom Cheetham said...

thanks for this!! nice work...

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Tom.

Unknown said...

Thank you! Landed on Padgett's poem and needed help!

Pete Astor said...

Fantastic work Mr. Leddy. The internet is so good for things like this. A big hive from my sofa. Thank you!

Michael Leddy said...

You’re welcome, Pete. I’m happy to share.