How to speak Estonian like a true Tallinner
- posted in: columns
Having lived in Tallinn for nearly a year now, I’ve become aware of a style of slang that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the country. Unfortunately, not many people seem to have a proper grasp of this special vocabulary: in fact, I sometimes think I’m the only one speaking it.
The basis of Tallinn slang is brevity: Tallinners are in a rush, and they want to say what needs to be said as quickly as possible. This is usually accomplished by dropping the first syllable of a word. For instance, when Tallinners greet each other, they don’t say Tere! – that’s too long and boring. It’s what my Grandmother might say to me if she knew any Estonian. And knew I live in Estonia.
Instead, Tallinners greet each other by saying ‘Re. This is true Tallinn slang. Most other basic words are abbreviated in the same way. For example, instead of nägemist, Tallinners say ‘mist. Nägemist? Are you kidding me? Are you saying good-bye or reciting War and Peace? Nägemist is too long for my fast-paced lifestyle.
Below is a table of some basic Estonian words and their Tallinner slang (known colloquially as Tallinnese) equivalent.
Tere – ‘Re
Palun – ‘Lun
Aitäh – ‘Täh
Nägemist – ‘Mist
Täna – T’na
Praegu – ‘Gu
Suur – S’ur
Väike – V’ke
People have complained that some Tallinnese words, such as V’ke and T’na, are impossible to pronounce given the removal of the letter ä. To those people, I say: welcome to my world.
Many phrases in Tallinnese differ from their Estonian counterparts. For instance, instead of the long, drawn-out Mis kell on?, the savvy Tallinner asks, simply, MKO?. We’re not discussing the physics of time, here – we just want to know if we’re late for our important meeting or not (if we are, they’ll wait).
Other useful phrases have Tallinnese equivalents:
Kas see on vaba? – KSOV?
Kes tema on? – KTO?
Mis see on? – MSO?
Millest sa aru ei saa? – MSAES?
Tallinnese also introduces some new words into the Estonian vocabulary, to reflect phenomena that exist solely in Tallinn:
Nilbik – Creep. Synonymous with Nimetalane, Shootersisõber, and Tacoexpressisööja.
Rahaauk – Any bar on Viru street.
Tüütutsoon – The area outside the entrance of the Rimi in Old Town, wherein every single person entering the store gets harassed.
Haigusetänav – The area of street between Levi’st Väljast and the Tallinn Backpackers hotel. Walk on this portion of street with caution.
Learning Tallinnese is relatively simple, but understanding some of the subtle contextual nuances can be difficult. Remember, Tallinners are more important than you: it’s easy to speak like a Tallinner, but it’s almost impossible to sound like a Tallinner. To help, some sample dialogues are offered below to assist the novice speaker.
Situation: Two sisters are speaking for the first time in years following an extremely dramatic incident. They have been re-united by the sickness of their mother, which they fear may be fatal.
Õde 1: ‘Re.
Õde 2: ‘Re.
Õde 1: MKO?
Õde 2: Kell 2.
Õde 1: Ma hilinen koosolekule.
Õde 2: ‘Mist.
Õde 1: ‘Mist.
Situation: A man spots an empty seat on the trolley. An old woman next to the empty seat is obstructing it partially with her gigantic jacket.
Mees: ‘Lun, KSOV?
Mees: Vabandust. KSOV?
Mees: Naine, MSAES?
Situation:Two women meet for drinks after work. One of the women wants to discuss a date she recently went on.
Naine 1: ‘Re. Ma käisin kohtingul eile.
Naine 2: Kellega? KTO?
Naine 1: S’ur nilbik kellega ma tutvusin Haigusetänaval.
Naine 2: Kus te käisite?
Naine 1: Rahaaugu baaris. Oli mage.
Naine 2: Luuser!