The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World

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Penguin, Feb 27, 2007 - Language Arts & Disciplines - 209 pages
A divine gift for the word-obsessed—a deliciously eccentric world tour of words that have no English equivalent

The countless language freaks who’ve worn out their copies of Eats, Shoots and Leaveswill find inexhaustible distraction in The Meaning of Tingo. Where else will they discover that Bolivians have a word that means “I was rather too drunk last night and it’s all their fault”? As for tingo, on Easter Island it means “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them.” Organized by themes such as food, the human body, and sex and love, this irresistible book combs through more than 254 languages in search of those gorgeous oddities that have no direct English counterpart—words so strange and apt that if they didn’t exist, they would have to be invented.

Highlights from The Meaning of Tingo:
mencomet(Indonesian): stealing things of small value such as food or drinks, partly for fun
scheissbedauern(German): the disappointment one feels when something turns out not nearly as badly as one had hoped
mono-no-aware(Japanese): appreciating the sadness of existence
mahj(Persian): looking beautiful after disease
plimpplamppletteren(Dutch): the skimming of a flat stone as many times as possible across the surface of the water
koshatnik(Russian): a dealer in stolen cats
ava(Tahitian): wife (but also means whisky)


Selected pages


Meeting and Greeting
From Top to Toe
Movers and Shakers
Getting Around
It Takes All Sorts
Falling in Love
The Family Circle
Clocking On
Below Par
From Cradle to Grave
All Creatures Great and Small
Whatever the Weather
Hearing Things
Seeing Things
Number Crunching

Time Off
Eating and Drinking
Whats in a Name?

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Page vii - My interest in the quirkiness of foreign words was triggered when one day, working as a researcher for the BBC quiz programme QI, I picked up a weighty Albanian dictionary to discover that they have no fewer than twenty-seven words for eyebrows and the same number for moustache, ranging from mustaqe inadh, or bushy, to a mustaqe posht, one which droops down at both ends.
Page viii - I started to make a shortlist of my favourites: nakhur, for example, is a Persian word (which may not even be known to most native speakers) meaning 'a camel that won't give milk until her nostrils have been tickled'; and areodjarekput, the Inuit for 'to exchange wives for a few days only'.
Page ix - Haven't we all felt termangu-mangu, Indonesian for 'sad and not sure what to do' or mukamuka, Japanese for 'so angry one feels like throwing up'?

About the author (2007)

Adam Jacot de Boinod first developed his passion for foreign words while doing research for the BBC program Q1. In the course of compiling this book, he consulted some 220 dictionaries, 150 Web sites, and numerous books on language.

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