[ExI] The Meaning of Tingo (book review)

Amara Graps amara at amara.com
Sun Jun 24 08:35:00 UTC 2007

Hi Folks,

A fine book review in The Economist added another book to my already
extensive book list-reading-queue:

_The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World_
by Adam Jacot de Boinod

Since the Economist book review is 'subscribers only' (September 24, 2005
if you're a subscriber), I'll just post some snippets.

--------Snippets of Review


Adam Jacot de Boinod, a BBC researcher, has sifted through more than 2m
words in 280 dictionaries and 140 websites to discover that Albanians
have 27 words for moustache-including mustaqe madh for bushy and mustaqe
posht for one which droops down at both ends-that gin is Phrygian for
drying out, that the Dutch say plimpplamppletteren when they are
skimming stones and that instead of snap, crackle, pop, Rice Krispies in
the Netherlands go Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!


It is not so much the languages that have two dozen words for snow, say,
or horse or walrus carcass that impress the most, but those that draw
differences between the seemingly indistinguishable. Italian, as one
would imagine, is particularly good on male vanity, and French on love
as a business. The richness of Yiddish for insults seems to be matched
only by the many and varied Japanese words for the deep joy that can
come as a response to beauty and the German varieties of sadness and

Words for work, money, sex, death and horrible personal habits may well
tell you more about national attitudes than anything else. Why would
Russian have a special word, koshatnik, for someone who deals in stolen
cats and Turkish another, cigerci, for a seller of liver and lungs, or
Central American Spanish a particular name, aviador, for a government
employee who shows up only on payday?

Old jokes are often the best jokes, and many of the most amusing
examples are of terrible errors that can be made in different languages:
there is fart (Turkish for talking nonsense), buzz (Arabic for nipple),
sofa (Icelandic for sleep), shagit (Albanian for crawling on your
belly), jam (Mongolian for road), nob (Wolof for love), dad (Albanian
for babysitter), loo (Fulani for a storage pot), babe (SisSwati for a
government minister), slug (Gaulish for servant), flab (Gaelic for a
mushroom) and moron (Welsh for carrot).


I love this kind of cultural microscope, especially as a literal person
where words carry added weight and meaning. One LARGE CAVEAT, is that
the author did not practice rigor, so there are apparently many errors,
as the amazon.com reviews below indicate. It's certainly good for an
eye-opening, conversation-starting bit-of-fun, but if you are going to
depend on the word for real life, you should probably confirm the word's


Amazon's reviews :


Amara Graps, PhD      www.amara.com
Associate Research Scientist, Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Tucson
INAF Istituto di Fisica dello Spazio Interplanetario (IFSI), Roma, Italia

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