Linguistic Anthropology Department
(September 26, 2005)
How come only German has a word for "a person who leaves without paying the bill" (Zechpreller) or that Albanians need 27 words for "moustache"? A compelling new book uncovers the globe's most weird, wonderful, and meaningful words.
Everyone knows that Inuit-speaking races can call on 30-odd words for snow. Adam Jacot de Boinod first became entranced by language when he discovered 27 words for "moustache" in an Albanian dictionary - and another 27 for "eyebrows"! A world of bushy machismo and stolid dignity sprang to life before his eyes. He began hanging out in second-hand bookshops, looking for foreign dictionaries and the tiny revelations contained therein. He made lists of his favorite "words with no equivalent in the English languag." ... like tsui-giri, a Japanese word from Samurai days, meaning "to try out a new sword on a passer-by." or Torschlusspanik, a German word meaning "the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older."
Here are a just a few favorites from his book, "The Meaning of Tingo."
Nylentik - Indonesian - To flick someone with the middle finger on the ear.
Kucir - Indonesian - A tuft of hair left to grow on the top of an otherwise bald head.
O ka la nokonoko - Hawaiian - A day spent in nervous anticipation of a coughing spell.
Bakku-shan - Japanese - A girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn't when seen from the front.
Pomicione - Italian - A man who seizes any chance of being in close physical contact with a woman.
Koshatnik - Russian - A dealer in stolen cats.
Fucha - Portuguese - To use company time and resources for one's own purposes.
Zechpreller - German - A person who leaves a restaurant without paying.
Seigneur Terrasse - French - Someone who spends time, but not money, at a cafe.
Latah - Indonesian - Uncontrollable habit of saying embarrassing things.
Desus - Indonesian - The quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting, but not very loudly.
And finally... the title of the book, "The Meaning of Tingo" - from the Pascuense language on Easter Island.
Tingo - Borrowing things from a friend's house, one by one, until he has nothing left.