(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 language." ... 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.