Words Are Not Enough…
December 4th, 2007

English is a rich and wonderful language – but sometimes it’s just not good enough.

For example, have you ever wondered why there isn’t a nice pithy term for a person who is only attractive if they’re standing quite far away?

Other languages do have such words. The extraordinary variety of international speech is captured in Toujours Tingo, a new book which draws on more than 300 languages exploring the areas where English fails us.

So try these words for size…

Kaelling – Danish: a woman who stands on her doorstep yelling obscenities at her kids.

Pesamenteiro – Portuguese: one who joins groups of mourners at the home of a dead person, apparently to offer condolences but in reality is just there for the refreshments.

Jayus – Indonesian: someone who tells a joke so unfunny you can’t help laughing.

Spesenritter – German: a person who shows off by paying the bill on the firm’s money, literally “an expense knight”.

Kanjus Makkhicus – Hindi: a person so miserly that if a fly falls into his cup of tea, he’ll fish it out and suck it dry before throwing it away.

Dii-KOYNA – Ndebele, South Africa: to destroy one’s property in anger.

Hanyauku – Rukwangali, Namibia: walking on tiptoes across warm sand.

Tartle – Scottish: to hesitate when you are introducing someone whose name you can’t quite remember.

Prozvonit – Czech and Slovak: to call someone’s mobile from your own to leave your number in their memory without them picking it up.

Shnourkovat Sya – Russian: when drivers change lanes frequently and unreasonably.

Gadrii Nombor Shulen Jongu – Tibetan: giving an answer that is unrelated to the question, literally “to give a green answer to a blue question”.

Biritululo – Kiriwani, Papua New Guinea: comparing yams to settle a dispute.

Poronkusema – Finnish: the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without a comfort break.

Baling – Manobo, Philippines: the action of a woman who, when she wants to marry a man, goes to his house and refuses to leave until marriage is agreed upon.

Oka/SHETE – Ndonga, Nigeria: urination difficulties caused by eating frogs before the rain has duly fallen.

Pisan Zapra – Malay: the time needed to eat a banana.

Layogenic – Tagalog, Philippines: a person who is only goodlooking from a distance.

Creerse La Ultima Coca-COLA EN EL DESIERTO – Central American Spanish: to have a very high opinion of oneself, literally to “think one is the last Coca-Cola in the desert”.

Snyavshi Shtany, PO VOLOSAM NE GLADYAT – Russian: once you’ve taken off your pants it’s too late to look at your hair.

Bayram Degil (SEYRAN DEGIL ENISTE BENI NIYE OPTU? – Turkish: there must be something behind this. Literally “it’s not festival time, it’s not a pleasure trip, so why did my brother-in-law kiss me”?

(From Toujours Tingo: More Extraordinary Words To Change The Way We See The World by Adam Jacot de Boinod – published by Penguin Books)