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Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Tingo, nakkele and other wonders
By Georgina Pattinson
BBC News

Who could resist eating every last bit of curry?
English is a rich and innovative language. But you can't help feeling we're missing out.

While English speakers have to describe the action of laughing so much that one side of your abdomen hurts (hardly an economical phrase), the Japanese have the much more efficient expression: katahara itai.

Of course, the English language has borrowed words for centuries. Khaki and croissant are cases in point.

So perhaps it's time to be thinking about adding others to the lexicon. Malay, for instance, has gigi rongak - the space between the teeth. The Japanese have bakku-shan - a girl who appears pretty from behind but not from the front. Then there's a nakkele - a man who licks whatever the food has been served on (from Tulu, India).

I'm trying to celebrate the joy of foreign words
Adam Jacot de Boinod
These fabulous examples have been collected by author Adam Jacot de Boinod into The Meaning Of Tingo - a collection of words and phrases from around the world.

"What I'm really trying to do is celebrate the joy of foreign words (in a totally unjudgmental way) and say that while English is a great language, one shouldn't be surprised there are many others having, as they do, words with no English equivalent," he says.

Having pored over 280 dictionaries and trawled 140 websites, he is also convinced that a country's dictionary says more about a culture than a guide book. Hawaiians, for instance, have 108 words for sweet potato, 65 for fishing nets - and 47 for banana.


The German propensity for compound words pays dividends. Kummerspeck is a German word which literally means grief bacon: it is the word that describes the excess weight gained from emotion-related overeating.

A Putzfimmel is a mania for cleaning and Drachenfutter - literally translated as dragon fodder - are the peace offerings made by guilty husbands to their wives.

Or there's die beleidigte Leberwurst spielen - to stick one's lower lip out in a sulk (literally, to play the insulted liver sausage). Perhaps it's a Backpfeifengesicht - a face that cries out for a fist in it.

Words and phrases can suggest the character of a nation.

A boy braces himself against the wind at Fort Walton Beach, Florida
The Dutch didn't have hurricanes in mind when they coined the word

The Dutch vocabulary, for instance, seems to confirm the nation's light-hearted reputation. The word uitwaaien is Dutch for walking in windy weather for fun.

The Maori-speakers of the Cook Islands sound like an enthusiastic bunch: the word toto is the shout given in a game of hide-and-seek to show readiness.

Perhaps the Inuit notion of a good time must be, of necessity, a little more constrained. The long winter nights must fly by as they play a game called igunaujannguaq, literally meaning frozen walrus carcass. (The game involves the person in the centre of a ring trying to remain stiff as he is passed around the ring, hand over hand.)

But it's those fun-loving people in the Netherlands who should have the last word - the phrase for skimming stones is as light-hearted as the action: plimpplampplettere.

Overall Grand Champion Karl Heinz Hille of Berlin, Germany

The Albanians exhibit a strange fascination for facial hair. There are no fewer than 27 separate expressions for the moustache.

Madh means a bushy moustache, posht is a moustache hanging down at the ends and fshes is a long broom-like moustache with bristly hairs.

This hirsute obsession is not confined to moustaches. Vetullkalem describes pencil-thin eyebrows, vetullperpjekur are joined together eyebrows and those arched like the crescent moon are vetullhen.

Perhaps nothing so intriguingly displays differences between nations as the unusual occupations of some of its citizens. Geshtenjapjeks is an Albanian who sells roast chestnuts on the street. A koshatnik in Russian is a dealer of stolen cats.

A kualanapuhi is a Hawaiian officer who keeps the flies away from the sleeping king by waving a brush made of feathers. In Turkey a cigerci is a seller of liver and lungs and the Danish have a fyrassistent - an assistant lighthouse keeper.

And Spanish speakers in central America have a description of a government employee who only shows up on payday - an aviador.

Which brings us back to de Boinod's title: tingo is an invaluable word from the Pascuense language of Easter Island meaning "to borrow objects from a friend's house, one by one, until there's nothing left".

The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod is published by Penguin.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

My favourite Norwegian word is dugnad, its a party where the object is to help the person throwing the party with something, i.e. moving into a house, painting, building a cabin etc. usually the host provides food and drink!
Liam Turner, Oslo, Norway

I was told once not to "paint the devil on the wall" by a German. Apparently it means "don't tempt fate".
Sarah, Reading, UK

In Afrikaans we sometimes call a stapler, a 'pampiervampier'. Literally, 'paper-vampire' If you look at your stapler and use it, the meaning becomes obvious.
Tjaart Kruger, Cambridge, UK

From German, "Blechlawine" literally a "metal avalanche" which is a long queue of stationary cars on the Autobahn.
John, London

In words of Blackadder, I would like to offer the author of this book my most enthusiastic . . . contrafibularities.
Jim McCormick, Bedfordshire

My favourite is the fact that the British call a certain type of fish "goldfish" - when they're basically either orange or orange/white/black. The French call them "poisson rouge" - or "red fish" but they're not red either. The Spanish opted for "pez de colores" which means "coloured fish" - probably the best choice of the three.
Chris booth, Valencia, Spain

We have a word in our house to describe the action of putting right clothes which are inside out. It is used virtually every night when the kids undress, as they attempt to put everything in the wash still inside out. The word is "unscribble"...
Andrew, UK

Fijians have a brilliant term to describe married men who are regularly unfaithful to their wives - Vori Vori.
David Larkin, London

Monobrow is great - it's inventive and efficient. I think it should be celebrated.
Becky, Didcot, UK

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