by KB Meniado

The start of the year usually signals (re)setting goals, and for those who have ‘learn a new language’ in their lists, here is a recommendation for you: The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod. This is not a language textbook by any means, but rather a seemingly personal compilation of foreign words and phrases you’d be surprised to know exist. (Nope, it doesn’t carry ‘tsundoku‘—the Japanese term for, essentially, book hoarding, that most of us are already familiar with—but trust me, there are fun(ny) other ones to pick up!)

Arranged categorically (though at times still messy), the book features a variety of languages, ranging from Nigeria and Ireland to Brazil and the Philippines. (Yes, the Philippines! But most words are Kapampangan and Tagalog, and they were terms that are not anymore popularly used, like ‘magandang hinaharap’ [beautiful breasts] and ‘batuta ni Dracula’ [pertaining to the penis].) Most pages follow the dictionary format but there are breaks to allow anecdotes, illustrations and trivia.

Here are some terms you might want to add to your vocabulary (but make sure to check with a native speaker!):

  • Begadang (Indonesia) – stay up all night talking
  • Backpfeifengesicht (Germany) – a face that cries out for a fist in it
  • Camapotoniliztli (Mexico) – to have bad breath
  • Zunda (Hausa, Nigeria) – to indicate with one’s lips
  • Zastrich (Russia) – to cut one’s nails too short
  • Uitwaaien (Dutch) – to walk in windy weather for fun
  • Wasoso (Hausa, Nigeria) – to scramble for something that has been thrown
  • Přesezený (Czech) – being stiff from sitting in the same position too long
  • Lledorweddle (Welsh) – to lie down while propping yourself up with one elbow
  • Ngojek (Indonesia) – to earn money by carrying a paying passenger on the rear seat of one’s motorbike
  • Gurtmuffel (Germany) – someone who doesn’t wear a seatbelt
  • Kopuhia (Rapa Nui, Easter Island) – someone who disappears instead of dedicating himself to his work
  • Linti (Persian) – someone who idles his day away lying under a tree
  • Bettschwere (German) – without the energy to get out of bed
  • Luftmensch (Yiddish) – an impractical dreamer having no definite business or income
  • Buchipluma (Carribean Spanish) – person who promises but doesn’t deliver
  • Kummerspeck (German) – excess weight you will gain from emotion-related overeating (literally, grief bacon)
  • Mamihlapinatapei (Fuegian, Chile) – shared look of longing where both parties know the score yet neither is willing to make the first move
  • Fucha (Polish) – to use company time and resources for one’s purposes
  • Jeito (Brazilian Portuguese) – to find a way to get something done, no matter what the obstacles

Two more things: there are no phonetic transcriptions and list of references. So if you really want to learn a new language, or at least a couple of words that might come in handy when you tick off that ‘go to [insert country here]’, you know better than to use this as a guide (but will likely do as a travel buddy!). ☁

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