A collection of (somewhat) useful words from around the world

The Independent recently ran an entertaining review of Adam Jacot de Boinod’s new book The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World. “Learning a foreign language is, of course, the surest and fastest track to becoming familiar with another culture,” writes John Walsh. ” But the words themselves offer hundreds of revealing clues to the preoccupations of that culture. 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 favourite “words with no equivalent in the English language” – like, say, tsuji-giri, a Japanese word from samurai days meaning, “to try out a new sword on a passer-by” (thanks a bunch, Toshiro), or the stoic German term Torschlusspanik, meaning “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one gets older”. …These are more than funny foreign vocabularies; they are tiny windows into the way other people live, and the obsessions that drive them. We may be amused by their lexicon of everyday words – but we can be certain they’d be equally amused by our vocabulary of “multi-tasking” and “sound-bite” and “over-sharing”. By our unguarded linguistic displays shall we be known.”

Here is a brief list of unique international words from de Boinod’s new book:


ZHENGRONG (Chinese): To improve one’s looks by plastic surgery.

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.

MAMIHLAPINATAPEI (Fuengian language, Chile): A shared look of longing between parties who are both interested yet neither is willing to make the first move.

POMICIONE (Italian): A man who seizes any chance of being in close physical contact with a woman.

QUEESTING (Dutch): Allowing a lover access to one’s bed, under the covers, for a chit-chat.

GHALIDAN (Persian): Wallowing, tumbling or rolling from side to side as lovers do.

MAHJ (Persian): Looking beautiful after having a disease.

NARACHASTRA PRAYOGA (Sanskrit): Men who worship their own sexual organs.

KORO (Japanese): The hysterical belief that one’s penis is shrinking into one’s body.

SENZURI (Japanese): Male masturbation (literally “a hundred rubs”). “Shiko shiko manzuri” is the female version (literally “ten thousand rubs”).

SACANAGEM (Brazilian Portuguese): Openly seeking sexual pleasure with one or more partners other than one’s primary partner during Mardi Gras.

ALGHUNJAR (Persian): Feigned anger of a mistress.


YUYURUNGUL (Yindiny, Australia): The noise of a snake sliding through grass.

XIAOXIAO (Chinese): The whistling and pattering of rain or wind.

GULUGULU (Tulu, India): The sound of a pitcher filling with water.

CALACALA (Tulu, India): The action of children wading through water as they play.

NING-NONG (Indonesia): The ringing of a doorbell.

DESUS (Indonesia): The quiet, smooth sound of somebody farting but not very loudly.

KUSUKUSU (Japanese): The suppressed giggling and tittering of a group of women.

DESIR (Malay): The sound of sand driven by the wind.

FAAMITI (Samoan): To make a squeaking noise by sucking air past the lips in order to gain the attention of a dog or a child.

GHIQQ (Persian): The sound made by a boiling kettle.

KERTEK (Malay):The sound of dry leaves or twigs being trodden underfoot.

YUYIN (Chinese): The remnants of sound that stay in the ears of the hearer.


MATA EGO (Rapa Nui, Easter Island): Eyes that reveal that someone has been crying.

NYLENTIK (Indonesian): To flick someone with the middle finger on the ear.

KUCIR (Indonesian): A tuft of hair left to grow on top of an otherwise bald head.

DIDIS (Indonesian): To search and pick up lice from one’s own hair, usually when in bed at night.

PANA PO’O (Hawaiian): To scratch your head in order to help you to remember something you’ve forgotten.

NGAOBERA (Pascuense, Easter Island): A slight inflammation of the throat caused by screaming too much.

O KA LA NOKONOKO (Hawaiian): A day spent in nervous anticipation of a coughing spell.

ANGUSHTI ZA’ID (Russian): Someone with six fingers.

PAPAKATA (Cook Islands Maori): To have one leg shorter than the other.

AKA’AKA’A (Hawaiian): Skin peeling or falling off after either sunburn or heavy drinking.

KARELU (Tulu Indian): The mark left on the skin by wearing anything tight.


KUALANAPUHI (Hawaiian): An officer who keeps the flies off the sleeping king by waving a feather brush.

KOSHATNIK (Russian): A dealer in stolen cats.

BUZ-BAZ (Ancient Persian): A showman who makes a goat and monkey dance together.

CAPOCLAQUE (Italian): Someone who co-ordinates a group of clappers.

FYRASSISTENT (Danish): An assistant lighthouse keeper.

LOMILOMI (Hawaiian): The chief’s masseur, whose duty it was to take care of his spittle and excrement.

FUCHA (Portuguese): To use company time and resources for one’s own purposes.

PAUKIKAPE (Ancient Greek): The collar worn by slaves while grinding corn, in order to stop them eating it.

QIANG JINGTOU (Chinese): The fight by a cameraman to get a better vantage point.

GRILAGEM (Brazilian Portuguese): The practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents, until the insect’s excrement makes the paper look convincingly old.

DHURNA (Anglo-Indian): Extorting payment from someone by sitting at their front door and staying there without food, threatening violence, until you get paid.

SOKAIYA (Japanese): A man with a few shares in several companies who extorts money by threatening to come to the shareholders’ meetings and cause trouble.

ZECHPRELLER (German): A person who leaves a restaurant without paying.

SEIGNEUR-TERRASSE (French): Someone who spends time, but not money, at a café.

TINGO (Pascuense language, Easter Island): Borrowing things from a friend’s house, one by one, until he has nothing left.


PUKAU (Malay): A charm used by burglars to make people fall asleep.

AGOBILLES (German): A burglar’s tools.

SMONTA (Italian): A theft carried out on a bus or train, from which the perpetrator descends as quickly as possible.

REJAM (Malay): To execute by pressing into mud.

WAR NAM NIHADAN (Persian): To murder somebody, bury their body, then grow some flowers over the grave in order to conceal it.

SQUADRETTA (Italian): A group of prison guards who specialise in beating up inmates.

JIEYU (Chinese): To break into jail in order to rescue a prisoner.


LATAH (Indonesian): Uncontrollable habit of saying embarrassing things.

CHENYIN (Chinese): Muttering to oneself.

‘A’AMA (Hawaiian): Someone who speaks rapidly, hiding their meaning from one person while communicating it to another.

Posted by | Comments Off on A collection of (somewhat) useful words from around the world  | October 19, 2005
Category: Travel Writing

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