Introducing: The weird word of the week



Not long ago, I commented on an intriguing new book by Adam Jacot de Boinod, entitled The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World. Since that time, I’ve been in touch with Jacot de Boinod, and he’s agreed to share words from his book as a little weekly feature here at

“Many English speakers admit to being lazy both at home and when traveling in their reliance on English as the preeminent international language,” he told me. “I feel that in this multicultural age we should embrace the joy, glory and wonder of foreign words and expressions. I want, at a time, when languages are becoming extinct at the rate of one a fortnight (just like the reduction of animal species and flora and fauna) to encourage their survival and chance to flourish.”

Jacot de Boinod’s interest in foreign languages was first piqued when doing research for British television, and eventually developed into a full-blown obsession. While compiling this book, he read approximately 220 dictionaries, 150 websites and numerous other books on language. In The Meaning of Tingo, he draws on the collective wisdom of more than 254 languages, and includes not only those words for which there is no direct counterpart in English (“pana po’o” in Hawaiian means to scratch your head in order to remember something important), but also a frank discussion of exactly how many Eskimo words there are for snow, and the longest known palindrome in any language (“saippuakivikauppias” — Finland).

Given the title of the book, it’s only logical that this week’s weird word is tingo, which, in the Pascuense language of Easter Island, means “to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by asking to borrow them.” (Anyone who is doubtful of this Pacific Islander practice should read The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost.)

More weird words to come in future weeks. In the meantime, language enthusiasts should check out Jacot de Boinod’s website here.

Posted by | Comments Off on Introducing: The weird word of the week  | November 22, 2005
Category: General

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