Thursday, 3 October 2019

Here we Tingo

The English language is a glorious hodge-podge of other languages, which is why it's pretty much the only language that needs a Thesaurus. There are multiple words for almost everything. And individual words can have multiple meanings.

Just the simple word 'RUN' has 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months researching its many shades of meaning. It's now out-run (ouch) the previous record-holders 'SET' and 'PUT'.

But despite this, there are many situations and things that don't have a single English word to describe them. And that's why I suggest we look overseas and embrace our foreign chums. They have many of the issues sorted. For example:

The Japanese term Age-otori means to look worse after a haircut, and Tatemae and Honne mean what you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively. Meanwhile, Arigata-meiwaku denotes an act that someone does for you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions required you to express gratitude.

Backpfeifengesicht is how Germans describe a face badly in need of a fist, and Waldeinsamkeit is the feeling of being alone in the woods.

In the Phillipines, Gigil means the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute and in the Congo, an Ilunga is a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.

For the French L’esprit de l’escalier - usually translated as 'staircase wit' - is the act of thinking of a clever comeback when it is too late to deliver it, and in Mexico, Pena ajena  is the embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation. 

On Easter Island Tingo means to borrow objects one by one from a neighbour’s house until there is nothing left.

However, it may be hard to get our tongues around such words. We suffer from the Japanese condition of Yoko meshi - literally ‘a meal eaten sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign language.

You can find many more in Adam Jacot de Boinod's excellent books, such as The Meaning of Tingo. Check them out here.

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