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The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  631 ratings  ·  85 reviews
A garden of delights for the word obsessed: a funny, amazing, and even profound world tour of the best of all those strange words that don't have a precise English equivalent, the ones that tell us so much about other cultures' priorities and preoccupations and expand our minds.

Did you know that people in Bolivia have a word that means "I was rather too drunk last night
Hardcover, 209 pages
Published 2006 by The Penguin Press (first published December 31st 1999)
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3.49  · 
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 ·  631 ratings  ·  85 reviews

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Jan 19, 2008 rated it it was ok

Another problematic entry in the dictionary sweepstakes. Based on this book (there's a followup volume, "Toujours Tingo", which I haven't read), and the author's own website:

one is forced to the inexorable conclusion that Monsieur J de B is

* extraordinarily gullible
* incredibly lazy
* a cynic who is onto a good thing and not above milking it for all it's worth
* some disturbingly human combination of the above three.

Personally, I opt for the fourth choice.

Nov 24, 2011 rated it liked it
This text is a review (okay, more like a rant) about The meaning of Tingo, written by Adam Jacot de Boinod. The book is a collection of funny, unique and weird words and phrases from a lot of different languages. It is expected to be a bestseller. If it is, I’m going to be sad, because Boinod misses the point entirely.

Via Metafilter, I stumbled across An article in the Independent, which is essentially a commercial banner for a new book – The meaning of Tingo – to be released later this fall, wr
Jun 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
A delightful book for people interested in language and trivia. I found myself copying down words and phrases to incorporate into my vocabulary, including the Persian sanud, "the exercise of the mind upon an unprofitable subject"; the Japanese phrase suna o kamu yo na, "like chewing sand"; and the Indonesian desus, "a quiet and smooth sound as someone farting but not very loudly." I was kind of disappointed that there was no scatological section however; I know Pennsylvania Dutch (the language o ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
If you love languages, or just words in general, as I do, this book is delightfully fun. The author has collected words and phrases and colloquialisms from all over the world, many in languages you've never even heard of. Some of the local expressions are pretty hilarious.
Davor K
Jan 21, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
before writing this review I checked what other people think about the book and I have to admit that I did not take the book nearly as seriously as some other readers.
It is a list of words from many languages with their English translations. Yes it has some errors, some misprints and some errors in transcription (hey, how do you actually spell an Arab, or Chinese or Russian word if you do not use their letters as well?). I found that words in languages that I use are more or less correct so I tr
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: language, reference
This book had such potential to be at least a 4-star reference book but fell quite short by providing no guide to pronunciation. This is a collection of words from around the globe that have either no direct translation into English, or may mean one thing in English but something completely different in another language. The book is broken down nicely into categories and each chapter is full of words that have very bizarre translations. Too bad the author didn't take the time to provide the key ...more
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oy, the joys of the untranslatable translated! Or perhaps it isn't words so much that are beyond explanation, but the concepts and culture they encoil. Without words, we haven't got the receptacles for concepts. A word is to an idea as a body is to a soul -- one can have a soul without a body, but usually that's considered dead. At least in this world.

This books is a brilliant embodying of as-yet-intangibles. Perhaps the opposite of 1984's bludgeoning language to break minds, books like this bre
Dec 05, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: linguistics
Although this book can be very amusing and shows that not all the world's languages work like English, concerning the lexicon, many of the examples and supposedly funny words are badly researched. Not only many of the German words inside are wrong (not only in spelling, most often they simply do not exist or are artificial compounds). Same goes for many other languages I did a quick check on.
At least I can guarantee that the meaning of "Tingo" (or rather 'tiŋo' is correct.
Jun 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I love this type of book, although you probably will not read it from cover-to-cover. It is more like a dictionary where related words from different languages are grouped by some concept.

You can find all sorts of colorful words.
- Bakku-shan: A woman who appears pretty when seen from behind but not from the front.
- Sekaseka: To laugh without reason

The words may not make it into everyday language, but they are a great way to send a discrete message to the curious.
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
The idea is really nice and all, some of the words are actually very funny and after five years of ancient greek I can believe to any kind of stuff. But the italian words — and I can testify as a native speaker — weren't correct so I started doubting the reliability of the book itself. Anyway, it was fun to read and probably some of those words' meanings are real, so I still recommend it, especially if you have just downloaded the pdf file or you haven't spent more than five euros for it!
Sep 05, 2007 rated it liked it
It was pretty much as advertised, a look at words & phrases in other languages that either don't exist or aren't as succinct in English. I would have liked to have seen some more literal translations of interesting phrases & apparently the research is a bit dodgy (the Internet should not be one's main source), but a fun little reference book nonetheless.
Wythe Marschall
Aug 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
Unreadable. Such a good idea; so poorly executed. The book is a series of meaningless, randomly ordered lists. C'est la vie, cela écrit. You can often invent the most fabulous idea only to fail later, in research, in boldness, in the poetry of your prose. I commend the originary thought, at least.
libellule (o_Ô)
Sep 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
This is a fun book. It has a lot of funny words and interesting facts about various languages. Unfortunately I feel that the author has decided that since the book is just for fun, and most of his readers won't know if he's right or wrong, he doesn't have to be too concerned about double checking the facts. It's a bit like how some authors seem to think that it doesn't matter if young adult books are full of plot holes and flat characters, because the readers are just kids.

The author seems to ha
Robert Day
Feb 15, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: knowledge
I have another book similar to this called The Meaning of Liff, which is much funnier than this book simply because it's meant to be funny.

For example:
"Polloch(n) - one of those tiny ribbed-plastic and aluminium foil tubs of milk served on trains enabling you to carry one safely back to your compartment where you can spill the contents all over your legs in comfort trying to get the bloody thing open."

I mean, who hasn't done that!? Genius!

If this book was aimed at being funny it would be much mo
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]The author is a researcher for the Stephen Fry quiz show QI, and the book basically reads like an extended set of QI rounds about funny words in foreign languages, all mildly amusing. I spotted one spelling error - the excellent Serbian word inat is given as iant - and there may be others, but I will not be consumed by vengeful spite over it; also I imagine there is room for interpretation of some of the definitions, such as the 10 Albani ...more
Sep 21, 2009 rated it liked it
I hesitate to put this in the "read" category, because I didn't read the entire book. On the other hand, it's basically a dictionary, so it's a bit hard to read the entire thing.

But what a dictionary! Very entertaining words from around the world that take an entire English sentence to explain. Some are amusing, some may tell you what matters to another culture, and some will make you think, "I wish we had that in my own language." I think my favorite is "neko-neko", translated from Indonesian a
Apr 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
Really just a dictionary of cool words from other languages...he goes on about how specific some of those terms are, but when I think of specific fields of study like biology or anatomy I'm pretty sure there are specific words for just those things he's describing, like the part of your body that is the back of the knee - in English, it's "popliteal fossa", in the book there's a refence to this as "jahja" (in Wagiman, Australia) or "waal" (in Afrikaans).

Oct 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: jyan
It's not so much the words (which as many reviewers have pointed out, are often used out of context) as much as the idea that a certain sentiment/idea/situation happens often enough in a certain culture for it to merit an actual word. It's like The Meaning of Liff, only real. Better check with a native speaker first, however, before throwing any of these around.

I love how certain Filipino words made it here: "magandang hinaharap" (meaning both "a bright future" and "big breasts"), "dangkal" (a h
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
A really lovely and interesting book on words in other languages that have no English equivalent. For example: tingo means to slowly steal thing from your friend's house by borrowing each item one by one. The book also had some really nice tidbits about other languages in it, like the longest word, shortest word, etc.

My few minor complaints is that while it was organized really nicely, it ended kind of abruptly. The first chapter was related to "hello" and I kind of expected the last chapter to

somewhat interesting but not interesting enough. The Writing was lighthearted and tried to be quirky but was sometimes messy and not describing enough (world's most famous sport - but the author didn't explain what the sport was Before describing Words for that particular sport. If I didn't know what sport it was already that section would have been pointless.)

The charts didn't translate well on the Kindle so I missed sections of the book.

Minus Points for only Writing about Words about the
Alexander Van Leadam
Nov 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
Any language capable of expressing things in a succinct or convoluted manner (so practically any language), can be translated literally or otherwise in a puzzling or side-splitting way that would turn any arbitrary collection of words and expressions into comedy. Any book that plays the erudite comedian game made popular by QI will be judged by its accuracy, which in this case doesn't seem impressive. There are enough examples that leave bilingual readers unamused and baffled by mistranslations ...more
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, abandoned
Interesting book with some funny entries, but I was unable to read it from cover to cover. Many of the words seem unpronounceable to me, and there are no guides on how to say any of the foreign words. Also, I found a few instances where the author might have mentioned an odd English equivalent to a particular phrase but didn't. It made me question just how well he studied his own language before rushing off to praise the oddities of others. For what it's worth, FORMICATION is the imagined sensat ...more
Apr 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: word nerds
Shelves: non-fiction
I've long been fascinated by words that other languages have that we don't have in English. Sometimes the word is a concept that you only vaguely felt before, but never really expressed. It makes you wonder how much of what you think it determined by what you have words for. At the end of the day though, this book is really just a list of words and their definitions, so reading it straight through gets kind of tedious after a while.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mixed feelings about this book. There are some really awesome, why don't we have a word for that, words in here. There are also a bunch of pretty meh ones. Also, as other reviewers have mentioned, many of whom have much more experience in the languages Boinod draws from than I have, I'm kind of iffy about where exactly Boinod was pulling some of his words from and how real some of them actually are.
T Campbell
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Yipes. I digested this one uncritically when I was younger, and I love somewhat casual linguistics, but even some cursory research on a few entries shows that de Boinod's reach far exceeded his grasp. Better to write a book about 50 exotic words you understand than hundreds you don't. If the premise intrigues you, I'd try the recent and much more highly regarded Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World.
Jan 28, 2015 rated it liked it
A fascinating book, but after 'In Other Words' it feels under-researched and a lot more sensational. These are not words you can trust and go out and say to a native speaker - at times the spelling is simplified for English speakers. The organisation is a lot less easy to follow than in the other book, too. It feels messy and cramped at times. Nevertheless, it is full of interesting tidbits like a word for the position of lying down leaning on one arm.
Jacob Lines
Jan 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: language
You’ve heard of words in other languages that supposedly can’t be translated, or words that we don’t have a word for? This book has lots of those. I don’t know if the Bassa language in Liberia really only has words for two colors (“ziza” for red/orange/yellow and “hui” for green/blue/purple), or if the Japanese actually say “harawata o tatsu” (“to sever one’s intestines”) to mean “break one’s heart,” but this book is pretty entertaining.
Matt Keefe
A fine pocket novelty book and a better example of its kind than most but, as with this entire sub-genre of language trivia books, finds much of its amusement with what are actually perfectly commonplace and remarkably common features of language, and will seem prone to error and exaggeration to a knowledgeable reader.
Nov 28, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book is absolutely rubbish. Almost everything in Turkish are wrong. I don't know where this author got his facts from but his work is definitely unreliable.

This book is pretty much useless to anyone who wants to learn different words in different languages. If you want to learn different words, use a dictionary, not this.
Nov 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Surely entertaining, but not entirely true.
It was a good idea to feature so many tiny languages in the book, so it can be interesting for those who don't speak them. But as for German, Danish, and some others... I recommend to skip the words you know, because you might be disappointed, and the book might seem dumb.
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