14 November 2005


I love language. Dialects, pidgins, creoles, accents, regional variations ... you name it, I'm addicted.

I have a Jewish colleague who likes to teach me Yiddish words, which I then have to use in a sentence before the end of the day. (Yes, she checks up on me at the end of the day. Nebbish was my most recent acquisition).

You know how the Inuit people are said to have 11 (or something) different words for snow, and the French multiple words for love?

Well I learnt this week that the Albanians have 27 different words for eyebrows.

But never mind that right now.

Because, the Shona people of Zimbabwe have many different words for walking!
See ...?
chakwair (walking through a muddy place and making a squelching sound)
dowor (walking for a long time on bare feet)
svavair (walking huddled, cold and wet)
minair (to walk with swinging hips)
pushuk (to walk in a very short dress)
shwitair (to walk naked)
seser (to walk with flesh rippling)

The last one intrigues me. I suspect cellulite plays a part here.

These came from Adam Jacot de Boinod's new book The Meaning of Tingo nd Other Extraordinary Words From Around the World which was published today and is now firmly on my Christmas wish list. Along with The Adventure of English, Death Sentence, The Dictionary of Weasel Words, and Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue which I have given numerous times as a gift to likeminded friends, but never received.

I really, really like that the Indonesians have a word for the feeling of being sad but not knowing what to do (termangu-mangu), and that the Czechs call someone who finds it difficult to take a hint, a nedovtipa.

PS. The word wamadat is Persian for the intense heat of a sultry night.


blackbird said...

I mean to be walking this morning.
But I have an errand that must be done at 9....
tomorrow I may do some chakwair, possibly svavair as they are predicting rain.
K would have me shwitair, but I am afraid I might end up seser-ing.

BabelBabe said...

ok. i have to ask.

why in the world would you need 27 words for eyebrows?

are they like, "eyebrow that hangs in one's eyes" and "unibrow" and "eyebrows that desperately need to be tweezed"? Like that?

la vie en rose said...

so interesting!

lyn said...

Ha, ha , that book sounds great.
A perfect christmas present.

jorth said...

I love words too! My newest acquisition is grampus - a person who breathes heavily or loudly. The husband goes under that name now.

You should check out the Superior Person's Book of Words series by Peter Bowler - it's a hoot!

christina said...

That first sentence you wrote about loving language--is exactly what I would write about langague. I love how words change, and the etemology of words and I simply loved reading this post.

SueeeuS said...

Mother Tongue is the book I'm reading currently while on the treadmill. I love it! But needless to say, the reading is not going very fast.

joyfish said...

Did you know in Balinese thinking and feeling is the same word (keneh)?

swedie said...

in swedish there is no word for please. it feels very strange to me even after living her for many years, but it just doesnt exist. you would think that such a thing would make for a country of terribly rude people, which it isnt't really. but they don't say please. (actually they aren't too hot on "excuse me" either, but it's not for lack of suitable vocabulary!)

Sandra said...

This was so interesting, thanks! Just bookmarked your blog by the way- how could I have missed it?

Laura said...

Actually Inuit is a language in which everything is done by inflections, so technically for them every sentence is a word. So when people say they have so many words for snow, that's not true, I'm not sure how many actual inflections mean "snow," but I'd imagine only one or two. The rest is done with inflections. I'm a ling major so I love language, too. Hope you find this fact more enjoyable than having so many words for snow. I think its much more interesting.

I'm Laura by the way. I found you through a link somewhere . . .

Siri said...

An old roommate of mine spent a year in Nepal. She told me that the words (not sure of spelling so I'll try to be phonetic) "run-gee chun-gee" means "multicolored", and "cheege beege" means "stuff"
So, she loved putting the two together to make "multicolored stuff", or "rungee chungee cheege beege", although aparently a native Nelpalese speaker would never use that phrase.
Thanks for sharing the language differences.