Words Language Services


Review of the Month

This month we review an amusing book
with a linguistic accent

Three strikes and you're out!

THE word ilunga is used to describe a person who is ready to forgive any transgression the first and second time but not to tolerate it a third time.

You didn't know that? Don't fret; the noun – taken from an African language (Tshiluba) – is rated among the world's most difficult words to translate.

It is listed in a quirky lexicon called In Other Words, in which linguist Christopher J. Moore has collected what he regards as some of the most impenetrable phrases and words from around the world; expressions that defy straight-forward translation.

The book is by no means required reading for aspiring translators. Think of it instead as a libro de cabecera (bedside book) from which to dip into a feast of linguistic tapas. Its virtues lie in its breadth of linguistic knowledge and in its entertainment value, particularly for anyone who has a nodding acquaintance with the pitfalls of translation.

The publicity blurb describes it as a lexicon of fascinatingly precise phrases for which there are no direct English translations. One example: the German Drachenfutter (“dragon fodder”) describes actions aimed at pacifying a wife infuriated by her husband's drunken behaviour.

C.J. Moore's book encompasses a wide range of languages, from Arabic and Chinese to Sanskrit and Yiddish. What it lacks in linguistic depth, such as that found in more scholarly publications, it compensate for through its light-hearted approach and memorable witticisms.

This collection of exotic words and phrases also helps the reader to decode the nature and character of the culture in which these terms blossomed, providing what translators recognise as a vital ingredient to their profession: cultural awareness.

A typical example of this extra dimension provided by Moore is the Russian word родне (rod’nye). Essentially, the word means kin (immediate family). However, Russians understand it to encompass near and dear friends whose personalities, through unconscious osmosis, help form the person's overall psychological make-up.

Another example is the Turkish phrase denize girse kurutur, used to describe someone who can't get anything right. An aproximate translation renders: "Whenever he goes swimming he comes out dry".

In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World is published by Walker & Company, and is available at bookstores and through Amazon.com.

ISBN-10: 0802714447 | ISBN-13: 978-0802714442. 128 pages.

Reviewer: Cliff Hutton

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Think of this
work as a
bedside book
from which
to dip into
a feast of