Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod

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Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod

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Category: Trivia
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The second book of the oddest words from the world with their beguiling definitions, with added grammatical asides. More fun than it ever sounds like being.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-0140515862

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This is the type of book that makes me wish for a photographic memory, but I can only guess that it would make me insufferable. Just think of me being able to remember that memestatamao'o is the word in the Cheyenne language for laughing so hard it causes you to make a rude noise in the down-belows. Or that the Inuit tongue has a word for making sure you marry someone by kidnapping her (nusukaaktuat).

For those who were unfortunate to not come across the first book of Tingo, this is just as much of a delight. Tingo the word means taking a neighbour's possessions under cover of night one by one until there are none left. Tingo the book puts paid to the old saw that English is the most elaborate language, with a word for everything. If someone's said that to you before, and all you have been able to come up with is some unproven count of the Inuit words for different kinds of snow, then you need a copy of this and its predecessor. And an eidetic memory.

Tingo is certainly not the book to read from cover to cover. Instead one should dip in for short spells - longer perhaps than the time it takes one to click their fingers ten times or indeed the time needed to eat a banana, but not for too long.

The subjects (public transport, clothing, fun and games, and more) are broken in with a gentle introduction, and the bounties of the world's lingos are given. Even if the large gaps and a few pictures mean there is less in this book than it might at first appear there is still an embarrassment of riches to pore over, and given the state of my recall, keep in a handy place for future reference. If I did dinner parties, I think I'd need three or four strong, memorable candidates to bring out for each one.

If you haven't successfully guessed, I am a bit of a nerd and such linguistic stretches into pidgin, Tagalog, Welsh, Tsonga (you what?) and beyond are right up my street. It doesn't mean you need to be a wordsmith or trivia hoarder to enjoy the book. There surely is inherent humour in reading that the Papua New Guinean for helicopter is "magimiks belong Yesus", or that someone sensibly demanded the ability to sum up 'the act of ringing on a mobile someone right in front of you, not so they answer but so they can then store your number on their phone' in one word, as the Czechs and Slovaks have.

There are also asides boxed away, which give us the rest of the world's idioms, and special sections on faux amis - words that are not cognates (when written they would appear English or to have the same meaning - camera in Italian is a common one). I guffawed when, at the end of some relationship 'false friends' it was announced that 'that' in Vietnamese was their word for 'wife'.

This book never breaks any boundary at laughing at any one language or culture, however bizarre the practices and oddest of inexplicable deeds come from (those on Madagascar may be employed as those "whose business it is to eat all the nail-parings and to lick up all the spilt blood of the nobles", apparently). Nor does it even suggest an unwelcome right-wing comment about the amount of languages spoken in our society as it is. Indeed it takes pride and joy in the obscure, and highlights the breadth of the world's languages, while pointing in the introduction to the fact they still die out. If a popular, modern Western book contains more Dakotan Indian I don't know of it, and I'd never heard of the language Car, but it's here quite prominently.

Yet it's an obscurity that makes headlines, as publicity for the book reached the red-top newspapers, and rightly so. The author has come up with a grand way to make a memorably unique series of books out of the delightfully odd, without needing a palulud (ask a passing Philippino) although with this one being fifty percent larger than the first it seems he might have shot himself in the foot in leaving enough scope for a third.

This is one of those individualistic books you would never expect to read, but once encountered would never be able to resist loving. As a practical guide to becoming a polyglot it's near-on useless, with the over-abundance of information. Also it must stand as a failure to aprovechar (to make the most of an opportunity - Spanish, you know) as there is not a single clue regarding pronunciation - which costs the volume the valued fifth full star from the Bookbag.

I would like to thank the publishers for sending a review copy to us.

Those with a sustained taste for the odd detail of life should also read QI: The Book of General Ignorance, the TV show of which our author here once researched for.

Booklists.jpg Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod is in the Top Ten Books About Language.

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Magda said:

Lovely. As your quotes actually show, you don't need Tagalog or Innuit - despite having almost totally switched to English, I still hanker after an equivalent to an occasional Polish word that's very useful, and inexplicably doesn't exist in English! Just today, a known and used word that clearly names the 24 hour period (instead of "day" which can be confusing as it means both day & night and just the daytime bit of it) would have come very handy. And I shamelessly use the English original ones when speaking Polish ("anyway" is priceless!).

I love false friends: even better when the shift in meaning is slight, not massive (for example in Polish "camera" simply means film/video camera, while the one for stills is called "aparat"). My favourite of these are actually intra-English ones of "fanny" and "pants".