17 February 2007

Book Review: In Other Words by C.J. Moore

In Other Words This book contains a collection of foreign words and phrases that have no direct English translation. Some have been adopted into English - bête-noir, doppelgänger, schmooze, saga, safari, feng shui, gravitas, nirvana. Some never will be, such as nie dla wszystkich skrzypce graja (literally, ‘the violin doesn’t play for everyone’) and a host of other Eastern European unpronounceables.

And some definitely should be. Who has never experienced esprit de l'escalier, the phenomenon of thinking of that perfect comeback too late? And recent statistics suggest there are numerous families that include nesthockers - adult offspring still living at home (guilty). Then there’s the Japanese tatemae (what everyone claims to be true, even if they don’t really believe it) and donne (what you believe but would never admit to doing so). I wonder if any language has a term for the continued re-election of an incompetent premier? If it does, I’m sure a lot of people in Queensland would like to know.

All the words and phrases have explanations, pronunciation guides, and information about their usage; and each language and language group has its own introduction. This way you can learn fascinating facts like why the Icelandic phonebook is ordered by first names. Even if you don’t start dropping bits of Czech or Celtic into conversation, this is still an intriguing tour through some of the world’s linguistic curiosities.

Favourite word: Drachenfutter (German ‘dragon fodder’), the gifts a husband brings his wife after he’s stepped out of line.
Favourite phrase: Denize girse kurutur (Turkish). Roughly translatable as ‘he can’t do anything right’, its literal meaning is ‘he gets dry if he enters the sea’.

Rating: B+


Anonymous said...

I love reading books like these. Another one in a similar vein is 'The Meaning of Tingo' which is currently on my TBR list!

Bybee said...

What a brilliant book...goes on the wishlist. I LOL at "dragon fodder".

Amat Libris said...

Another good book in the linguistics department is The Word Museum by Jeffrey Kacirk, a collection of English words which have fallen into disuse. One of my favourites is "sloom" meaning "to sleep heavily". It's one of those words that sounds so perfect for what it's describing.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776