In a month or so, my good friend and boss John Lloyd, and co-author Jon Canter, will see their new book published. It's called Afterliff and it's a 30th anniversary follow up to John's and Douglas Adams' magnificent 1983 volume The Meaning of Liff. The 'liff' books are based upon a simple premise, explained here by the authors:
'In Life (and indeed in Liff), there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist. On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places. Our job, as wee see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.'
The result was that John and Douglas gave us words like:
Brumby (n.) The fake antique plastic seal on a pretentious whisky bottle.
Detchant (n.) That part of a hymn (usually a few notes at the end of a verse) where the tune goes so high or low that you suddenly have to change octaves to accommodate it.
Lusby (n.) The fold of flesh pushing forward over the top of a bra which is too small for the lady inside it.
Sidcup (n.) One of those hats made from tying knots in the corners of a handkerchief.
...and so many more. Do seek both books out immediately.
But there have always been situations for which English has no single word and so we've sensibly borrowed them from other languages. Here are a few more that I believe we should add to our lexicon:
Age-otori (Japan): To look worse after a
Arigata-meiwaku (Japan): An act someone does for
you that you didn’t want to have them do and tried to avoid having them do, but
they went ahead anyway, determined to do you a favour, and then things went
wrong and caused you a lot of trouble, yet in the end social conventions
required you to express gratitude
Backpfeifengesicht (Germany): A face badly in need of
Gigil (Phillipines): The urge to pinch or
squeeze something that is unbearably cute
Ilunga (Congo): A person who is ready to
forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a
usually translated as “staircase wit,” is the act of thinking of a clever
comeback when it is too late to deliver it
Pena ajena (Mexico): The embarrassment you
feel watching someone else’s humiliation
Tatemae and Honne (Japan): What you pretend to
believe and what you actually believe, respectively
Tingo (Easter Island): to borrow objects
one by one from a neighbour’s house until there is nothing left
Waldeinsamkeit (Germany): The feeling of being
alone in the woods
Yoko meshi (Japan): literally ‘a meal eaten
sideways,’ referring to the peculiar stress induced by speaking a foreign
You can find many more in Adam Jacot de Boinod's excellent book The Meaning of Tingo.