Specialists

In 1970 Dmitri Borgmann and Dwight Ripley compiled a list of “missing words” — foreign words with complex or interesting meanings that have no counterparts in English. I can’t immediately confirm most of these, but they’d certainly be useful words:

DENTERA (Spanish): a setting of the teeth on edge
PAPABILE (Italian): having some chance of becoming Pope
PIECDZIESIECIORUBLOWY (Polish): costing fifty rubles
PREDSVATEBNY (Czech): taking place on the eve of a wedding
KWELDER (Dutch): land on the outside of a dike
EZERNYOLCSZAZNEGYVENNYOLCBAN (Hungarian): in 1848
PASAULVESTURISKS (Lettish): of worldwide significance
MIHRAP (Turkish): a woman still beautiful though no longer young
UBAC (Provençal): the sunless north side of a mountain
HARFENDAZ (Turkish): one who makes insulting remarks to women in the street
PENCELESMEK (Turkish): to lock fingers with another and have a test of strength
MEZABRALIS (Lettish): a revolutionary hiding in a forest
MATAO (Brazilian Portuguese): a jockey who crowds the others against the fence
NEMIMI (Japanese): the ears of one sleeping
YOKOTOJI (Japanese): bound so as to be broader than long — said of a book
TOADEIRA (Portuguese): a harpooned whale that continues to sound

In 2006 the Goethe Institute held a competition to find German words that deserve a place in English. The winner was Fachidiot, literally “subject idiot,” a scholar blinkered by long study: “A one-track specialist still notices what is going on around him in the world which has nothing to do with university. A Fachidiot simply does not, or not anymore.” Runners-up included Backpfeifengesicht, “a face which invites you to slap it”; Kummerspeck (literally, “grief bacon”), “excessive weight gain caused by emotion-related overeating”; and Torschlusspanik (“gate closing panic”), the fear that time is running out to act.

English has some show horses of its own: to groak is to gaze longingly at one who is eating, and a ucalegon is a neighbor whose house is on fire.

(Dmitri Borgmann, “Missing Words,” Word Ways 3:1, February 1970.)

Succinct

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Loutherbourg-Spanish_Armada.jpg

Pun fans claim that Sir Francis Drake reported the defeat of the Spanish Armada with a single word: “Cantharides” (an aphrodisiac; hence “The Spanish fly”).

When Sir Charles Napier took the Indian province of Sindh in 1843, he supposedly sent a one-word report to the British war office: Peccavi (Latin for “I have sinned”).

When Lord Dalhousie annexed Oudh in the 1850s, he’s said to have sent a dispatch of a single word: Vovi (I vowed, or “I’ve Oudh”).

And when Lord Clyde captured Lucknow in 1857, he supposedly reported, “Nunc fortunatus sum.”

A dinner guest once bet her friends that she could get Calvin Coolidge to say at least three words during the meal. He told her, “You lose.”

(Thanks, Ted.)

Finding Yourself

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mozart_magic_flute.jpg

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.

Choose any word in the first two lines, count its letters, and count forward that number of words. For example, if you choose STAR, which has four letters, you’d count ahead four words, beginning with HOW, to reach WHAT. Count the number of letters in that word and count ahead as before. Continue until you can’t go any further. You’ll always land on YOU in the last line.

Law and Order

My first lesson in the meticulous use of words occurred in connection with a series of burglaries in the neighborhood. Just behind us on Exeter Street lived a well-known Boston spinster, Miss Ella Day by name. One moonlight night, when I was about ten years old, I was aroused by the noise of a watchman’s rattle and hurried to the window hoping to catch sight of the burglar leaping over the back-yard fences. Although I could see no burglar, I did see Miss Day’s attenuated right arm projecting from her window with the rattle, which she was vigorously whirling, at the end of it. Thoroughly thrilled, I called across to her:

‘Miss Day! Miss Day! What is it? Robbers?’

Even now I can hear her thin shaking voice with its slightly condescending acerbity:

‘No — burglars!’

— Arthur Train, Puritan’s Progress, 1931

Body Politic

When British politician Michael Foot was put in charge of a nuclear disarmament committee in 1986, London Times subeditor Martyn Cornell came up with the headline FOOT HEADS ARMS BODY.

“I certainly wasn’t going to get ‘nuclear’ or ‘disarmament’ or ‘committee’ to fit,” he said. “To my astonishment, the headline was printed.”

Andrew Kyle later pointed out that if Foot had become prime minister and discovered that his defense secretary had approved the strongarm tactics of the National Front, the headline might have read FOOT KNOWS ARMS BODY HEAD BACKS FRONT MUSCLE.

Bestial Passion

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorilla_2_(PSF).png

In 1993 Jacques Jouet wrote a love poem in the language of the great apes in the Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs:

Zor hoden tanda
Kagoda bolgani
Rak gom tand-panda
Yato kalan mangani
Kreegh-ah yel greeh-ah
Kreegh-ah zu-vo bolgani
Greeh-ah tand-popo
Ubor zee kalan mangani.

Where are you going, gorilla,
In the dark forest?
You run without a sound
Seeking the female ape.
Beware of love
Watch out, gorilla
A lover dies of hunger
Of thirst, of hoping for the leg of the female great ape.

“The great-ape language has the peculiarity of being composed of a lexicon of less than 300 words,” Jouet notes. “In the absence of any information, it must be deemed that the syntax is according to the user’s preference, as are the pronunciation and prosody.”

In a Word

nudiustertian
adj. of the day before yesterday

ereyesterday
adv. on the day before yesterday

yestreen
n. yesterday evening

yester-afternoon
adv. yesterday afternoon

yesternoon
n. yesterday at noon

pridian
adj. of or relating to the previous day

yestern
adj. of yesterday

hesternal
adj. of yesterday

yesternight
adv. last night

hodiernal
adj. of or belonging to the present day

overmorrow
adv. on the day after tomorrow