51 Delightfully Geeky Language Facts

Words, man. Words.

1. In Germany, Rice Crispies don’t go ‘snap, crackle and pop’ - they go ‘Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!’

2. In France, they go ‘Cric! Crac! Croc!’

3. In Spain, they go ‘Cris! Cras! Cros!’

4. There are 108 words for describing ‘sweet potato’ in Hawaiian, and 47 for ‘banana’, including ‘palaku’ - a thoroughly ripe banana.

5. The Finnish language has three of the world’s longest palindromic words :
‘saippuakivikauppias’ - a soapstone seller, ‘saippuakuppinippukauppias’ - a soapstone trader and ‘solutomaattimittaamotulos’ - the result from a measurement laboratory for tomatoes.

6. The Danish for jeans is ‘cowboybukser’.

7. The little dot above lower case ‘i’s and ‘j’s is called a tittle.

8. ‘Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ is a grammatically correct sentence - as ‘buffalo’ can mean the large animal, the city in New York and also a verb - ‘to bully’.

9. The concept of ‘Tingo’ (Pascuense language of Easter Island) means to borrow things from a friend’s house one by one until there is nothing left.

10. The Tashlhiyt dialect of Berber (North Africa) contains vowelless words like tzgr (she crossed) and tftktstt (you sprained it).

11. ‘Bel hevi’ (Tok Pisin, Papua New Guinea) describes the sinking feeling that accompanies sadness, literally translating as ‘belly heavy’.

12. ‘Mamihlapinatapei’ (Fuegian language from Chile) describes the shared look of longing between two lovers, where both know the score but neither is willing to make the first move.

13. ‘Drachenfutter’ (German) translates as ‘dragon fodder’ - meaning the peace offerings brought by guilty husbands to placate their wives.

14. In Afrikaans bees don’t buzz, they go ‘zoem-zoem’.

15. In Malay cats don’t miaow, they go ‘ngiau’.

16. In Bengali cows don’t moo, they say ‘hamba’.

17. In Thai owls don’t hoot, they go ‘hook hook’.

18. In Albanian pigs don’t oink, they go ‘hunk hunk’.

19. In Vietnamese sheep don’t baa, they go ‘be-hehehe’.

20. Nine languages don’t have words for colour - they only differentiate between black and white. For example in Dan (New Guinea) things can be ‘mili’ (darkish) or ‘mola’ (lightish).

21. In Hindi, the word for ‘yesterday’ (‘kal’) is the same as for tomorrow. The tense of the attached verb tells you of the meaning.

22. In Amharic (Ethiopia), ‘aye’ means ‘no’.

23. In Yiddish, ‘finger’ means ‘toe’.

24. In Georgian, ‘mama’ means ‘father’.

25. In Indonesian ‘air’ means ‘water’.

26. ‘I’m a dot in a place’ is an anagram of ‘a decimal point’.

27. In Albanian there are 27 words for ‘moustache’ including ‘dirs ur’ - meaning the newly sprouted moustache of an adolescent.

28. In Hawaiian, the verb ‘pana po’o’ means to scratch your head in order to remember something you’ve forgotten.

29. In Sinhala (Sri Lanka) the word ‘ayubowan’ means ‘good morning’, ‘good afternoon’, ‘good evening’, ‘good night’ and ‘goodbye’.

30. In Masai, the name of a dead child, woman or warrior is not spoken again. If their name is also a word that is used every day, then it is no longer used by the bereaved family.

31. In Japan, four (shi) and nine (ku) are considered unlucky numbers, because the words sound the same as those for ‘death’ and ‘pain or worry’.

32. Because of this, some hospitals don’t have room numbers 4, 9, 14, 19 or 42. Forty-two (‘shi-ni’) means ‘to die’, 420 (‘shi-ni-rei’) means ‘a dead spirit’ and 24 (‘ni-shi’) is double death.

33. The Russian word for a railway station is ‘vokzal’. This is because when a Russian convoy visited Vauxhall in South London in 1840, they confused the name of the railway station there for the general name of the building. From then on, railway stations in Russia were called ‘vokzal’. Although this story has been contested.

34. ‘Achaplinarse’ is a Spanish (Central American Spanish) word which means to hesitate and then run away in the style of Charlie Chaplin.

35. “Así te tragues un pavo y todas las plumas se conviertan en cuchillas de afeitar” is a Spanish curse, meaning ‘may all your turkey’s feathers turn into razor blades’.

36. The Romanian proverb ‘dacă doi îți spun că ești beat, du-te și te culcă’ translates as ‘if two people say you’re drunk, go to sleep’. Which is just good advice.

37. When a word spelled backward (such as ‘pots’), creates another word (‘stop’) it’s called a semordnilap, which is ‘palindromes’ backward.

38. A pangram is a sentence which contains every letter of the alphabet only once. For example: ‘Cwm fjord-bank glyphs vext quiz’ which means ‘carved symbols in a mountain hollow on the bank of an inlet irritated an eccentric person’.

39. ‘Sgriob’ (Scottish Gaelic) denotes the itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whiskey.

40. ‘Lampadato’ (Italian) describes a person who gets tanned using a sun lamp.

41. ‘Katahara itai’ (Japanese) means laughing so much that one of your sides hurts.

42. ‘Backpfeifengesicht’ (German) means a face that cries out for a fist in it.

43. ‘Zastrich’ (Russian) means to cut one’s nails too short.

44. ‘Vogget’ (Cornish) means to hop on one leg.

45. ‘Guuguu’ (Japanese) describes the sound of someone in a deep sleep, snoring.

46. ‘Viajou na maionese’ is a Portuguese phrase meaning ‘to live in a dream world’ (literally to travel in the mayonnaise).

47. ‘U’ (Samoan) means an enlarged land snail.

48. ‘U’ (Xeta, Brazil) to eat animal meat.

49. ‘U’ (Burmese) means a male over 45 (literally an uncle).

50. In Somali there are 43 words relating to camels (for example, ‘cayuun’ meaning ‘camel spit’.)

51. ‘Ben’ (Turkish), ‘Ami’ (Bengali), ‘Fi’ (Welsh), ‘Jo’ (Catalan), ‘Mama’ (Sinhala), ‘Mimi’ (Swahili) and ‘Man’ (Wolof) all mean ‘I’.

Sources: The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod.Tyrannosaurus Lex by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D.

Correction: #40 has been changed to ‘lampadato’, instead of slampadato. #51 has been changed to ‘Swahili’ from ‘Swedish’.

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Ailbhe Malone is the UK lifestyle editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
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