Guess the real meanings of these multilingual mysteries

By Adam Jacot de Boinod

1. Tingo is …
(a) The Bulgarian name for the soft drink Tango
(b) The first person singular of the Romani (gypsy) verb meaning: to ring a bell
(c) An Easter Island verb meaning: to steal objects from a friend’s house, one by one, until there are none left
Answer: (c)

2. ‘Stonko’, ‘ah chop’ and ‘hamjambo’ are, respectively, the Muskogee (Native American), Aramaic (Syrian) and Kiswahili (South East African) terms for …
(a) Brilliant!
(b) How are you?
(c) Cheerio!
Answer: (b)

3. ‘Junken a munken, a sucka sucka po, wailuku wailuku, bum bum show,’ is the Hawaiian Pidgin version of which English children’s rhyme?
(a) Eeeny meeny miney mo
(b) Ring-a-ring-a-roses
(c) A sailor went to sea-sea-sea
Answer: (a)

4. Tarzan is not just the name of Jane’s jungle boyfriend, it is also …
(a) The Hebrew term for a dandy
(d) The Manx term for an unwanted gift
(c) The Estonian term for a chest of drawers
Answer (a)

5. ‘Layogenic’ is a slang term used by …
(a) New York trendies, meaning: an apartment that will attract the opposite sex
(b) International physicists, meaning: reactions that take place when atoms are laid one atop the other
(c) Tagalog peoples of the Philippines, meaning: someone only looks good at a distance
Answer: (c)

6. If a man is described as a ‘jaysus’, he is …
(a) An Irishman who thinks he’s God
(b) A missionary working among the Ndebele peoples of Southern Africa
(c) An Indonesian who tells a joke so unfunny that you actually can’t help laughing
Answer: (c)

7. Similarly, ‘Magimiks belong Yesus’ is the delightful phrase used by the Tok Pisin people of Papua New Guinea to describe …
(a) A helicopter
(b) A food processor
(c) A windfarm
Answer: (a)

8. ‘Gigigigigi’ is a word used by …
(a) South African tribesmen, meaning: animals (or people) standing around, looking at a distant danger, like cows watching a lion
(b) Disapproving Maltese women, meaning: the empty-headed chattering of a group of girls.
(c) Inuit hunters meaning: seals’ heads bobbing up and down between ice-floes
Answer: (a)

9. ‘Binti’ is the name for an eccentric game in which …
(a) Nigerian women skip a series of increasingly complicated patterns, at ever-increasing speed until one of them falls over, or becomes too dizzy to carry on
(b) Filipino men take turns to kick one another on the back of their calves, until one of them falls over or is in too much pain to continue
(c) Indian children, massed in gangs, throw sticks at one another until the opposition has all fallen over or been forced to retreat
Answer: (b)

10. ‘Chapponer,’ is a French dialect term meaning …
(a) To stick one’s toe in water to test its temperature
(b) To stick one’s nose into other people’s business
(c) To stick one’s finger up a chicken, to see if it is laying an egg
Answer: (c)

11. If a Pashto-speaker from Afghanistan or Pakistan cries, ‘Eeekh-eekh!’ ‘Aw-aw!’ and, ‘Tsh-tsh!’ are they …
(a) Expressing fear of (respectively) mice, vultures and snakes.
(b) Using the traditional greetings for their granny, their child and their spouse
(c) Calling for their camels, their oxen and their horses
Answer: (c)

12. A ‘szackbarbar’ is …
(a) A Polish café that sells both snacks and alcoholic drinks
(b) A Hungarian crank, obsessed by his own specialist subject
(c) A Czech poet who cannot help himself speaking in rhyme
Answer: (b)

13. Tooruktug Dolgay Tangdym is the title of …
(a) A gruesome folk-song from Borneo, which literally means, ‘We will eat the brains of our enemies’
(b) The national anthem of the Siberian state of Tuva, which means, ‘The forest is full of pine-nuts.’
(c) A Finnish peasants’ dance, whose name means, ‘Reindeers frolicking in snow.’
Answer: (b)

14. ‘Hij heft een klap van molen gehad,’ means the same as ‘He’s a sandwich short of a picnic’, i.e. daft. Its literal translation, however, is …
(a) The Kurdish for, ‘He talks as much sense as a sheep.’
(b) The Norwegian for, ‘He sticks his head in the ground like a mole.’
(c) The Dutch for, ‘He got hit by a windmill.’
Answer: (c)

15. ‘Yat yat fatt’ is the Cantonese for which telephonic British phrase
(a) 118
(b) 999
(c) Phones 4 U
Answer: (a)

16. ‘Pulpo’ is the Spanish word for an octopus. But what is its slang meaning?
(a) A taxman, because his tentacles reaches into everyone’s pockets
(b) A groper, because his hands are all over women
(c) A politician, because he’s slimy and clinging

(Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and other Extraordinary Words from around the World by Penguin Books)

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