Toujours Tingo – words that don’t exist in English

Toujours Tingo, by  Adam Jacot de Boinod is a collection of words and phrases from over 300 foreign languages for which there is no direct counterpart in English.

The “tingo” in the title is an Easter Island word, which means to borrow objects from a friend’s house one by one until there are none left.

Some of my favourite examples from Adam’s collection are the German ones: “Tantenverführer” – a young man with suspiciously good manners, literally, an aunt seducer; and “Trennungsagentur” – someone hired by a woman to tell her boyfriend he has been dumped.

One word that may not have a British English equivalent is “Layogenic” – Filipino for someone good-looking from afar but ugly up close, but there is an American slang expression for this that is certainly used in California: “A full-on Monet” (as used by Alicia Silverstone’s character Cher in the film Clueless.)

Here are some other beautifully descriptive, often hilarious examples:

Gwarlingo: Welsh description of the sound of a grandfather clock before it strikes.


Pisan zapra: Malay for the time needed to eat a banana.

Mouton enragé : French for someone calm who loses their temper – literally, “an enraged sheep”.

Kati-kehari: Hindi meaning to have the waist of an elegant lion.

Yupienalle: Swedish for a mobile phone – literally, “yuppie teddy” like a security blanket.

Ikibari: Japanese, a “lively needle” and describing a man who is willing but under-endowed.

Fensterln: German for climbing through a window to avoid someone’s parents so you can have sex without them knowing.

Stroitel: Russian for a man who likes to have sex with two women at the same time.

Okuri-okami: Japanese for a man who feigns thoughtfulness by offering to see a girl home only to try to molest her once he gets in the door – literally, a “see-you-home wolf”

Momma ko ene: Cheyenne for having red eyes from crying over your boyfriend marrying someone else.

Kanjus Makkhichus: Hindi description of someone so tight that if a fly falls into their tea they’ll fish it out and suck it dry before throwing it away.

Tlazlimquiztli: Aztec for the smell of adulterers.

Nosom Para Oblake: Serbian for “he is ripping clouds with his nose”, describing someone conceited.

Traer la lengua de corbata: Latin American Spanish for to be exhausted – literally, to have your tongue hanging out like a man’s tie

Sjostygg: Norwegian for someone so ugly the tide refuses to come in if they stand on the shore.

Lolo: Hawaiian for someone who would gladly give you the time if only they could read a clock.

Lalew: Filipino word meaning to grieve so much you can’t eat.

Nito-onna: Japanese for a woman so dedicated to her career that she has no time to iron blouses and so resorts to dressing only in knitted tops.

Buaya darat: Indonesian for a man who fools women into thinking he’s a very faithful lover when in fact he goes out with many different women at the same time – literally, a land crocodile

Chantepleurer: French for singing at the same time as crying.

Hira hira: Japanese for the fear you get from walking into a decrepit old house in the middle of the night.

Les avoir à zéro: French for “to have one’s testicles down to zero”, or be frightened.

Du kannst mir gern den Buckel runterrutschen und mit der Zunge bremsen: Austrian for “go to hell” – literally “You can slide down my hunchback using your tongue as a brake”.

This book looks set to be a hit this winter – it’ll certainly be a late addition to my Christmas list!