For the Love of Language: Tingo and Other Cool Words

I love words. Since I’m a writer, this probably sounds obvious. However, it’s more than simply enjoying little squiggly lines that come together to form thoughts and speech. I love reading and creating (or at least trying to create) fun wordplay and unusual metaphors and similes. Alliteration is practically my best friend, and from Lord Byron to Shirley Jackson, striking imagery in poetry and prose inspires me again and again. But those aren’t the only ways language can be fun and surprising. Another aspect of literature that has long fascinated me is how many certain words from other languages have no equivalent in English. Embracing my German roots, I’ve always harbored a particular fondness for the ridiculous ‘schadenfreude’ or the reveling in the misfortunes of others. German nincompoops notwithstanding, there are plenty of other cool words out there that don’t get their due in the English language.Tingo
Last year, I came across an article on the Huffington Post that appealed to my inner word lover: 28 Genius Depictions of Words with No Direct English Translation. Artist Anjana Iyer crafted a series of pictures that highlights those elusive words that the English-speaking world is missing out on. A couple of standouts are Backpfeifengesicht, German for “a face badly in need of a fist” and Shlimazl, Yiddish for “a chronically  unlucky person.”

Tingo Anjana IyerAll of Iyer’s artwork is unbelievably lush and gorgeous. But one word struck me more than the rest: ‘tingo,’ a concept meaning “to gradually steal all the possessions out of a neighbor’s house by borrowing and not returning.” While the “split screen” of this piece has Iyer’s characteristic whimsy, the horror writer in me couldn’t help but envision something a bit more malevolent. In under a minute, I had designed an entire story concept revolving around this heretofore unknown word.

Earlier this month, the Indiana Voice Journal published my story, which is titled simply, “Tingo.” It follows a woman named April who must deal with a neighbor that asks to borrow more than the proverbial cup of sugar—she wants April’s whole life, starting with the paintings on the wall and ending with her husband and son. It’s a definite psychological horror story with tinges of the supernatural, one that’s short and not-so-sweet, so check it out in the current issue of Indiana Voice Journal if you feel so inclined.

While preparing this blog, I couldn’t help but feel that it wouldn’t be complete without including Anjana Iyer’s original depiction of tingo. After all, that was where I found my initial inspiration. So I contacted Ms. Iyer, and she was gracious enough to give me permission to use her illustration. Can I just admit I basically squealed like a total fan girl when an artist whose work I’d been admiring from afar responded to me? Yes, I will admit that.

So please visit Ms. Iyer’s site here. She’s an incredible artist, and everyone should know her work. Plus, I can guarantee you’ll learn a few new words along the way. If nothing else, her artistry will provide you the most enjoyable vocabulary lesson of your life. And from a word lover like me, that’s really saying something.

Happy reading!

First image copyright of Bill Homan. Second image copyright of Anjana Iyer.