one is forced to the inexorable conclusion that Monsieur J de B is
* extraordinarily gullible
* incredibly lazy
* a cynic who is onto a good thing and not above milking it for all it's worth
* some disturbingly human combination of the above three.
Personally, I opt for the fourth choice.
"The Meaning of Tingo" purports to be a collection of words in various languages which are essentially untranslatable. As such, they offer a unique view into the way different peoples and cultures look at the world, new insights into "the human condition" and blahdeblahdeblah ...
People love this kind of shit. They lap it up. I'll be the first to admit - I'm a bit of a sucker for it myself. One of the appeals of learning a foreign language is that it does force you to look at the world a bit differently. And, on the surface, it would appear that "The meaning of Tingo" delivers up a rich feast. I mean, who could resist:
razbliuto: 'the sentimental feeling you have about someone you once loved but no longer do' (Russian)
Scheissenbedauern: ‘the disappointment one feels when something turns out not nearly as badly as one had expected’ (German)
seigneur-terrasse: Someone who spends time, but not money, at a café. (French; literally, 'lord of the terrace')
agobilles: a burglar's tools. (German)
The problem is, none of the words above actually exists. Something Monsieur J de B could have presumably found out if he had cracked a dictionary, or consulted even one native French, Russian, or German speaker. That German speaker, or indeed any student of German, could have told him that a 'word' such as 'Scheissenbedauern' could not exist, as it violates the basic rules for constructing compound words in the language. But, no, it appears that whatever minimal research he did was conducted exclusively online. Now there's a recipe for accuracy and attention to detail.
sucrer les fraises: to die (literally, "to sugar the strawberries"
aardappel: Dutch for "potato" (literally, 'hard apple')
koshatnik: a dealer in stolen cats.
Nope. Nope. And nope again.
"Sucrer les fraises" does exist in French, but it is used to describe a Parkinson-like tremor, not the act of dying. 'Aardappel' means 'earth-apple'. 'Koshatnik', if it means anything at all, might be used to describe a 'cat-lover' or 'cat person', but 'dealer in stolen cats' suggests that someone's leg is being pulled.
And that's the fundamental problem with this superficially appealing book. One Amazon reviewer, a native Russian speaker, identifies 80% of the Russian 'words' as being unrecognizable, garbled, or non-existent. There are similar objections from native Chinese, French, German, and Turkish speakers.
Which leads to my scoring:
Breadth of coverage: 2
Charm: 0 (because it's not charming to lead your readership down the garden path with ignorance masquerading as fact, no matter how idiosyncratically entertaining)
The Meaning of Tingo : And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World (Adam Jacot de Boinod)
If rated on sheer entertainment value, this book would earn 4.5 stars. Unfortunately, as has been documented in several internet fora, the author's credulity far outweighs his scholarship. Quite simply, an unhealthy percentage (at my estimate 30-40%) of the 'words' quoted in this book simply do not exist. Thus, on scholarship, the book earns only 1.5 stars.
My 3-star overall rating represents an average of the 4.5 for entertainment value and 1.5 for scholarship.
Unfortunately, the sequel to this book, if internet reviews are anything to go by, suggests that the author's scholarship has not improved in the second book, which seems like a naked bid for profit, rather than a serious contribution to the literature.