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Do you ever get an impossible feeling of how to put together two words or more, or get trapped in a common situation that has no specific word to describe it? Here are 23 words from languages around the world that describe the Nigerian lifestyle and could be incorporated into our vocabulary:

Tiger mom Nigeria

  1. Kyoikumama: Japanese term for a mother who relentlessly pushes her child towards academic achievement. We all went to primary school with that one child who had this mother or have this mother ourselves. The English term for it is a “tiger mom”. These mothers supervise their kids’ thirteen-hour study sessions and have their Harvard Law or John Hopkins School of Medicine graduation outfit planned when they’re still in nursery school.
  2. Prozvonit is a Czech word which means to call someone and drop the call so the other person would call back saving the first caller money. In Nigeria it is termed “to flash” and it’s something we do when we’ve run out of credit.
  3. Schadenfreude is German for the act of deriving pleasure from another person’s misfortune. For reasons we can’t explain, humans relish watching other people (perceived enemies, most times) fail but Nigerians all the more so. I’ve walked into cinemas to watch horror or drama films and had thought I’m in the wrong hall from all the laughing I hear. We snort at underdogs and have no pity for the weak whether its cynicism left from decades of turmoil or just how we are. Schadenfreude is a word we need.
  4. Tingo: This Pascuense term means the act of borrowing all one desires from the house of a friend until you possess all of them. We do have one friend like this who never returns books or shoes until you visit them and find a library or shop of your own items staring back at you.
    Getty images
    Getty images
  5. Ya’aburnee: This Arabic word translates directly into ‘you bury me’. The common Nigerian prayer is you will not bury your children, meaning you won’t live to see your children die. Ya’aburnee carries the same weight and more: it’s something said between lovers or from a child to parents, meaning bury me because I would not be able to bear living in a world where you die first.
  6. Pochemuchka is what you call a person who asks too many questions in Russian. We all know this one person at school or at work. The phrase: you ask too many questions is commonly used but the word pochemuchka carries not just the meaning but the annoyance and exasperation such a person causes.
  7. Esculhambação is Brazilian Portuguese and is a word referring to the mess that comes about as a result of organisational incompetence. In the chaotic web of madness that is the Nigerian government, the general Nigerian work ethic is simple: don’t work if you don’t have to. Cashiers roll their eyes in cues, receptionists talk over the phone without pretending to notice you and police officers nap in their security posts. No one can be bothered to do more than they have to and the resulting esculhambação that comes with it: the wrong receipt, never getting your appointment scheduled, car accidents is all a part of day-to-day Nigerian life.
  8. Backpfeifengesicht is also German and is a word referring to a face that needs a slap. It’s something mostly what German children use on each other but in Nigeria, this is something I think would apply more to adults. This is something I can easily envision a teacher calling a student’s wide-eyed fearful face.
  9. Hanyauku is a RuKwangali language spoken in parts of Namibia and Angola. It means the act of tiptoeing across hot sand. If you’ve ever left your house without shoes during the hot season in March you know this word is something we need.
  10. Inat is the Serbian word for the act of arguing with someone solely because you like arguing with them. Nigeria society practically lives off inat with perfectly logical decisions or easy answers being questioned for the sake of questioning or out of sheer boredom.culaccino
  11. Culaccino: We’ve all been through the family fight of who didn’t use a coaster when a telltale circle of water is left on the table by a wet glass. The Italians have a word for leftover evidence. Your brother or sister has to eventually clean up while you watch sipping the very glass that caused it.
  12. Age-otori: This Japanese word means to look worse after a haircut. Every Nigerian boy has needed this word used on him at least once as our barbers are notorious for doing their own thing regardless of what who’s really paying has asked for.
  13. Manja is Malay. It means to display gooey, childlike and coquettish behaviour by women designed to elicit sympathy or pampering by men. Men have met women like this and women do it ourselves to escape police officers or sneak into barred places, but even we have to admit it’s annoying watching grown women bat their eyes and speak in high pitched voices just to get out of a driving infraction.
  14. Bricoleur is what the French call someone who starts building something with no clear plan, adding bits here and there, cobbling together a whole while completely winging it with no idea or preparation for whatever comes next. A bricoleur is impossible to work with and annoying to know and they are practically everywhere they make buildings that end up needing to be rebuilt, they make office plans that never take off and improvise meetings so bad they end thirty minutes before time.
  15. Shemomedjamo: Do you ever, regardless of how full you get, just keep eating because it all looks so delicious? Shemomedjamo, translating into “I accidentally ate the whole thing”, is the Georgian word for continuing to eat despite being full.
  16. Pelinti Buli: That feeling or act when you bite into ready-made jollof rice or eat something straight out of the pot and open your mouth because it’s too hot to let the air out has something it is called in Ghana. Literally translating into “to move hot food around your mouth” peliniti buli is exactly what it means, that mouth open, eye tearing, foot stamping act of dancing around your kitchen stove filled with immense regret actually has a word of its own.
  17. Zeg: Also Georgian, it means “the day after tomorrow.” Seriously, why don’t we have a word for that in English or any of the Nigerian languages?  It’s a phrase Nigerians use a lot almost more than even the word tomorrow.
  18. Kælling is the Danish term for a woman who stands on her doorstep (or in line at the supermarket, or at the park, or in a restaurant) cursing at her children. There’s nowhere in Nigeria you can go where you won’t spot a kælling, in the corner of your eye. In any semi-public area, there’s always that woman screaming woman with kids everyone is trying so hard to ignore.
  19. Zalatwic, Polish, refers to the use of friends, bribes, personal charm or connections to get something done. It’s common in Nigeria where those with connections have what they want. This is an almost daily occurrence.
  20. Pesmenteiro is Portuguese. This literally translates as “one who shows up to a funeral for the food” but applies to not just funerals. Weddings, birthday parties or any event has that one person who no one really knows too well show up, eats the food and leaves with a weak excuse only to run back when they say they’re cutting the cake.
  21. Concolon: You know at the bottoms of pans you get that food that is stuck to the bottom, maybe a bit burnt?  In Ecuador, they have a word for this stuff concolon.
  22. The scent in the air during the rainy season is beautiful and Tamil (of parts of  India and Sri Lanka) has a word for it. It is mannvaasanai and is the smell of wet earth when the first rain of the season hits the ground.
  23. Unbwogable: Unlike the word stubborn which has negative connotations of being selfish or sticking to a decision regardless of how dire the situation, unbwogable in Kenya means unshakable. It has a more noble association and suggests immense courage- sticking to your decision or beliefs in the face of adversity regardless of the cost. This suggests a strength of character. The only possible equivalent we have is “come hell or high water”.

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This article was first published on 26th August 2016


Melissa MORDI is an English and Creative Writing student at the University of Kent with revolutionary ideals and no energy to complete them. She lives in Lagos with her family and a dog called Cat.

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