10 Bizarre Situations There’s Actually A Word For
There are billions of words in the world, but there are an infinite number of situations and experiences to be had. Some experiences are so rare, we never think to name them. Others are similar to things we already have a name for, so we file them away under that category. However, each culture is unique, and other countries have words for things we’d never think of.
From the people who brought you schadenfreude (happiness at the misfortune of others) and gluckschmerz (unhappiness at the good fortune of others), we have backpfeifengesicht. This is a German word that roughly translates to “a face badly in need of a fist.” The exact circumstances surrounding the creation of such a word are unknown. However, before we decide to run off and call our bosses backpfeifengesichts, it is interesting to note that it is the face that is said to be in need of punching and not necessarily the person it’s attached to. That is to say, this need not be just another synonym for people we really don’t like.
The idea that some faces are just more punchable than others is not unheard of and has even been supported by science. Scientists believe that in the early days of humanity, when the main weapon of war was a strong right hook, humans evolved faces that could take a punch. This applied mostly to males, since they tended to fight over women. The nose, jaw, cheekbones, and eye sockets evolved to be stronger, since these are a fist’s main targets. Over the years, our faces have become more delicate, but some faces have retained more “punchable traits” than others. So a backpfeifengesicht may just be a 125-kilogram (250 lb) guy with an iron chin jutting out, daring whoever’s brave enough to take their best shot.
The Malaysian word for the time it takes to eat a banana is pisan zapra. Before clocks became widespread, this word was used as a way to give a rough estimate of time. To say that someone would arrive in pisan zapra meant that they could be expected to show up in about two minutes. The Finnish word poronkusema (the distance equal to how far a reindeer can travel without taking a comfort break) works in a similar vein.
Pisan zapra is comparable to doing something in a jiffy or a moment. It sounds like an odd way to measure time, but that’s pretty much how all measurements started. Also, a “moment” is not just a vague measurement. In the medieval ages, it was defined as being 90 seconds. A “jiffy” is actually a real unit of time as well. Scientist Gilbert Newton Lewis coined the phrase in the early 1900s. The amount of time it takes light to travel 1 centimeter (0.4 in) is a jiffy (which is about one-hundredth of a second). Just something to think about the next time we take a moment to eat a Jiffy peanut butter and banana sandwich.
In the Persian language, a nakhur is a “camel that won’t give milk until her nostrils are tickled.” As odd as it may sound, it comes as no surprise that farmers would be willing to try anything to make the camel milking process easier. As it turns out, camels are notoriously difficult animals to milk. Unlike cows and other animals, a camel’s udders are very sensitive and ticklish. Also, a camel only gives milk when prompted by her calf. Dairy farmers stand by and milk the mother while the baby feeds. Even then, camels only produce milk 90 seconds at a time and need about a 10-minute break before they make more. This makes it virtually impossible to separate a mother camel from her calf and milk her by machine. Incidentally, camel milk is extraordinarily healthy. Studies have shown that it can even be used to treat symptoms of diabetes and Crohn’s disease.
Pesamenteiro is a Portuguese word for “one who habitually joins groups of mourners at the home of a deceased person, ostensibly to offer condolences but in reality to partake of the refreshments which he expects will be served.” After two weeks straight of eating nothing but ramen noodles, any college student can understand why someone would do such a thing. Even so, a little more explanation wouldn’t hurt.
Hunger is a fast-growing problem in Portugal. Schools have even been known to keep their cafeterias open during vacations to provide meals for students who would otherwise go hungry. Portugal is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe. In the 1900s, their policy for economic development focused on cheap labor costs. This unfortunately led to Portugal being unprepared for the competition coming from developing countries. Since 2000, the country’s economic growth per year has only averaged about 1 percent. While a pesamenteiro may at first sound like a cheapskate or a freeloader, such behavior is possibly the result of Portugal’s financial crisis.
Anyone who grew up with a younger sibling knows the feeling. Even long-time office workers know the feeling when a new employee gets hired. When a newcomer shows up, it makes everyone who was there before work that much harder, either for attention or to get the newcomer up to speed. The same principle brings us to the Philippines and gives us the Manobo word gintawan, which refers to “the energy and industry of the first wife.”
This word applies to polygamist marriages, where husbands are married to several wives at the same time. In such marriages, the first wife tends to be the “head wife,” supervising all the wives that follow. This added responsibility could be what the word gintawan is alluding to. Another possibility is that gintawan is the first wife working to keep the second wife from stealing her husband’s attention. After all, in Chile, there is a Yamana word, kutua-na, which means “to give the second wife the place of the first in the wigwam.” And while we’re on the subject of wives . . .
Gambling can lead to the loss of many things. One can lose their car or house. It’s no secret that losing the deed to his house in Las Vegas can result in a husband losing his wife. However, there is a much more direct way a man can lose his wife at a poker table. The definition of the Hawaiian word pu’ukaula is “to set one’s husband or wife up as a stake in gambling.” It may sound like the plot of a movie or perhaps a practice only found in the back rooms of the highest rollers. Unfortunately, however, this is an all-too-common occurrence—and not just in Hawaii. At least two incidents have been reported in India. In both cases, the wife escaped when her husband tried to hand her over to the winner. In one case, villagers had to guard the house where the wife was seeking shelter when the winner went so far as to raid the village to retrieve her.
Okuri-okami is a Japanese word for “a man who feigns thoughtfulness by offering to see a girl home only to molest her once he gets in the door.” With the need for such a word in their lexicon, one may think that Japan is overflowing with molesters-in-waiting. However, reports of such attacks are quite low. One statistic reported that 2.4 Japanese women out of every 100,000 were sexually assaulted in a year, while 84 women out of 100,000 were assaulted in the United States in the same year. Unfortunately, this does not mean that fewer molestations are occurring in Japan; it only means that fewer are being reported.
There are many causes for this. Such attacks are often seen not as violent aggression but as aggressive courting. Some men will refer to the pursuit of women as looking for an opportunity to rape. The major cause, however, is how narrowly sexual assault tends to be defined. Not only in Japan but in most countries, being violently attacked at night by a stranger in a public but secluded place is the only recognized definition of sexual assault. A friendly man chivalrously escorting a woman home only to get a little grabby once he gets there is rarely seen as criminal. Therefore, okuri-okami may not be as strange a word as one would first think.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, prozvonit is to call someone’s cell phone and hang up before they answer. There are two possible reasons for doing this. The first is to prompt the person to call back. This, depending on the cell phone plan, will cost the caller minutes but will not cost the person who prozvonit-ed anything.
The second reason someone may do this is similar but simpler: The person may call and hang up as a way to send a message without wasting any minutes. In the days of carnivals, way before cell phones, workers did this all the time. A worker would call his mother collect and tell the operator that his name was “Kay Fabian.” When the operator would ask the mother if she would accept the charge for a call from Kay Fabian, she would say “no” and save money. However, because of the code name, she would know that the call had been her son’s way of saying he was doing fine.
Pikikiwepogosi is an Ojibwe word that means “having the taste of an animal that was tired out before it was killed.” At first, this word may seem like the invention of an extremely picky eater or Gordon Ramsay–esque food critic. However, recent studies have proven that such a taste can exist. Muscles burn sugar, or glycogen, for fuel. The more energy an animal uses up before it is slaughtered, the less sugar it will have in its muscles. This sugar turns into lactic acid after death, which makes the meat tender and helps it maintain a healthy color. Lactic acid also slows bacteria from the slaughtering process from growing on meat. Such bacteria are to blame for spoilage, slime forming on meat, and discoloration. Well-rested animals, with a lot of sugar in their muscles, taste much better and stay fresh much longer. The moral of the story: Spoiling animals a little before we kill them keeps them from spoiling too soon afterward.
It’s only human nature to want to try out something new when we first get it. For most of us, that just means taking a spin around the block in a new car or taking “selfies” with a new phone. Samurai took it a step further, it would seem. Tsujigiri is a Japanese word that translates to “crossroads killing.” While unfortunate, that may not sound too bad. However, that was actually the nickname for when a samurai got a new sword and tested it out on whoever happened to be walking down the street. That’s right: The victim didn’t have to be an enemy or otherwise offensive, just in the wrong place at the wrong time. These attacks were representative of how unchecked the power of the samurai was when they were at their most popular. Such actions were eventually outlawed in the Tokugawa period. From then on, those caught testing their swords out in that way were treated as killers, arrested, and usually put to death.
Mr. Louie is a novelist, storyteller, playwright, short story writer, screen writer, audio drama writer, and (obviously) freelance writer. He is currently in the process of getting his novel, Flight Of Fancy, published. For any questions or comments he can be reached at [email protected].