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As writers, we value words. They are, after all, the building blocks with which we construct our books. In earlier posts, we've featured words taken from other cultures, and to that list we have to add the word sprunt. It's a verb, an olde worlde Scottish verb, and it means 'to chase a woman around a farmer's haystack after dark'. This is another example of an activity that is so common within a culture that a single word has evolved to describe it.

     (We particularly like the qualification 'after dark'. As far as we know, there is no word for chasing a woman around a haystack during the day – either Scottish men then had better things to do; or, until it was dark, there was no reward for a successful catch.)


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To kick off the New Year, we feature the word ubuntu. It's a South African word, originally part of a Zulu phrase. There's no easy English translation, but in essence it means "sharing the human ideals of compassion, mercy and generosity to link all societies together". After the tumult of 2020, we could do with a little more ubuntu.

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Another word that recently caught our attention (see October post below) is tingo. You won't know this word, because it's spoken only by the people who live on Easter Island, one of the most isolated places on Earth, in the southeast Pacific. Broadly speaking, tingo means 'to borrow things from a friend's house, one by one, until there is nothing left worth taking.' Entire books have been written about Easter Island and why the culture there collapsed, but in our view, this one word – all by itself – tells you everything you need to know.

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 You won't know this word, because it is used by the Yanomami, a so-called primitive tribe of Stone-Age Indians who live in the jungles of Venezuela and Brazil. We came across this word when we visited a Yanomami village while researching our book Along the River that Flows Uphill, which describes a river-boat journey we took from the Orinoco to the Amazon.

     There's no English equivalent, but nomohoni roughly means 'to employ trickery to set a trap for your enemies so they feel sufficiently secure that you can safely massacre them.'

     This is a complex concept to incorporate into a single word, and most societies (fortunately) don't need it. The fact that the Yanomami do gives you a peek into their culture.   

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