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In Other Words Original Edition

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802714442
ISBN-10: 0802714447
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Translation is tricky, especially when the language belongs to a people whose culture is very different from one's own. In this short but enthusiastic book, Moore, a linguist, selects from languages across the world words and phrases that are impossible to translate neatly into English. In many cases, the difficulty arises because our culture simply doesn't share the same experiences as others. For instance, the Cantonese word gagung literally means "bare sticks," but represents the growing group of men who will not be able to find a wife because China's one-child policy, and desire for sons, has reduced the proportion of women. Other untranslatable words are those used for a feeling or situation that English only describes in a roundabout way, such as the indigenous word from Tierra del Fuego, mamihlapinatapei, which connotes "an expressive and meaningful silence," romantic or otherwise. Moore ranges through 10 different groups of languages (ancient and classical, indigenous, Nordic and African among them) and breaks a few into individual tongues. He introduces each with a few entertaining anecdotes and literary quotes to provide context, and his style in the definitions is equally witty and accessible. Strangely, the entries are not alphabetized, and some have meanings that are more familiar than he implies, particularly those found in the section on Sanskrit, which is made up entirely of words that have already entered the English vocabulary, such as guru and mantra. Overall, this book will fascinate anyone who loves linguistic oddities or has ever felt "lost in translation."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


`A lexicon of words that capture a notion but defy translation' Arts Telegraph --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; Original edition (October 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714442
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #743,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

C J Moore is writer, poet, translator and editor of both adult and children's books, including Captureland, an adventure story set in the Caribbean. He is the author of the highly successful In Other Words, and the award winning Ishtar and Tammuz. He published two volumes of poetry with The Celtic Cross Press, and has written a critically acclaimed verse translation of the Fables of La Fontaine.

In 2012 he published King Abba, a philosophical fantasy, which one reviewer described as "Harry Potter meets Sophie's World. A guide for today's children to tomorrow's world." See the dedicated King Abba page at

Behind the Mountain, the eagerly awaited sequel to King Abba, is now available from the Amazon Kindle store (February 2014).

CJM has spent most of his working life as a professional foreigner in a number of countries. He now spends his time between Scotland, Spain and the Swiss Alps.

See also CJM's musings at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When I grew up around my Japanese-speaking mother, she often used the phrase "yoko meshi" when she would get particularly frustrated about having to speak English. Only in hindsight do I see that she was using a particularly Japanese expression of linguistic frustration. This is one of the 250-plus words and phrases that language expert Christopher J. Moore has compiled from around the world that do not have a simple translation in English. Yet what they do convey are life experiences with which we Americans can relate.

Words that originate within one culture might as easily have been produced by another at any time. But often one culture may recognize a more immediate need for a word to express an emotion or situation. Consequently there are inconsistencies in how we describe commonalties we have in the human experience. And then there are the cases of words and phrases he introduces that seem specific to their native cultures such as the Czech word, litost, which is a state of torment only experienced by Czechs where they have the sudden sight of their own misery. Bottom line, languages develop in response to a culture's needs and interests. Moore has provided a nice, light tome that clearly expresses our cultural differences through words that truly get lost in translation. It's a great way to get a smidgen of what another culture may be like.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Edwards on September 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Believe me, I really wanted to give this book five stars. It is five-star quality in almost every respect. The only reason I didn't is, IMO, it gives unduly short shrift to Spanish. And of the handful or so Spanish words that are included, at least three are characteristic of Spain. It seems to me the author missed a great opportunity to introduce readers to the multifaceted Spanish of Latin America. I for one would have loved to see the word "carteluo" in there, since I have yet to find a satisfactory definition/description anywhere else. Yet try as I might to identify other shortcomings, that is the only criticism I have of this book.

Moore somehow manages to make up for all the deserving words that didn't make it. He shows particular deference to German and French, and I absolutely reveled in his selections from the lengua franca of the Deutschelanders. Surely my auto insurer wouldn't mind being introduced to a geisterfahrer or two. And the mental images conjured up by the words schadenfreude and korinthenkacker are the cure for a bad day. I also enjoyed the introduction, where readers are treated to a glimpse of the Finnish concept of sisu. The selection of Yiddish words is admirable as well, and I wouldn't be surprised if Reader's Digest ever asked to reprint it as a vocab builder.

The smiles, laughter and sheer enjoyment I get from reading this book make me forget I paid for it. I have used it as a reference book, a momentary diversion, and an extended read when I need something lighthearted. I think it nicely complements Ostler's scholarly, but no less entertaining, tome "Empires of the Word". Don't miss that one if you like "In Other Words". And Mr. Moore, if you read this review and ever plan a second edition of this book, may I suggest you consider including the Japanese word "mokusatsu." I've read that the inherent ambiguity in that word might have played a key role in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Laycock on May 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I just finished reading two books about language: "In Other Words" and a book called "Zounds!" that looked into the origins of interjections.

The author of "Zounds!" gushed about the illustrator of his book, remarking about how much they added. In reality, to me, they looked like hastily drawn cartoons on the same plane as Marmaduke, as far as drawing skill and wit were involved.

Now we have "In Other Words," which is filled with outstanding illustrations, and not a word about them from author Christopher Moore. The illustrations, done in some sort of African or Asian style of which I am unfamiliar, excellently and literally demonstrate some of the stranger phrases described in the book, and truly do add to the experience.

The book itself is an interesting and enlightening read. Moore introduces each chapter (divided by language group), then skillfully describes several untranslatable phrases from each one. Either Moore has an amazing grasp of many different languages, or he did some incredible research, because his writing seems to show a true understanding.

I was also pleased by the physical book itself. The pages are a heavy weight and it's a perfect size. It's not often the size and feel of a book deserve a compliment, but there you have it.

One complaint is that the book ends abruptly, with no final wrap-up or comments by the author. Even more than that, I would have liked to see a list of English words and phrases deemed untranslatable into other languages (Moore mentions the word "cool" at one point; surely there are many others).

But overall, worth reading - if anything, to understand more how diverse the cultures on this world are.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By F. S. L'hoir VINE VOICE on March 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
And try translating my title into a foreign language.

I read this informative little book while using a friend's bathroom (the perfect setting), and I must say, I enjoyed it immensely. I looked through the Italian, a language that I do speak, and recognized all the expressions except for "attaccabottoni," literally a button attacher, but figuratively, someone who sticks like glue to one, at a party for instance. Such idioms are fun, as well as important (I'll never forget trying to explain in Italian that commercial American bread [as opposed to Italian] is full of preservatives, and learning the hard way, as my friends were rolling around on the floor with laughter, that I had just informed everyone that American bread was full of condoms!). The proper word for food preservatives is "conservanti".

My German friend, to whom the book "In Other Words" belongs, had never heard of the word "Drachenfutter," but he thought it was hysterically funny (My favorite is "Katzenjammer" [literally "cats yammering"; figuratively "a hangover!"]).

Some other favorite Italian expressions that might have gone into the book:"Hai la faccia tosta!" (Lit. "You have the toasted face!" Figuratively, "You have more nerve than a brass monkey!" Or "naufragio," literally, "shipwreck," used in reference to a lousy party; or "bomba"--"bomb," which signifies a play or movie that is a hit (while in America, it means just the opposite). Admittedly, these expressions are from the 80s & 90s, so they could have changed by now, but they are still fun.

The Italian language is likewise fun the other way around, as Italian is translated literally into English.
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