Friday, 2 October 2009

"The Wonder of Whiffling" by Adam Jacot de Boinod

One of my favourite authors is Douglas Adams, inventor of the immortal "trilogy in five parts", The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Such was my devotion to the Adams canon that while at university I attempted to create my own version of the Pangalactic Gargleblaster, allegedly the strongest drink in the universe. My memories of the only occasion on which it was launched on an unsuspecting public are at best hazy, but I do dimly recollect that it contained rather a lot of aquavit, and that one of my sister's friends disappeared while drinking it and was subsequently found unconscious under a hedge three front gardens away. Sadly, my attempts to recreate the legendary technology which could spontaneously move a woman's underwear six feet to the left were markedly less successful.

One of Adams's lasting contributions to the cause of writing generally was The Meaning of Liff, in which he created words for all those things which really deserved to be specifically described in the English language, but weren't. So, for example, "budby" is defined as a nipple clearly identifiable through flimsy or wet material, though lengthy research for the purposes of this post reveals (so to speak) that the term does not seem yet to have been adopted by those internet sites which specialise in such material. Similarly, "epping" is the futile movement of fingers employed in a restaurant in an attempt to attract the attention of a waiter.

AJB has gone a stage further. In The Meaning of Tingo, and its succesor Toujours Tingo, he collected words from various foreign languages which may not come instantly to mind, but which nonetheless may come in useful, much in the same way as the celebrated "my postillion has been struck by lightning" used to be prominently featured in English/French phrase books.

I must point out an uncanny connection here, since I am probably one of the few people other than the author actually to know that the Albanian language has over twenty words for different types of moustache (some of which I believe apply only to Albanian women), and did in fact use this fact in my own first book (the catchy and addictive Multi-Asset Class Investment Strategy) to astound and amaze a whole generation of business school students. There is much more on offer, though. We learn, for example, to slip the Persian word "nakhur" (a camel that gives no milk until her nostrils are tickled) into everyday conversation, while who could be without the Japanese "tsuji-giri", meaning "to try out a new sword on passers-by"?

Now, in The Wonder of Whiffling, he performs the same invaluable service for our own rich English langauge, in a way not seen (or, rather, heard) since the immortal days of rambling Sid Rumbold on Round the Horne. For example, in Yorkshire a stridewallop is a tall and ungainly woman, while in Canada, a cougar is an older woman on the hunt for a younger man. (In Britain they are called bridge players.)

This is clearly an invaluable work of scholarship without which no bookshelf may be considered complete.

The Wonder of Wiffling has just been published by Particular Books under ISBN 978-0140515855

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