People keep e-mailing me articles based on a new book called The Meaning of Tingo: And Other Extraordinary Words from Around the World, by Adam Jacot De Boinod. (The publisher must have one hell of a PR person.) I didn’t really feel like going into the “weird furrin words” thing again, so I’m glad to report that Benjamin Zimmer has done a good job in Language Log. He’s a little too polite for my taste, calling it “unfair to prejudge de Boinod’s book based solely on early press accounts” (if you can’t be unfair about fake language mavens, who can you be unfair about?), but he demolishes the Malay material with gusto. And he provides this delightful anecdote:
As an aside, the reliance on sketchy online dictionaries and wordlists can yield unintentionally humorous results. Take, for instance, the Maserati Kubang. Unveiled in 2003, this “concept car” is supposedly named after “a wind over Java.” (Maserati has a tradition of naming cars after exotic-sounding winds.) Close, but no cigar — the actual word is kumbang, not kubang. Angin kumbang literally means “bumblebee wind” in Javanese and Indonesian, and it refers to a very dry south or southwesterly wind that blows into the port of Cirebon on the north coast of Java. But this got mangled on various websites listing winds of the world…, and kumbang was changed to kubang. What does kubang mean in Indonesian? “Mudhole, mud puddle, quagmire.” Probably not the image Maserati was going for!
The Maserati Mudhole—has a ring to it, doesn’t it?