In this decidedly unstuffy look at the staid world of languages, Elizabeth Little uses her favorite examples from languages dead, difficult, and just plain made-up to reveal how language study is the ticket to traveling the world—without leaving the comforts of home. Little’s exploration of “word travel” includes:
• Shona, a language lacking distinct words for “blue” or “green”
• Why Icelandic speakers must decide if the numbers 1-4 are plural
• Which language is the only one lacking verbs
• Just what, exactly, the Swedish names of IKEA products mean
Fully illustrated with hilarious sidebars, Biting The Wax Tadpole also addresses classic cases of mistranslation. For example, when Chinese shopkeepers tried to find a phonetic written equivalent of Coca-Cola, one set of characters they chose were pronounced “ke-kou ke-la.” It sounded right, but it translated literally as “bite the wax tadpole.” Not quite what Coke had in mind, but in this off-kilter ode to the words of the world, it’s just another example of language taking you someplace interesting.