A few weeks back, a friend of my sons' came into my back yard, and when my black lab came up, he said, "Ungawa!" à la Tarzan. My dog sat. Does this really mean anything, and if so, what language is it?
-- Mark, Escondido
Dear Matt, or Alice, whichever:
While at the Wild Animal Park with friends, I became curious about the name on the train, WGASA. Where did this name originate? Some region in Africa or...?
-- Tim, Shelter Island
I started thinking how places on earth have vocabulary directly related to environment. Eskimos must not have many words to say because their surroundings are always the same. But if it's always the same then Eskimos must experience déjà vu more than places where your surroundings are more varied. Anyway, do Eskimos have a word for déjà vu?
-- B.B., P.B.
Yeah, sure, B. Eskimos are all in a stupor because they lack billboards and video arcades. There's no easy Inuit translation for déjà vu, but then we didn't have one either. We had to borrow the word from the French, who have always had plenty to look at.
Tarzan's "ungawa" was strictly a made-up word when it first appeared in the movies. But by chance, it's also Swahili, with a couple of meanings, depending on inflection. "To unite" or "to join" is one translation. It also is a kind of ground grain. Or maybe it's Labrador retriever for "sit."
And I don't expect anyone to believe me, but Wgasa was an acronym used by two local wags as a substitute for "Who gives a shit anyway?" They suggested "Wgasa" as a nicely African-sounding name for the safari ride, failing to mention to the Zoological Society the other connection.