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6.02.2003

 
Linguistic Twists and Turns
A TV ad I saw last night announced that Six Flags Marine World has a new roller coaster called "Zonga", whose name means "twisted" in Swahili. I figured that the folks at Six Flags were just pulling this out of their behinds. But a look at the invaluable Kamusi Project online Swahili-English dictionary shows that the verb (ku)zonga indeed does mean to coil, twist or bend about. I'd be curious to know where the ride-namers came up with this. Did they start by looking for an "African-sounding" word that just happened to have an appropriate meaning? Or did they start by flipping through Swahili dictionaries until they found something whose sound and meaning fit? The latter approach was clearly the one used by Disney when it named its "Lion King" characters. "Pumbaa," which means to be lazy, stupid or ignorant, made a fitting name for a lazy, stupid, ignorant warthog. Whether those jokers also knew that the noun "pumba" (one "a") can refer to smegma, is subject to speculation. They did, after all, stick subliminal sexual messages into the movie.