08 January 2008

jambo does not mean hello

In 1974, a book was published with the title Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book. Due to that and other widespread allusions I was under the impression that jambo is indeed a general Swahili greeting.

I was about to add jambo to the Dengo vocabulary when I discovered, in Lonely Planet Swahili Phrasebook, an explanation that “jambo is pidgin Swahili, used to greet tourists who are presumed not to speak the language... jambo is the root of a verb that means 'to be unwell.'”

kamusiproject.org defines jambo as a “greeting used exclusively for those assumed to be tourists who do not know Swahili.”

Well, crap. Now Dengo doesn't have a word for “hello.”

By the way, Swahili verbs are cool and vaguely Volapük-like.

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