Monday, 22 October 2012

What the British ambassador really said . . .
Last week, there was a brief and minor fuss about a tweet by the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. Reports seemed to indicate that he had repeated a Chilean football fans’ anti-Argentinian chant which referred, disparagingly, to the Falklands war.

Actually he didn’t. He merely referred to it, extremely obliquely — and wittily. The joke was that, by going to see the Argentina vs Chile international in Buenos Aries, he would find out something new about the reasons behind Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands.

Even the chant itself wasn’t well reported in the press. It was always printed in its English translation: 'Argentines, you faggots, you lost the Malvinas for being dumb assholes'.

Which doesn’t sound much like an effective football chant, does it? For one thing, it has no rhythm. For another, it has no rhyme.

The original, though, has both of course. ‘Argentinos, maricones, les quitaron las Malvinas por huevones’. The rhythm, I guess, not having actually heard it, is the same one as something like: together, united, we shall never be defeated.

How does it actually translate? I asked my friend/colleague Damian in Buenos Aires. Though he has no interest in football, he became used to these kind of questions when I was writing my book Filthy English.

The first problematic word is ‘maricones’. Superficially, it is easy to translate. It’s the standard hispanic world word for homosexuals — hence the American faggots in the newspapers. But, Damian pointed out, to me, it overwhelmingly refers to cowardice. That’s just not there in any English words I can think of for homosexual. Poof, poofter, woofter, shirt-lifter, uphill gardener etc etc . . . Lots of sneering but no intimations of cowardliness.

Interesting, then, that hispanic homosexuals are cowards while anglo ones aren’t. It says, I guess, more about hispanic and anglo heterosexuals than it does about homosexuals. So, given that it’s likely that racial and group slurs represent not a true image of the denigrated group but rather an externalisation of an internal piece of something, what does that say about hispanic heterosexual men? That they are placing some cowardly part of themselves on homosexuals?

Certainly, there could be something of that kind going on in the Chilean anti-Argentinian chant. Argentinians are a bolshie  bunch and Chileans quite probably resent them in this way or that. (I’ve no idea if that’s true. But if, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, you can’t believe one evidently false thing before lunch, where is the fun in life?)

The other problematic word is ‘huevones’. Dumb assholes is a terrible translation of that. Obviously, it has nothing to do with bums but everything to do with eggs. As in that breakfast dish ‘huevos rancheros’. But eggs? It’s the Chilean slang for testicles. It’s a common equation. Hebrew uses the same metaphor. Not Argentinian Spanish, though. There, the reference is the same as in English, to balls: boludo.

So how to translate huevones? In this context, it clearly refers to stupidity — which asshole doesn’t. So I favour the Irish bollix. As in: you complete bollix. A cousin, of course, of the English: he/she/they bollocksed that right up. (NB the interpolation of the qualifier ‘right’ highlights the importance of rhythm and redundancy in quality swearing.)

But there’s more. Bollix also implies a level of friendship — and so does huevon, which can also be translated as mate or pal. As can boludo, which is a common form of address to a friend. As huevon is huevo plus the emphasis-suffix of -on, an even better (though non-swearing) English equivalent might be matey.

So, what the British ambassador really referring to? I can’t get any rhythm or rhyme to it but a more accurate, if completely unevocative (and therefore meaning-lite) translation would be: 'Argentinians, you cowards, you lost the Falklands because you are complete and utter bollix'.

One more thing.
Don’t think the Argentinians are likely to have been that intimidated by the Chilean chant. As anyone who has seen that extraordinary scene in Secrets In Their Eyes will know, Buenos Aires football crowds are, well, let’s say lively. Also, Argentinians certainly can turn it on when swearing and are no slouches at cross-border insults.

I quote myself, from my book, Filthy English.

Length, detail and specificity are all notable features of Argentinian swearing. An example from a popular film. ‘Negro de mierda y la concha de tu puta madre boliviana, parte de una generación sometida por los blancos; hijo de la guasca rejuntada de la zanja de un quilombo de travestis paraguayos. Sabes porque éste ispa está así? Por los negros, cabezas negras, analfabetos, peronistas y engominados como vos.’

This translates as ‘Nigger of shit and cunt of your Bolivian whore of a mother – one of a generation subjugated by whites; son of semen collected from the ditch outside a Paraguayan transvestites’ brothel. Do you know why this country is like it is? Because of the niggers, blackheads, illiterates, Peronistas and men like you who use too much hair gel.’

Gomina? It’s what old-fashioned Argentinian men put on their hair. Buenos Aires waiters, for example.

If you want to know what this fantastic swearfest sounds like, it’s here . . .


militant pedestrian said...

I hadn't heard about the row (I must read the international news more), but this is fascinating. I get the feeling you could revise and update Filthy English forever, as language (and therefore swearing) changes and new usages are coined...

Peter Silverton said...

thanks - yes, i reckon i could keep updating it so . . . i will be posting new stuff here as and when i come across it - i also realise i didn't put a link to the original news report - here is the guardian's version of it . . .