December 12, 2007

What a difference a /d/ makes

Phonetically, many of the various ways to render what is called an /r/ are similar to ways of pronouncing what is called a /d/. Rccently, however, this small difference may have tipped the balance in a major international sporting event. According to Frank Keogh, "Anthem gaff 'lifted Croatia'", BBC Sport 11/23/2007:

Croatia rose to the occasion in their crucial Euro 2008 defeat of England - after an apparent X-rated gaffe by an English opera singer at Wembley.

Tony Henry belted out a version of the Croat anthem before the 80,000 crowd, but made a blunder at the end.

According to the lyrics posted here, the second quatrain of the Croatian national anthem should go as follows:

Mila kano si nam slavna,
Mila si nam ti jedina,
Mila kuda si nam ravna,
Mila kuda si planina!
     Dear, you are our only glory,
Dear, you are our only one,
Dear, we love your plains,
Dear, we love your mountains.

However, as the recording here indicates, Mr. Henry rendered two repetitions of "kuda" in the last two lines as "kura".

What Keogh's article says about this is

He should have sung 'Mila kuda si planina' (which roughly means 'You know my dear how we love your mountains').

But he instead sang 'Mila kura si planina' which can be interpreted as 'My dear, my penis is a mountain'.

Regular Language Log readers won't be surprised to find that the BBC's translation is suspect -- and was probably cribbed from other media sources, which seem to be in broad agreement on this error. See the comment at Naked Translations for a closer approximation to the truth:

First, the lyric "mila, kuda si planina". Literally, this means something like "my dear, what mountains you have!" (with poetic license). The (admittedly lame) translation from the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is "Dear, we love your mountains". But there is no "you know" in the lyric.

Secondly, "mila kura si planina" could be translated as "dear penis, you are a mountain". But I have no idea how you would get "My dear, my penis is a mountain" from this. In this translation, "Kura" is third person, even though the verb "si" is second person. Someone, presumably non-native, must have been trying reason by analogy, which doesn't always work with translation.

And Neven Mrgan sent me some further analysis:

First, "kura" is not a common word for "penis" in Croatian. At best it could be called odd slang. The word "kurac" is equivalent to "cock", and "kura" is a variation used as often as, say, "peener".

The translation of the lyrics you used is rather bland. Translated literally, "mila kuda si planina" means something like "dear, where are your mountains" (but not quite). As a phrase, it might be close to "how great are your mountains!" I bring this up because without the word "where", the offending last line neither makes sense literally nor works as a phrase:

  Mila kura si planina

The best approximation I can come up with in English is

  Dear peener are a mountain

The "are" is "incomplete"; you'd have to say "you are" ("Mila kura, ti si planina") to make a proper sentence. There is no implied "MY penis" anywhere in the sentence, by the way.

I'm sure this was entertaining to the Croatians who heard it, but the BBC article makes the gaff a little too perfect.

Clearly, this is one of a class of stories that mainstream media types view as "too good to check".

Whatever the amount of interpretive willingness required to work a mountainous penis into the last line of the quatrain, the preceding line appears to have had an analogous error, as you can plainly hear above. However, the oxymoronic phallic plain seems to have been ignored or forgotten -- not only Keogh, but also the Croatian fans and players were apparently more impressed by the singer's second slip than by the first one.

In any case, Mr. Henry apologized, but the Croatians are having none of it:

"It was the last thing that I would intentionally do, and all I can say is if I have offended any Croatians, then they have my deepest apologies."

On the contrary, Henry is becoming a cult hero in Croatia, but denies he played a part in England's exit.

"I can't take the blame for that. The last thing I would do is brag about my parts like that - especially to make it so public," said Henry.

According to The Register (Lester Haines, "England flops shafted by enormous todger", 11/23/2007),  the mistake

evidently delighted Croatian players Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric, who were seen "grinning at each other" at the gaffe, and fans claim the slip helped relax the team before its 3-2 drubbing of McClaren's lacklustre side.

Accordingly, Croatians are now calling for Henry to be awarded with a medal and appointed their team's official mascot for Euro 2008. Mate Prlic, of Croatian footie mag Torcida, suggested: "He obviously relaxed the players so why not invite him to Euro 2008 to keep the winning streak going?"

Henry's agent, Douglas Gillespie, said: "Tony had a great reception from the Croatian fans and already feels part of their campaign for Euro 2008."

[Hat tip: Alexa Mater]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 12, 2007 09:26 AM