December 28, 2007

Una victoria de mierda

Sim Aberson wrote (from Miami) a couple of days ago to report that

There has been a controversy in the Miami Herald opinion page about the decision to print a translation of Hugo Chavez's reaction to losing in his bid to amend the Venezuelan constitution.

The problem is that the paper translated Chávez's Spanish profanities into (roughly) corresponding English profanities.  The story:

Chávez reacts to loss with profanity
President Hugo Chávez harshly dismissed his defeat Sunday as insignificant.
Posted on Thu, Dec. 06, 2007

Special to The Miami Herald

CARACAS -- A defiant President Hugo Chávez Wednesday repeatedly used a harsh expletive to describe his opponents' victory in a crucial vote Sunday, and suggested that if he had not conceded he might even have won.

Chávez's comments came as the president's supporters and foes traded bitter accusations over the vote, which narrowly defeated his proposals for radical changes to the Venezuelan constitution.

... Claims by some in the opposition that the final tally was the result of a deal made under pressure from elements within the military provoked a furious attack on the opposition Wednesday during a joint news conference by Chávez and the high command.

"You should administer your victory properly, but already you are covering it in shit. It's a shitty victory, and our -- call it, defeat -- is one of courage, of valor, of dignity . . . We haven't moved a millimeter and we won't.''

Chávez used the expletive twice more during the conference.

As we've pointed out many times on Language Log, some publications that would generally not print taboo vocabulary from its writers will allow it in quotations when it seems to reveal something about the speaker's character or style.   This is just the bilingual version of that policy.  Chávez's wording is first characterized as "profanity" and "a harsh expletive", and then the mierda hits the fan, as English shit.  ("A shitty victory" is the paper's translation of "una victoria de mierda", which is translated as "a victory of shit" in most English sources.)

The BBC News version is similar:
Last Updated: Thursday, 6 December 2007, 10:56 GMT

Chavez belittles opposition win
 Mr Chavez insisted he would push on with reform plans

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lashed out at his opponents and vowed to pursue plans for constitutional reform despite his referendum defeat.

Speaking on state television, Mr Chavez used offensive language to heap scorn on the opposition's surprise victory.

Mr Chavez also denied reports he had been pressured by the military to accept defeat in Sunday's vote.

Venezuelans voted 51% to 49% against the proposals, which included ending presidential term limits.

When he first acknowledged defeat, Mr Chavez had adopted a calm and measured tone, accepting the outcome as a "decision the people have made".


But on Wednesday, speaking at a televised news conference alongside armed forces chiefs, he decried the opposition's success as "a shit victory".

First, the characterization as "offensive language", then a translation of "una victoria de mierda" as "a shit victory".

No doubt some other publications quoted Chávez as having said "shit".  But most seem to have avoided the taboo word.  Of these, perhaps the oddest version is the Washington Post's, where "mierda" is alluded to as "a four-letter expletive" (not actually quoted in the report, in either Spanish or English):

Chávez Turns Bitter Over His Defeat in Referendum
Foes of Amending Charter Have 'Nothing to Celebrate'

By Juan Forero
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 6, 2007

BOGOTA, Colombia, Dec. 5 -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Wednesday used a four-letter expletive to dismiss the opposition victory in Sunday's referendum and pledged to press forward with plans to approve constitutional changes that would expand his power in one of the world's leading oil producing-countries.

You can catch various recordings of the speech on YouTube, for instance here.  Meanwhile, the New York Times blogsite reported on the Chávez expletive's YouTube career, without (of course) mentioning the word:

December 6, 2007,  4:22 pm

Venezuelan Leader Climbing YouTube Again


The King of Spain achieved momentary Internet stardom when his tirade at President Hugo Chávez hit YouTube. During the clip, Mr. Chavez seemed to hold his fire, but he did anything but that in another one is climbing the video site's charts today with 90,000 views so far.

During a news conference covered by The New York Times today, Mr. Chávez unleashed the same expletive four times when the subject of his recent election loss came up. Based on a translation from Spanish from The Miami Herald, he appears to dismiss the opposition's victory as unworthy and suggests that he regrets conceding -- to put it mildly.

A final note: several commentators have pointed out that Venezuelan Spanish mierda is more offensive than English shit.  Here's what Daniel -- clearly no fan of Chávez -- on his Venezuela News and Views blog has to say (after quoting yet another expression alluding to, but avoiding, shit):

"using a derogatory term for feces" (Herald Tribune)

If there was one thing that Chavez might had achieved Sunday night was to get back the democratic label sticker on his forehead when kicking and screaming he at least recognized that he had lost. Today an ill wind brought back his inner fascist.

The video below shows toward the end the moment when he called the opposition victory of Sunday "mierda", shit, feces, but much harsher. See, in the US you can, for example, forget your presentation at home and when you reach work a loud "shit!" is allowed and understood as you have 45 minutes left to race back home and get your presentation before your clients arrive. It also works pretty much the same way in France with "merde!". But in Venezuela it does not work. "Mierda" is a very strong word ...

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at December 28, 2007 12:41 PM