Tuesday 15 June 2010

Vuvuzela and Malay Butterflies

In an effort to bring you incisive, up-to-the-decade commentary on the English language, I should tell you that vuvuzela is not listed in the OED (although it does have the word vulpeculated meaning robbed by a fox). For those of you who don't know, the vuvuzela is the horn that is ruining the World Cup by making every match sound as if it is being played inside a beehive.

There are three theories on the origin of the word:

1) It comes from the isiZulu meaning "make a noise"
2) It comes from Township slang for shower, because it resembles a shower head.
3) It is imitative of the sound it makes: vu-vu

That last one is a reduplication* like murmur, because the vu-vuing continues for ninety minutes.

My favourite reduplication is in Malay. Malay doesn't have normal plurals, you form them by simply repeating the noun, so tables would become tabletable. That's fine so long as the singular noun wasn't formed by reduplication already. The Malay for butterfly is rama-rama, so butterflies is rama-rama rama-rama. The Malays also repeat verbs to intensify them, so "I really like" would be rendered as "I like like". We occasionally do this in English, when somebody says "I've got to, got to see that film". Therefore, the Malay for "I really like butterflies" is:

Saya suka suka rama-rama rama-rama

Not to be confused with Ramalamadingdong.

P.S. I am not, alas, a scholar of Malay. I've been searching round the net and found some back-up, but my prime source is that a policeman told Mrs Malaprop this when she was reporting that her shoes had been stolen by a monkey.
P.P.S. Neil van Schalkwyk, who brought vuvuzelas to the mass market, has now started doubling his profits by manufacturing earplugs. Bastard.
*Or just a duplication, but linguists don't care much about language.


  1. Dear Dogberry,

    Please, [i]please[i/] could you ask Mrs Malaprop to explain how her shoes got stolen by a monkey. I've got to, [i]got to[i/] find out.


  2. Bah! I thought I'd learned HMTL for italics. But I haven't.

  3. Nearly perfect. You simply need to put the slash before the i. As to Mrs M, I either forget or never knew the details, which I'm sure she can provide. Mrs Malaprop is always having her things stolen by monkeys: shoes, glances, marches and heart.

  4. I was in Borneo, and there were monkeys everywhere - very bold monkeys, who would come right up to you and grab things from your picnic basket. When my shoes went missing I decided that they must have been behind it (it also seemed safer than saying I thought a person had stolen them, and possibly instigating an island-wide man-hunt - although in retrospect it was unlikely that the police would have done this for a pair of sandals). I couldn't bring myself to file an insurance claim, though; it seemed too preposterous.

    Several years later, my sister had her make-up stolen by a troop of monkeys in Sri Lanka. They came through her window, grabbed an open make-up bag, and scampered off through the trees, shedding lipsticks and mascaras as they went.

  5. Thank you. I hav a vision of cross dressing monkeys that I cannot shake from my mind ...

    Here's a poem on the subject of vuvuzelas:


  6. The Malay language is very much as you describe. Anang is one person, anang anang any multiples there-of. If you want to be specific, you put the number of anang in front. Also, they don't have different tenses for verbs. None of your 'I will go, I go, I went', just 'I go tomorrow/Thursday next/in a hundred years, I go, I go yesterday/ten years ago.'

    I often (well, not [i]that[/i] often) wonder whether one of the Pythons had been to that part of the world with their 'Tarquin Fintimlimbimlimbim-
    whimbimlin Bus Stop [i]Ftang Ftang[/i] Olay Biscuit Barrel, (Silly Party)'

  7. The Antipodean18 June 2010 at 07:22

    Re: italics - the slash before the i, and these < > brackets, not [i]these[/i] ones.

  8. [] these are codpieces - or so Dogberry reliably informs us.

  9. The Antipodean20 June 2010 at 06:35

    Many thanks, Moptop: I have just reached that point in the archives. Sadly, I think < > have the much less interesting (I was going to say romantic, but thought better of it) names of 'less than' symbol and 'greater than' symbol.

    I am sure there are some comments to be made here about the effectiveness of the codpiece vs the mathematical symbol, but instead I'd like to point out that the modern equivalent, the cricket box, is now also available for women. True equality at last: we have our own protective equipment. Or will that come when things are named after it?

  10. Brahms and Ravel - a vuvuzela concert: