Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Farewell Dog

I try to keep this blog purely linguistic and politically impartial, but I'm going to show my bias towards a couple of things here: Arabic and dogs.

Muntadar al-Zaidi, who I must as a cricketer congratulate on his throwing arm, is free, you see. But what did he say to the outgoing President? His exact words were apparently
قبلة الوداع يا كلب
but I don't know what that means. Wikipedia says
This is a farewell kiss from the Iraqi people, you dog!
the BBC says
This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog!

Look here and you'll find both a "kiss goodbye" and a "goodbye kiss". قبلة obviously means kiss, الوداع seems to be more a goodbye rather than just the phrase "goodbye". يا is a "vocative particle", a bit like o but without making you sound like a massive luvvie, and كلب, the one word I knew before I started this and my key to googling it, is dog.

Some translated this as 'dog', others went for 'you dog', I've not found 'o dog', probably because it sounds ridiculous. But I wonder what the connotations of 'dog' are in Arabic. It's quite a mild insult in English, and I've often seen "you dog" (though not "dog") used in congratulation on a fit wife. It's not a word I'd use for someone I considered a mass-murderer. But then, Muslims aren't generally as keen on dogs as I am. They consider them unclean animals, and this doesn't quite come across in the English insult. On the other hand, al-Zaidi isn't effing Tibalt so you'd never have him yelling "hound!" or "o cur!" at Mr Bush. Thing is though, most people know this. In fact, "imperialist dog!" is between "imperialist pig!" and "imperialist pigdog!" in the official top three insults of choice for stereotypical Arabs to yell at Hollywood action heroes. Shouting "dog" in English makes Arabs sound more Arabey, while I assume shouting it in Arabic just makes them sound angry. So in translating this directly (which seems the only reasonable way to do it), translators are forced to play on and consolidate our views of Arab and Islamic culture. This isn't a particularly bad thing in this case, especially as the shoe story is necessarily accompanied by interesting facts about what Muslims consider unclean. (So we can all go "Oh! THAT's why they take their shoes off at mosque!") But this exoticism is definitely something added to the translation that wasn't there in the original, and, as far as I can tell, it's unavoidable.

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