Monday, April 5, 2010

Shoot the Who?

Thank you, thank you Guardian. When the story broke about the song 'Shoot the Boer', I was momentarily confused. Why were South African farmers, who can't all be Afrikaners, so intimidated by it?

Then I remembered. The word 'Boer' just comes from 'farmer'. "Shoot the Boer" refers to the victims' job and status, at least as much as their ethnicity. The Today Programme, where I'm getting most of my news at the moment, didn't think it necessary to explain this. Luckily the Guardian did. A couple of the gnomes on the BBC Have Your Say thread seem to be taking it to mean "shoot the south african of Dutch ancestry", and I'd put this as much down to lack of explanation by the BBC as to HYS's world-beating idiocy.

Whereas in Afrikaans, 'Boer' can be both 'farmer' and 'Afrikaner' (though I'd be interested to know the differences in usage), in English, it's an unambiguous ethnonym. Ethnonyms have to come from somewhere. 'Arab' is to do with nomads, Hebrew is either 'crossing over' or, like Roman, named after a founder. A lot of African, Pacific and South American countries' names recall discovery or exploitation of resources. But if you don't know the language in which they were named, or if nobody uses that word any more, then it's only natural to assume the word refers only to ethnicity.

The really pressing question then, is, if the song does incite hatred, then who of? For some reason "inciting racial hatred" has a ring to it that "inciting professional hatred" does not, but it seems to me the song, if anything at all, will produce a mix of the two rather than just the one.


  1. It is correct that in Afrikaans, 'Boer' can mean both 'farmer' and 'Afrikaner', however the difference in meaning is signalled by the capitalisation of the word, and also the context in which it is used.

    If you are speaking to someone in Afrikaans, they might tell you that they farm (Ek boer.../I farm...). No confusion there. They might describe themselves as a farmer (Ek is 'n boer/I am a farmer). In that case you would only really know if they meant 'Ek is 'n Boer' (I am a Boer) if you were having a conversation of a political/ cultural nature.

    In languages other than Afrikaans, the word (capitalised or otherwise) will typically be used to refer to Afrikaners, rather than people who farm. In saying that, many South African farmers are still white, and Afrikaans-speaking, and a certain number them would also call themselves Afrikaners). Which is where 'kill the Boer, kill the farmer' comes in ( ...

  2. Yeah, I wonder how 'Boer' plays out in other languages', like Zulu's, usage. I suppose if we can't assume English will use 'Boer' like Afrikaans does, there's no reason to assume Zulu will use Boer in exactly the same way as English does. It's all very confusing.