Friday, August 31, 2007

Onanism, Abuse and Men in Black

Different cultures have different "affectionate" names for referees. In Italy, the term "testa di merda" is the usual term of abuse for the men in black. In Spain, "cabron" is the phrase of choice , and while among American Latinos this term is usually thought untranslatable because of the way it manages to mix the concepts of "dude" and "asshole", among Castillians it's the latter, pure and simple. The English, however, for reasons that are not entirely clear, prefer the term "wanker".

I'd never really pondered how strange this was until about three weeks ago when, in the midst of another catastrophic Toronto FC performance, several thousand people began chanting "the referee's a wanker".

Now, "wanker" is not a term that comes easily to North American lips. It is incredibly difficult to insert into a sentence because it is so obviously British in origin; it's like referring to "the lads" or saying someone's performance was "pants". It's English, and everyone understands what it means, but it's probably less North American-sounding than, say, "cabron".

So I said to my neighbour, a noted local scribe and ecrivain, "do you think anyone in Canada can use the word "wanker" un-selfconsciously? It's so colonial." This earned me a stern rebuke from Sonny, who both sits behind me and is the owner of the loudest singing voice in section 221, who yelled: "don't intellectualize things!"

(I suppose another way to put that would have been "don't be a wanker".)

Back to my story: if you call someone a "shithead" or an "asshole", it suggests not just that you bear some hostility to this person, but also that you believe that the person in question is inimical - if not malevolent - towards you or your interests. If you call someone a "wanker", on the other hand, you're implying deviancy, not malevolance.

I think, arguably, this is a sign of differences in attitudes to the game between northern and southern Europe and explains why, say, at the Bernabeu, whistling at the ref is sometimes the most participatory event of the night - sometimes even ahead of applauding goals scored. The ref is seen as a potential opponent in Italy and Spain, whereas in England (the place from whence, for better or for worse, the MLS has imported its culture) he is seen as someone who might inadvertently ruin the game because of his potential for idiocy.

Wanking, after all, is something that happens periodically (like bad offside calls) - but an asshole is an asshole for ever.

The magnificent Italian referee Pierluigi Collina (pictured, above) is, by the way, neither a wanker nor an asshole nor a shithead. But he is both laziali and, as far as I can tell, the last remaining refugee from the set of THX 1138, both of which must make him eligible for some form of abuse.

3 Comments:

Anonymous ursus arctos said...

What's wrong with "Who's the Bastard in the Black"?

The Brit wannabees get their authenticity; the Canadians get to use a word with which they are familiar; and the ref gets the abuse he (probably) deserves.

Everybody wins.

7:23 PM  
Anonymous football gifts said...

i have to agree but most refs deserve the name calling as u rightly said about there bad decision makeing,they do ruin games but if they bring in all the cameras etc like they do in american football wont that ruin the game and be worse than a bad decision from the ref????

6:48 AM  
Anonymous football gifts said...

Interesting facts in this blog. Thanks for sharing.

6:16 PM  

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