Monday, December 03, 2007

Por que no te callas?

Tigerhawk asks: "did Juan Carlos help defeat Hugo Chavez?" by telling the Venezuelan President "why don't you shut up" in public? Every strongman must cultivate the appearance of being above common humanity; a being from whose lips pearls of wisdom drop. When a jefe maximo is told to close his piehole in an international forum the incident tends to shatter this image. One commenter says it perfectly:

Students of Spanish may recall that there are two forms of address: the more formal usted, and the familiar tu. The fact that Juan Carlos said "por que no te callas" (using the tu form) added insult to injury. One head of state addressing another would almost always, universally, use "usted", so saying this with tu showed that Juan Carlos thinks of Chavez like an animal or an unruly child.

Nothing follows.


Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Hmmmm...jefe maximo, piehole, unruly child. . .if I show this to my wife, I'm likely to get no end of grief.

Seriously, slapping down Jefe Hugo must be the 15th or 20th favor the King of Spain has done for democratic institutions: working Franco into making him his successor (bringing liberty and saving the historic monarchy all at once); retiring Franco's system without fuss and in favor of a good constitution; and, shutting down single-handedly the attempted Guardia-Civil/Army coup of 1981.

Not what one would have perhaps expected of a Bourbon, and for that reason, perhaps all the more impressive.

12/03/2007 07:50:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Tamil Tiger (LTTE) suicide bomber live video in Sri Lanka

12/03/2007 10:43:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

In Spain, usted is hardly used anymore. In some other Spanish speaking countries (Colombia, Guatamala, and southern Mexico) tu is almost never used, even with family or close friends. In any case, in most Spanish speaking counties tu is used to address God, just as the first person singular “thou” is used in English:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.

Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos,
santificado sea tu nombre,
venga tu reyno,
hagase tu voluntad,
asì en la tierra como en el cielo.

So it is somewhat difficult to come to any conclusions about the King of Spain’s choice of personal pronouns.

But in any case one has to wonder what would drive any observer to praise the former colonial master of Venezuela for a decision obviously taken by the people of Venezuela themselves? But it would be quite dangerous for certain observers to actually consider the people of Venezuela as capable of deciding things for themselves. If the people of Venezuela are competent enough to limit Chavez’s power, then surely they were also competent when they put him into power in the first place. And that would place in doubt the logic of all the international hand wringing about Chavez’s rule. No, it is absolutely necessary to infantilize the faceless masses of Venezuela so that the Great Men of history can save them from certain doom by mere utterances. Just like Ronald Reagan single-handedly brought down the Berlin Wall with a speech.

But the big question here is whether Chavez’s defeat at the polls will be enough to stop the international Left’s devious conspiracy to keep Whiskey from ever getting laid?

12/04/2007 01:17:00 AM  
Blogger Mr X said...

A correction. I´m from Latin America and I speak Spanish. "Tu" as the informal mode and "usted" as the formal mode is used in most of Latin America, except in Argentina where "vos" is used instead of "tu", but "usted" remains the formal mode of address.
In any case, for a head of state to address another head of state as "tu" pressuposes either a lot of familiarity, or can be interpreted in a more insulting way. Specially because the King is Spanish, and in Spain the difference between the "tu" and the "usted" is even more marked. The "usted" might not be used by young people, but politicians will mostly cling to "usted".
Perhaps it is not as relevant as it might seem, but there is a difference anyway.

In any case, I do think that the "porque no te callas" has helped to begin sending Chavez to the trashbin of history. It was about time.

12/04/2007 05:19:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...


I checked again and several people who should know say that usted is rare now in Spain, that it is only really used for old people. It might have been meant as an insult but it also might just be the way the king normally talks.

12/04/2007 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

Kevin, Charles, Zeno,

I know nothing about Spanish, but from what you say, and from what I remember of high school French, I can't imagine the Head of State of Spain, and the Head of the House of Bourbon (or Borbon if you prefer) would be normally less than uber punctilious in his use of language with his good cousin the President of Venezuela.

Maybe H.M. doesn't use usted in normal conversation, if there is such a thing with a King, but I bet he does on formal and ceremonial occasions.

If the King omitted the use of the formal tense with Mr. Chavez, I'd wager he meant to do so. I suspect that the old saw about a British gentleman never being unintentionally rude applies double or triple to a Spanish gentleman.

12/04/2007 06:42:00 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

el jefe,

We are not talking about a gentleman, Juan Carlos is a King. What my Spanish friends are telling me is that he NEVER uses the usted form -- he probably never learned it. Priests are the same way, they say tu to almost everyone. If they meet the pope they still don't use usted but instead create a title (Holy Father) or something.

That said, the phrase is disrespectful in any case.

12/04/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

El Jefe Maximo said...

I can't imagine the Head of State of Spain, and the Head of the House of Bourbon (or Borbon if you prefer) would be normally less than uber punctilious in his use of language with his good cousin the President of Venezuela.
Seems to me its not likely that they are cousins. That said, I've never read anything to say yea or nay on the subject

12/04/2007 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

That would make a great tee shirt, no?

12/04/2007 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

As has been said famously by... well, I can't just now recall WHO...

"How did THAT guy get elected?!? NOBODY I KNOW voted for him..."

Taking a survey of just a few friends is hardly a reliable way of assaying standard usage in a whole nother country. I've been speaking Spanish for almost fifty years, met and conversed with thousands of native speakers from various countries, and as far as I know from them, the distinction between formal and familiar forms continues to be effectively universal. One only addresses companions as "tu" with their permission, or if they are family. To do so otherwise, particularly in a public setting, is presumptuous, or insultingly presumptuous, or both.

So, Kevin, how now if I say to you, "[inverted question mark] Por que no te callas?"

12/04/2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger El Jefe Maximo said...

I was trying to be a little ironical with the cousin business --in the old days, monarch writing to president was "my dear cousin", monarch to monarch was "brother."

Kevin's point about gentlemen and kings is well taken.

12/04/2007 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I actually have a brother-in-law from El Salvador. He was the one that originally introduced me to any Spanish beyond "que pasa" or "taco". He emphasized that he would beat the crap out of me if I ever used tu with him. It was a joke, but it implies that usted is a form of respect back home, I'd say.

I also spent a year teaching english to a foreign exchange student from Argentina. Same same, except that he would get uncomfortable when I used usted with him, because he felt that friends should use tu. Usted was for strangers or people in a higher social position than you.

I also noted some drug dealers in a movie (maybe it was Crocodile Dundee 2? Blow? Don't remember) where one of them used tu and the other said something like "how dare you use the tu with me?"

Spanish-speakers seem to get pretty intense about tense.

12/04/2007 01:27:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

My fav for US president right now is Duncan Hunter. He's a leader as well as a conservative.

Like Clinton-- Huckabee is a people person.

In case you want to catch the streaming video of the surf meet ongoing at Sunset Beach,North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii--try this link:

12/04/2007 01:28:00 PM  
Blogger cctropics said...

whatever common usage is in spanish, or english for that matter, the actual grammer of the language informs that usage.
spanish grammer teaches 2nd person singular (formal)=usted. second person singular (informal) spain there is also a second person plural (formal) ustedes
and 2nd person plural (informal)

12/04/2007 02:43:00 PM  
Blogger Pax Federatica said...

pangloss: That would make a great tee shirt, no?

I was thinking bumper sticker myself, but it would definitely work on a T-shirt too.

12/04/2007 03:43:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

ONe thing about European royalty is they can snoot so much better than anyone else. Can you imagine Bush leaning forward and saying that in Spanish, even though he does speak Mexican. It just wouldn't have the same put-down effect.

12/04/2007 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

Only verbs have tense, e.g., present, past, pluperfect, etc. Nouns and pronouns are declined by case, person and number. In English, thee (subject), thou (object), thy (possessive adj), thine (possessive pronoun or adj) are actually the familiar versions, used for interpersonal speech by some Quakers to emphasize equality and friendship.

Usually, the plural is substituted when formal speech is intended, which would be you (subject) and ye (object) in English. All these forms appear in the KJV Bible in order to maintain important pronoun distinctions from the ancient Hebrew.

French plural and formal are vous and singular/familiar is tu. Latin is vos and tu. I'm not sure if Latin made the formal/familiar distinction. Spanish usted has a complicated origin and is apparently not universal. It takes the place of the French/Latin vous/vos as a formal and plural 2nd person pronoun.

Usted is descended from very formal speech, something like vuestra merced, which is perhaps analogous to "your honor", or "if you please" in English.

12/04/2007 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jewish Odysseus said...

You guys are behind the curve, the "?Porque' no te callas?" t-shirts have been selling like mad in Ven. and Spain since within 48 hours after the smackdown.

12/04/2007 08:49:00 PM  
Blogger RattlerGator said...

Kevin, you're trying too hard, man. Your delivery is the perfect, "I and my friends know better than you and your friends" form.

Even better than Chavez himself, who obviously was pissed? Or the opposition in Venezuela, who obviously were thrilled?

Left undiscussed here is the black Hispanic -- white Hispanic dynamic. And I assure you, that was no small part of this whole story.

12/05/2007 04:25:00 AM  
Blogger Pangloss said...

How do you say "shut your piehole, fatboy" in Spanish?

12/05/2007 05:24:00 AM  
Blogger j willie said...

And something like 500,000 ring tones containing the "porque no te callas" quip/clip were downloaded in Spain alone in the first week after its utterance by the good king. Of course it had an impact. The wise, saintly and aristocratic ruler admonishing the rude, ugly-as-a-goat, peasant-boy, wannabe dictator in a manner so spontaneous that it reveals his genuine disdain for the thug. As they say in Spanish, "que rico"!

12/05/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


1/06/2008 03:12:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger