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WORD PLAY

A funny kantry with cunning linguists

A funny kantry with cunning linguists
Illustration image: Whose side are you on? South Africa became embroiled in a linguistic kerfuffle after England's Tom Curry, right, accused Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi of calling him something distasteful. (Photos: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty and Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Given the fertile multilingual soil in which the Springbok team was steeped, what were the chances Bongi Mbonambi would opt for a stodgy Anglo-Saxon insult?

“White c*nt.” With these two words, England flanker Tom Curry ensured South Africans would place work on the backbench for a week in pursuit of a new passion: amateur linguistics.

“White c*nt”, for those of our readers lucky enough still to be living in an unsullied state of ignorance, is the insult that Curry claimed, to the referee, had been flung at him during last weekend’s Rugby World Cup semifinal by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

“What do I do?” Curry could be heard asking referee Ben O’Keefe. “Nothing, please,” replied O’Keefe, thereby confirming his place in history as possibly the Springboks’ favourite ref of all time. But Curry and his team wouldn’t drop it and a complaint was lodged with World Rugby – and this is where the academic hard graft really began for South Africa at large.

Not since Egyptologists were deciphering the Rosetta Stone in the summer of 1822 has so much feverish attention been paid to a few words. First came the ontological line of inquiry: if Mbonambi had indeed called Curry the unmentionable word, could it be defended on epistemological grounds? In layman’s terms: was it true?

The consensus from South Africans, unearthing various pieces of bad behaviour from Curry in the past, was that the insult had some evidentiary weight behind it.

But that was irrelevant, because the second line of defence now pushed to the front. Given the fertile multilingual soil in which the Springbok team was steeped, what were the chances Mbonambi would opt for a stodgy Anglo-Saxon insult? When he had so many spicier South African options at his disposal? P*es. Ms*nu. A smorgasbord of more colourful, linguistically undetectable slurs were at the tip of Bongi’s tongue.

Then came the roiling third wave of Bok defence, which would prove to be the strongest current of them all. What if Curry’s remedial English ears had simply misheard an Afrikaans field directive to the team? Kant. Side. Wit kant. White side. Wyd kant. Wide side. Watter kant? What side? The word “kant” began to be thrown around with a frequency unheard of outside German philosophy seminars. This, surely, was the answer. Any kant would do, be it wit, wyd or watter.

The Springboks started ostentatiously hurling the word around during training sessions in the course of the week. “Watter kant?” Bok management staff member JJ Fredericks was recorded asking Mbonambi. “Die middel kant,” replied Mbonambi. Were they taking the piepie? Who cares? We’re all running with it now. It’s our national alibi now, and we don’t want to hear another word on the vak. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

P1. Front page. 28 October 2023

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  • Dave Prentice says:

    Lovely “tong in wang” piece (need to be careful here) . Kant is now a word that transcends all of South Africa’s Official Languages!

  • Pet Bug says:

    Hilarious! 🤣

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    Curry has infamously immortalized himself to Springbok fans. Arm kant.

  • Wilhelm Boshoff says:

    Nice one Rebecca!

  • Mark Hammick says:

    Perhaps Tom Curry could take Afrikaans lessons from Charlize Theron

  • jason du toit says:

    ms*nu?

    i’m unfamiliar with this one. anyone care to fill me in?

    • Gordon Bentley says:

      I’ll try and Assist you, Jason. I grew up speaking isiZulu quite fluently – there is a very nasty insult in isiZulu to throw at someone you really do not like – “m’sunu ka nyoka, wena” – meaning “You (low down) vulva of a snake”. Sometimes also implying an anus or cloaca of a snake.

      There are also similar sounding words in isiXhosa, SeSotho and other African language. Thats the best I can do, I trust using scientific, biological words, I have not offended anyone…?

      Not that DM Insiders, or Readers, I think, are easily offended!!

  • Janet Sully says:

    I have absolutely enjoyed this play with words. And now the T-shirts are out with variations of how to use the word. And I honestly cannot believe a complaint was laid – I always thought that what was said in a scrum/maul/ruck remained there!!

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    What a wonderful article. The word ‘Msunery’ needs to be added to the South African dictionary immediately! As a follow up article, somewhere down the line, and on the topic of mishearing something South African and assuming ‘It must be English’ – please put to bed once and for all the origins of the expression ‘My China’. A casual search on the internet will tell you that it is Cockney rhyming, which is very hard to believe (despite the millions and millions of Cockneys living in the townships here and the hundreds and hundreds of other instances of Cockney rhyming in our vernacular /S). It also fails the basic definition of Cockney rhyming: “… slang … based on taking a two-word expression which rhymes with the desired word and then using it as a substitute.” When last did you hear someone say either ‘Howzit my mate” or ‘Howzit my China plate’? I’m not saying impossible, I’m saying very, very unlikely. No, much more likely to be a mishearing of the Zulu ‘umshana’ (nephew) or a reference to actual Chinese people who ran the ‘Numbers Game’ in the townships where ‘China’ became synonymous with ‘luck’ – I’m waiting for my China. (See Pan Macmillan’s ‘The Joburg Book’, 2008. It’s literally a book, with a bibliography and everything.) If nothing else, the comments from the die-hard, unrepentant Anglophiles should make the article a worthwhile exercise, LOL.

  • M. Mabula says:

    Whatever kant mos…

  • Ed Rybicki says:

    You forgot die ander kant: the odious Farrell 😁

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