Monday, January 28, 2008

Mother of All Insults

I thought this was a neat little tidbit from last night's 60M interview with the guy who interrogated Saddam Hussein

Saddam accused Kuwait of wrecking Iraq’s economy by stealing oil and demanding repayment of loans. But Piro learned, for the first time, that the brutal invasion was triggered by personal insult.

"What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of these issues. And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that," Piro explains.

This sort of thing resonates here in Mexico, where talking smack about someone's mother is the quickest way to discover if your interlocutor is carrying a weapon or not. Even the most benign, glancing reference to someone else's mother should be avoided by anyone with less than a Pablo Neruda-level understanding of the language's shadings and meaning, which is why, for the most part, I'm not even aware if any of our friends actually have mothers. It's easy for to gringos to make fun of Mexicans' hypersensitivity about this, but this revelation from Saddam kind of casts a whole new light on the potential consequences. To review:

Generalized national mother insult --> Invasion of Kuwait --> Gulf War --> Permanent stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina --> Radical Muslim rage at permanent stationing of US troops in Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina --> September 11, 2001 --> Etc.

All in all, a pretty good argument for the "if you can't say anything nice don't say anything at all" approach to the topic.

Update / Vocabulary Corner Bonus: Here's a personal example of what I mean, which I guess I left out because I'd managed to successfully repress the memory. One of our neighbors is an exceedingly kind and polite septuagenarian whom I'm immensely fond of for a number of reasons, among them that he owns a large hacienda outside the city and, though he speaks perfect English, he insists on speaking to me only in (slow, c-l-e-a-r-l-y annunciated) Spanish because, well, I guess it's obvious I could use the practice. So one Sunday afternoon a large group of us were having an enormous lunch at the hacienda, capped off by an elaborate, diabetes-inducing dessert which, he tells me, his grandmother used to make for him as a child. To which I respond by asking if what we were eating right now came from his grandmother's old recipe - but I managed somehow to confuse the word "recipe" (receta) with the word recto, and thus accidentally implied - in front of his wife, children, and grandchildren - that this desert might have come from his grandmother's old rectum.

Since my friend is courtly in a way that makes Ricardo Montalban look boorish, he pretended not to hear what I'd said, but it's probably worth noting that I have yet to find myself lunching at the hacienda again.


Anonymous said...

I certainly hope you haven't ruined it for me! They invited me to their hacienda on my next visit to ride one of their many horses on their glorious ranch.
I'll never forgive you for not paying enough attention during Spanish classes!


Burro Hall said...

However ticked off you are about that, I assure you I regret it more.