Vuvuzela! A Beautiful Word for a Nightmare of a Horn

At times, it seems like there is little that brings us together: Conflicts over religion, race, and resources never seem to end, and the common threads of our collective humanity are ever-unraveling.

And so, thank you, vuvuzela.

Much like a nuke-happy Martian armada might create world harmony under an anti-Martian umbrella, this nasty noisemaker has united humanity for a far sillier cause: We are as one in despising this hellacious horn. Widespread annoyance has put the word “vuvuzela” on the lips of just about everyone in the United States and beyond, launching a strong 2010 Word of the Year candidate and becoming the most noteworthy linguistic development of the World Cup.

There are conflicting reports as to the origin of “vuvuzela.” As noted by Nancy Friedman, it goes back about 30 years at least, may have started as a children’s toy, and could be related to words for “making noise” or “shower” (perhaps for its resemblance to a showerhead or tendency to drench bystanders in sound). As with so many terms, the real origin seems lost behind the couch cushions of time, though the idea that “vuvu” mimics the horn’s blast is hard to resist. The murkiness of the etymology is contrasted by the clear and sharp glee that first-time vuvuzela-hearers take in describing its honk. These descriptions comprise a boatload of recent uses.

For example, the Ban the Vuvuzela website calls it “an annoying distraction that has been likened to a deafening mix of angry elephants trumpeting and a fog horn.” Linguist Geoffrey Pullum colorfully wondered, “Why does it sound as if several dozen propeller-drived airplanes have started up their engines in the stadium? Has someone dropped one of the commentator's mikes into a huge beehive?”

Though David Waters points out the religious symbolism of the vuvuzela, he is more compelling when describing its downside: “A massive swarm of bees. Africa's revenge. The instrument from hell. World Cup soccer fans have found a number of descriptive ways to express their dismay over the vuvuzela noisemakers and their relentless, monotonous B-flat buzzing.” The comments on this article include some particularly creative descriptions, such as “the sound of a swarm of bees simultaneously emitting flatulence.” Vuvuzela-describing is right up there with celebrity-mocking as a top Internet activity right now.

Beyond such descriptions, the Twittersphere has been abuzz with vuvuzela jokes since the World Cup began, and the word itself has inspired joking interpretations that it sounds like either an STD or the female nether-regions. But annoyance-fueled snark and soccer fever only partly explain the overwhelming success of the word. This may have something to do with the reduplication of “vuvu,” which puts it in the same category as English words such as “doo-doo,” “bye-bye,” “boo-boo,” “brouhaha,” “hanky-panky,” and “pooh-pooh.” Reduplicative words are simply fun to say—they tap into our natural desire to play with language, much like rhyming compounds. A joke like “Vuvu Zela would make an awesome drag name” hints at another truth: We may hate the vuvuzela, but I think we kind of love “vuvuzela.”

As for the future, I bet words such as “vuvuzela-like” and “vuvuzela-ish” will continue to be used, sometimes to describe baseball teams attempting to recreate the crazed World Cup atmosphere: “Marlins' fans get loud with vuvuzela-like horns.” Weirder uses will also emerge, such as a would-be inspirer of salespeople who asks the question “Are your sales approaches ever Vuvuzela-ish?” This means, among other things, “Are you even annoying people you're trying to engage, simply because you're so focused on what comes out of your trumpet, rather than asking them what music they'd like to hear?”

Who knows where the word will turn up next? Maybe “Don’t be a vuvuzela” will join childhood maxims such as “No one like likes a tattletale” and “He who smelt it, dealt it.” Words, like swarms of bees, often end up in surprising places. And if that Martian invasion ever does take place, the vuvuzela just might be the thing to scare them off.

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading