The Meaning of Marg bar.

A recent guest post at the Log by Reza Mirsajadi clears up a point that had eluded me even though I studied Persian fairly intensively for a while:

For much of my adult life, whenever I have had to defend the Iranian people to conservatives, they have fought back with the “Death to America” argument. This more or less amounts to “They [Iranians] want to kill us, they said so!” I am so fed up with these misconceptions, and the news media and translators need to take responsibility for their part in it.

As someone who does a lot of translating, I understand that there is an ethical component to the craft. People rely on your work to understand the Other. For this reason, cultural context is absolutely imperative. The “Death to ___” chant commonly heard in Iranian political protests for well over sixty years, is a mistranslation. Yes, the Farsi word “marg” can translate to “death,” but “marg bar ___” translates to “Down with ___” […]

Furthermore, the “down with ___” chant as it is used today is not about a violent overthrow or physically harming the people of a nation. The phrase became popular during the Persian Constitutional Revolution (1905-1911), when political activists would chant “zende ba ___” (“long live ___”) in support of a policy or leader, or “marg bar ___” in opposition. These two phrases became entrenched within Iranian political discourse, and during the Iranian Revolution of 1979, swarms of protestors took to the streets chanting “marg bar Shah” to express their dissatisfaction with Iran’s monarchy. “Marg bar ___” and “zende ba ___” have continued to live on as colloquial phrases incorporated into political chants, and they have been appropriated to express opposition to or support for any number of subjects.

While the phrase “marg bar” has not made its way into most Farsi or Farsi-English dictionaries, it is commonly understood in Iran as an idiom without violent intent.

That would have been nice to know forty years ago when I was watching Iranian crowds chant, but it’s never too late to learn.

Comments

  1. Kind of super-fine parsing here. Marg means death. But the word one uses for “death” / “demise” can also mean “end”, right? Like in English, one can kill in a sense of causing death, or in a sense of bringing something to its end.
    Kill (verb)
    1.
    cause the death of (a person, animal, or other living thing).
    “her father was killed in a car crash”
    synonyms: murder, take/end the life of, assassinate, eliminate, terminate, dispatch, finish off, put to death, execute;
    2.
    put an end to or cause the failure or defeat of (something).
    “the committee voted to kill the project”
    synonyms: destroy, put an end to, end, extinguish, dash, quash, ruin, wreck, shatter, smash, crush, scotch, thwart;

    When one uses the 2nd meaning of “to kill”, it is an extension of the primary meaning. How do we quantify the “leftover connotation of violence”?

    For Farsi “marg”, it looks like the same set of two related meanings, with “death” being primary (also attested by such cognates as English mortal or Russian мёртвый) and the “political or ideological demise” (as we are told) being secondary and relatively recent. And now we are expected to argue the fine points, to what extent the connotations of violence flow from one to another?

  2. Khrushchev’s “We will bury you” has a similar backstory.

  3. Next they will say that 打倒美帝!doesn’t mean “Smash American imperialists!”, I suppose.

    Linguistic revisionism at its best.

  4. Khrushchev’s “We will bury you” has a similar backstory.

    I am not sure what you mean by “similar backstory”, but no way “we will bury you” can be interpreted as something an undertaker might say to a prospective client as part of a contract negotiation. Maybe in something like Babel’s story… Otherwise, active participation in the process of reducing someone to the state of needing a burial is unambiguously implied.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    Khrushchev’s “We will bury you”

    I remember reading that this literal translation, which horrified the Americans, did not indicate an intention to kill or destroy but meant “We will outlast you”, specifically “Our regime will last longer than yours”.

  6. Just so.

  7. minus273 says:

    “打倒美帝” really, literally, doesn’t mean “Smash American imperialists”. To “smash” is “打碎”, a manner-result construction: by hitting (“打”), causing something to break into little pieces (“碎”). On the other hand, “倒” means to fall down, so “打倒” is to hit something so as for it to fall down, “knock down” or “knock over”.

  8. SFReader says:

    Thanks for clarification. But surely you won’t argue that this term is “an idiom without violent intent”.

  9. SFReader says:

    My favorite is 打倒蒙修! (Knock over Mongolian revisionists!)

  10. SFReader says:

    This is from a little known episode of the Cultural Revolution.

    In 1967, embassy of the Mongolian People’s Republic in Bejing was besieged by Red Guards who carried the following slogans:

    “打倒美帝!” (Knock down American imperialists!)
    “打倒苏修!” (Knock down Soviet revisionists!)
    “打倒蒙修!” (Knock down Mongolian revisionists!)
    “打倒美帝、苏修的奴才泽登巴尔!” (Knock down American imperialists and Soviet slave Tsedenbal*!)
    “一切反华的人决没有好下场!” (Anti-Chinese persons all end badly!)
    “我们的伟大领袖毛主席万岁!万万岁!” (Long live our great chairman Mao Ze Dong! May he live 10 thousand times 10 thousand years!)

  11. Bathrobe says:

    I’ve never really understood what ‘Down with…’ means in English, even. Of course it means ‘in a downward direction’, and presumably means that the subject should ‘come down’ from a position of power, but in the end it just seems to be a fossilised slogan. I guess it’s related to French à bas, which also seems to me to be pretty abstract.

  12. minus273 says:

    Nice to hear that native speakers are of the same opinion!

  13. And now we are expected to argue the fine points, to what extent the connotations of violence flow from one to another?

    That’s not a “fine point,” it’s a crucial difference, the difference between waving a knife and a finger at someone. Translating marg bar as “death to” is like translating down with into some language with the equivalent of “move to a lower position.” It’s just plain bad translation, and in this case has very unfortunate consequences.

  14. To form any opinion on this, I felt like I needed to see how else this slogan was used. When I google “مرگ بر” -“مرگ بر آمریکا” -“مرگ بر امریکا” and attempt to apply my half-remembered rudimentary Persian to the results, here are the first three pages of targets of “Marg bar”, categorized:

    Specific people:
    مرگ بر حمد – Down with (Shaykh) Hamad (of Bahrain)
    مرگ بر شاه – Down with Shah (English translation given)
    مرگ بر شاه خائن – Down with the treasonous Shah
    مرگ بر شاه سابق – Down with the former Shah
    مرگ بر کرزی – Down with Karzai
    درخواست اعدام موسوی و کروبی / مرگ بر موسوی، کروبی، خاتمی – Petition for the execution of Moussawi and Karroubi: Down with Moussawi, Karroubi, Khatami…”
    مرگ بر اصل ولایت فقیه (خامنه ای) – Down with the origin of theocracy (Khamenei)

    Classes of people:
    مرگ بر فتنه گر – Down with spreaders of dissension
    ﻣﺮگ ﺑﺮ ﺧﺎﺋﻨﻴﻦ ، ﻣﺮگ ﺑﺮ وﻃﻨﻔﺮوﺷﺎن *- Down with traitors and nation-betrayers
    مرگ بر منافق – Down with the hypocrite
    مرگ بر طایفه – Down with the sect
    مرگ بر دیکتاتور – Down with the dictator

    Countries:
    مرگ بر ایران – Down with Iran
    مرگ بر سایر کشورها – Down with all countries
    مرگ بر انگليس – Down with England
    مرگ بر اسرائیل – Down with Israel

    Abstract ideals:
    مرگ بر عشق – Down with love (title of a film originally made in English)
    مرگ بر ضد ولایت فقیه یعنی مرگ بر احمق‌ها – “Down with anti-theocracy” means “down with idiots”
    مرگ بر این آزادی – Down with this freedom
    «مرگ بر دموکراسی» و «مرگ بر حقوق بشر» “Down with democracy” and “Down with human rights”
    ! مرگ بر زندگی – Down with life
    مرگ بر حکومت اسلامى – Down with Islamic government

    General situations:
    مرگ بر این ساعت – Down with this time
    مرگ بر جهان شما – Down with your world

    Miscellaneous:
    مرگ بر نرم‌افزار نفوذی’ – Down with pirated software

    Clearly if you can use it with non-living things, then “Death to…” is not an adequate translation. At the same time, when used with individuals, it often seems to show up in contexts where death really is being sought, such as the Shah, or that “Petition for the execution of Moussawi and Karroubi”. I wonder whether, for (some?) speakers of Persian in some contexts, this slogan is inherently ambiguous between literal and figurative readings – in which case there really wouldn’t be any good simple way to translate it.

  15. -مرگ بر سایر کشورها – Down with all countries

    Surely that’s “Death to other countries”?

    Found this interesting discussion which seems to take a view that chanting “death to other countries” is an unfortunate habit and bad for diplomacy, but argues that exception should be made for “Death to Russia”, because, well, they deserve it…

    https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ensafnews.com%2F47621%2Fچرا-مرگ-بر-روسیه-نمی-گوییم؟%2F&edit-text=&act=url

  16. At the same time, when used with individuals, it often seems to show up in contexts where death really is being sought

    But “Down with…” can also be used in contexts where death really is being sought, as can all such turns of phrase, humanity being the violent species it is. The point is not whether it can be so used but whether it must be interpreted that way, and clearly that’s not the case. And it’s not an academic argument, because a false reading of the phrase is used to justify violent attitudes in return.

  17. It seems like it overlaps with English “to hell with…” though that is not usually used in demonstration chants and signs.

  18. the difference between waving a knife and a finger at someone.
    I’m ready to argue that there is a lot of room in between, and that the same expression may elicit different responses from different native speakers.
    “Down with the Czar” was a call for physical removal, not for mere “disapproval”, and it did take waving guns, and to no one’s surprise it did culminate in a grizzly regicide.
    “Down with Israel” / “death to it” surely isn’t a mere call for shame and criticism, since its pushers expressed their wish for the destruction of Israel in many addition ways and forms. Politics may be a higher-end abstraction of violence, of course, so yelling for violent destruction of someone’s enemies doesn’t have to mean that one’s ready to take a knife and kill; that’s what the armies and the law enforcement and likewise “authorized killers” are usually for. To what extent does it make the call “less violent”?

    Back to English “to kill” and its reflections in Russian native usage. There is no difference in Russian between “to kill” and “to murder”, and the etymology of Russian “убить” “to murder / kill” is transparently violent, like “beat away”. Around the time of Iranian Revolution, there was still no way to utter the word in Russian and not to mean violence. But the decades which followed eroded the link, mostly due to the flow of translated English. The 2nd English meaning, “bringing to an end”, gradually took root in Russian as well, and now the violent connotations differ depending on age and social layer.

  19. It seems like it overlaps with English “to hell with…” though that is not usually used in demonstration chants and signs.

    Yeah, that’s a good comparison (with that caveat). It would be foolish to interpret saying “To hell with…” as meaning “I am going to kill you and send you to hell.”

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    My biggest problem with this it that it assumes translation must be based on the assumption your readers are idiots and simpletons who cannot understand metaphor, hyperbole and the like. That other people with knowledge of Farsi, both here and at the LL comment thread, do not universally agree with this particular guy’s view makes one more suspicious, if only because it underscores the danger that as one moves down the slope from woodenly-literal translation to free paraphrase, the personal agenda of the paraphraser becomes more and more important to the outcome.

  21. JW, I read the commentaries at Language Log. None of the Farsi speakers actually contradicts Mirsajadi’s point.

  22. Yeah, I’d like you to point to people with knowledge of Farsi who say “No, this guy’s wrong, it means we literally want to kill the people we’re yelling about.” Because I haven’t seen any. I do see non-Farsi-speaking people who are apparently reluctant to give up their previous understanding of the phrase, but that’s normal mulishness.

  23. As a non-native but advanced speaker of Persian I want to strongly disagree with Mirsajadi.

    The “down with” translation is very clearly one with an intent to soften “marg bar” and make those chanting it seem less fanatical. A desire with which I sympathize, but which I find inaccurate.

    The truth is, the phrase is ambiguous, even for native speakers. It certainly has a violent intent for many of the people who use it.

    Lameen tried to categorize the uses of the phrase, but the very most common are: marg bar amrika, marg bar israel, marg bar engelis (England), marg bar fetnehgaran (those who led the protests in 2009), marg bar monafeqin (the MEK), and marg bar zed-e velayat-e faqih (those opposed to the government system led by a senior cleric.)

    “Down with them” is so lame. It connotes none of the anger and desire for the destruction of the entity being cursed.

    While Mirsajadi is right that marg bar amrika (for instance) does not mean the chanter wants the people of America to die, this is a problem of translating amrika, rather than marg bar. The chanter definitely wants the United States government to perish.

    Perhaps the best translation, at least in terms of intent and content, would be “may X be destroyed.”

  24. marie-lucie says:

    to hell with …

    It seems to me that in current North American English this phrase does not mean “May (X) die and go to hell” (although this may have been the original) but “I don’t want to hear about this any more” (from “let it stay in hell where it belongs”).

    À bas ….! : Yes, this is Down with …. “Step down/Be dragged down from a high position”.

    Death to …! is Mort à …!, originally a wish to kill, but now an insult, usually for a class of people (the police, the rich, etc).

    Probably the most widespread such insult is Mort aux vaches!, literally Death to the cows, referring not to the farm animals but to the police.

    There is a short story by Anatole France featuring an old street seller of fruits and vegetables who unintentionally provokes a young policeman by saying something that the policeman mistakenly interprets as Mort aux vaches!. The poor man is dragged into court and condemned to four months in jail. When he comes out and tries to start his street business again, his former customers shun him as a criminal and he is now homeless and desperate. One cold day as winter is approaching, he sees a policeman coming his way and yells Mort aux vaches! in order to be arrested and sent to jail again. But the older, experienced policeman just shrugs as he goes by, muttering “If we had to arrest every crazy fool …i”

  25. Long ago, demonstrators against Oakland (Calif.) mayor Elihu Harris carried signs reading “To hell with you, Elihu!” But that is exceptional.

    Andrew, so what would you say about marg bar slogans addressing inflation and such abstract things? Which of “death to…”, “to hell with…”, or “down with…” would be an apt English translation? What about the use of the slogan in the 1905–1911 revolution, where protesters were peaceful?

    The trope of unsuccessfully trying to get arrested on purpose also appears in O’Henry’s The Cop and the Anthem, of roughly the same era. It’s a good one.

  26. languagehat says:
    But “Down with…” can also be used in contexts where death really is being sought, as can all such turns of phrase, humanity being the violent species it is. The point is not whether it can be so used but whether it must be interpreted that way, and clearly that’s not the case. And it’s not an academic argument, because a false reading of the phrase is used to justify violent attitudes in return.

    Thank you, this is eminently sensible. As you say, it’s just like any such phrase in English or any other language. “This weather will be the death of me” does not necessarily mean that the weather is going to cause someone’s death, whereas “his drinking was ultimately the death of him” could imply literal death. Those who argue that this phrase must necessarily have violent connotations are mistaken at best, or often deliberately disingenuous. When we want to say “death to” rather than “down with” we often use another slogan entirely: فلانی اعدام باید گردد “X should be executed”.

    Since credentials are being bandied about, I am Iranian and I teach Persian at university.

  27. It’s good to hear from someone who definitely knows what they’re talking about; thanks very much for your comment!

  28. For those like me who looked at Mirsajadi’s name and wondered was it a German-oriented transliteration involving میرزا /mirzɑ/, no, the Persian script seems to be میر سجادی /mir sædʒdʒɑdi/.

  29. A سجاد /sajjɑd/ being ‘one who worships by frequent prostrations’ (according to S. Haim’s Persian-English dictionary).

  30. to hell with …

    There’s also the question of who’s doing the speaking.

    My mother-in-law, the vicar’s wife, was horrified when Desmond Tutu said “The West, as far as I am concerned, can go to hell.” Not that she necessarily disagreed with his take on sanctions, or Reagan, but as a man of the cloth, he was completely out of line to call for anyone to go to hell.

    She did not live to see the Rev. Wright.

    As to the revolutionaries, I have to wonder if there might have been another chant possible less given to ambiguity. Slogans can be tricky. You want to tailor them with care, and if, as in this case, the audience was largely anglophone and monoglot….

  31. if, as in this case, the audience was largely anglophone and monoglot….

    What case are you talking about? Iranian crowds are not chanting to an anglophone audience.

  32. “I do see non-Farsi-speaking people who are apparently reluctant to give up their previous understanding of the phrase, but that’s normal mulishness.”

    Perhaps, in some cases. But there are politics involved. People often want to portray those they see as their enemies in the worst manner possible. The translation “Death to America” is used for propagandistic purposes by those who wish to foment war with Iran. I’m not taking Iran’s side here, just saying that when politics becomes involved, things like “proper translation” are given short shrift.

  33. J.W. Brewer says:

    How should one translate the traditional American baseball-fan exclamation “Kill the ump” into Farsi?

  34. David Marjanović says:

    “Kill the ump”

    Fascinating. The German football equivalent meekly translates as “ump, we know where your car is parked; we(‘ll) set it on fire, so go by train”… it rhymes just enough to be singable. And yet, baseball isn’t the one with the hooligans.

  35. A good illustration of the dangers of equating speech with action.

  36. The Russian equivalent is Судью на мыло (Make soap out of the referee). It never occurred to me to look at it literally, because of the absurdity of the proposition.

  37. D.O.: It’s a holocaust reference.

  38. Y, I don’t think so. First google books reference is from 1953 and is used as something completely unremarkable. Remember, it was printed under the heavy Soviet censorship. The version that makes most sense for me is that in 1920-1930 stray dogs were killed and used for soap production (or at least that what lots of people used to believe) and dog comparisons are pretty widespread.

  39. some people say that it isn’t Russian Mylo “soap” but Ukrainian or Polish pomylka “error”, but I think it’s far fetched

  40. I have attended hundreds of baseball games, at all levels from little league to MLB and I can’t remember hearing anyone actually yell “Kill the ump!” in a serious tone. “Hey Ump, you suck!” is far more common. If a large crowd of people started chanting “Kill the ump!” in unison, I would find that extremely disturbing if not downright scary.

  41. She did not live to see the Rev. Wright.

    Oh, I don’t know. From Shaw’s play Candida (1894), Act I:

    MORELL. When you last called—it was about three years ago, I think—you said the same thing a little more frankly. Your exact words then were: “Just as big a fool as ever, James?”

    BURGESS (soothingly). Well, perhaps I did; but (with conciliatory cheerfulness) I meant no offence by it. A clergyman is privileged to be a bit of a fool, you know: it’s on’y becomin’ in his profession that he should. Anyhow, I come here, not to rake up hold differences, but to let bygones be bygones. (Suddenly becoming very solemn, and approaching Morell.) James: three year ago, you done me a hill turn. You done me hout of a contrac’; an’ when I gev you ‘arsh words in my nat’ral disappointment, you turned my daughrter again me. Well, I’ve come to act the part of a Cherischin. (Offering his hand.) I forgive you, James.

    MORELL (starting up). Confound your impudence!

    BURGESS (retreating, with almost lachrymose deprecation of this treatment). Is that becomin’ language for a clergyman, James?—and you so partic’lar, too?

    MORELL (hotly). No, sir, it is not becoming language for a clergyman. I used the wrong word. I should have said damn your impudence: that’s what St. Paul, or any honest priest would have said to you.

  42. In Irish sports, which are organized at the county level, it is common for fans to support their team with shouts of “Up Kerry!” or “Up Cork!”. But in one particular county the fans must shout “Up Down!”.

    In the 2001 film “Y Tu Mamá También” I noticed the actors using phrases like (say) “Mata rock’n’roll” (Rock’n’roll kills). The one phrase that everyone seems to have taken from the film is “Pop mata la poesía.” But the use of “mata” mostly happens as a positive, which parallels some American slang usage: “Surf music really kills”.

    I presume the scriptwriters were well acquainted with Mexican Spanish as spoken by teenagers of the period.

  43. Oh, come on, we cannot go into Victorian times. Next thing we will discuss a hapless captain using a big D.

  44. No, my point was that it is appropriate, however shocking, for clergymen to see things and damn them to Hell, the Reverend Wright as much as the Reverend Morell. And as I pointed out a few years back, even the most Victorian of audiences doesn’t demand that preachers talk only of heckfire and darnation.

  45. I like to maintain that the Reverend Wright was simply complimenting America on its good looks. He wasn’t saying “God damn America!”, but rather “God damn, America!”

  46. David Marjanović says:

    Fuck yeah.

  47. I’m down with that.

  48. David Eddyshaw says:

    On anti-umpire/referee imprecations:

    A highly misanthropic anglophone South African acquaintance many years ago, to illustrate one of his many pet hates (the alleged stupidity of back-country Afrikaners) imitated what he claimed was a highly typical catcall from such a person complaining about the umpire at a cricket match:

    “Shook your head! Your eyes is stuck!”

    I’ve never felt that this creative use of English actually supported his thesis about the stupidity. Indeed, I have found it a very useful turn of phrase myself.

  49. Those who argue that this phrase must necessarily have violent connotations are mistaken at best, or often deliberately disingenuous. When we want to say “death to” rather than “down with” we often use another slogan entirely: فلانی اعدام باید گردد “X should be executed”.

    The problem is the disingenuousness runs both ways.

    What you and LH say is certainly true. It is not necessarily a violent phrase, but that’s not what Mirsajadi argues. He says, “it is commonly understood in Iran as an idiom without violent intent” which is as much a politically-motivated distortion as to insist it means “killing Americans” or whatever.

  50. Greg Pandatshang says:

    I’ve never really understood what ‘Down with…’ means in English, even. Of course it means ‘in a downward direction’, and presumably means that the subject should ‘come down’ from a position of power, but in the end it just seems to be a fossilised slogan. I guess it’s related to French à bas, which also seems to me to be pretty abstract.

    Fossilised? Most definitely. I think it’s an interesting example of the super-broad sense of “with”. Forms like “down with the petty bourgeoisie!” seem to use “with” to mark a comment-topic structure. I saw an example one time of someone saying “Give with the money.”

  51. It is not necessarily a violent phrase, but that’s not what Mirsajadi argues. He says, “it is commonly understood in Iran as an idiom without violent intent” which is as much a politically-motivated distortion as to insist it means “killing Americans” or whatever.

    It’s true he goes too far in the other direction, but I think we can chalk that up to an entirely understandable frustration with the usual reading (compare “jihad doesn’t mean actual war, it refers to spiritual struggle,” another defensively overstated meme).

  52. David Marjanović says:

    “Down with” does have a parallel in “away with”. I agree that both mark a comment-topic word order.

  53. Also “off with (his head)”, “out with”, “in with” (“Out with the old, in with the new”). It’s an odd little construction: the generalization seems to be:

    [Particle] with X = Make X go [particle], where [particle] indicates the manner of boundary crossing.

    To complicate things further, you can “do away with” someone, but not “*do down/off/out with” – but that looks like it’s just idiomatic.

  54. The OED points out that there are numerous idioms of the form “verb+away“, as do away, make away, fall away, as well as give way, which is aphetic for give away, but not to be confused with give away ‘give’.

  55. The most infamous study of this kind of sentence is English sentences without overt grammatical subject, by (ahem) Quang Phúc Đông.

    Nicholas Evans’ paper, Insubordination and its uses, is good too, though not exactly about this phenomenon. That one is about sentences that look like subordinate clauses, such as “If you could please sit down,” cross-linguistically.

  56. An interesting parallel is Tatiana and Sergey’s Nikitins classic line in “Ali Baba and 40 thiefs”, “May all my enemies croak” (Пусть сдохнут все мои враги // Вкусней не ел я кураги )
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwfgVHosRdc
    Interesting because Tatiana is an ethnic Tajik who grew up in Dushanbe, exposed to Farsi popular culture. Does it mean that “Death to my enemies” was a common rhetorical element in Tajik? Or could it have been an influence of Iranian Revolution? (Given that Ali Baba’s LP came out in 1981?)

  57. David Marjanović says:

    Does it mean that “Death to my enemies” was a common rhetorical element in Tajik?

    Isn’t that much more widespread? What immediately comes to mind is the traditional celebration of the independence day (from Berne) of the Swiss canton of Vaud. It involves destroying some kind of piñata while shouting: “Ainsi périssent les ennemis de la République !!!”

  58. Yeah, that doesn’t seem like any sort of localized phenomenon.

  59. SFReader says:

    Perhaps we should retranslate classic phrase “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” in line with latest trends of politically correct linguistics.

    Surely the senator didn’t mean that Carthage should be destroyed, razed and sowed with salt. It was just a rhetorical idiom with no violent intent implied…

  60. After which, the Romans had to build it again: it was much too useful. But just a few universes away, Hannibal sent elephants and other rich gifts over the Alps to persuade Reme to a merger of equals between the two largest trading and diplomatic powers of the Mediterranean. Eventually, the Reman Empire didn’t so much collapse as spin off too many subsidiaries.

  61. Isn’t that much more widespread?
    But my point was exactly that “marg bar” may have been a traditional Farsi curse well before the first Iranian Revolution, despite the author’s insistence that it was a neologism emerging just then.

  62. On a less serious note, this brings to mind the semantics of fhtagn: it’s claimed to literally mean ‘dead’, but many Cthulhu Mythos works seem to use it as a honorific or epithet of sorts (Cthulhu himself aside, I definitely recall seeing at least Tsathoggua fhtagn put in the mouths of chanting cultists or the like). But perhaps it’s instead going for the interpretation “Cthulhu [is] dead [luckily for us]”?

  63. The Great Old Ones cannot die.

  64. January First-of-May says:

    IIRC, it means something along the lines of “asleep”.

    The normal Russian pronunciation of this word, incidentally, is a spelling one with all the consonants – фхтагн. I don’t know what the normal English pronunciation is (but it’s probably different).

  65. Trond Engen says:

    I have this sudden urge to see my Tajik colleague start a literary café.

  66. I don’t know what the normal English pronunciation is (but it’s probably different).

    I say it the way it’s written: /fhtagn/. Hopefully that’s not the correct way (as used by the Old Ones); I don’t want to summon anything that might eat me. (Though, as we all know, it’s better to be eaten first.)

  67. I don’t know what the normal English pronunciation is (but it’s probably different).

    I do my best to pronounce Cthulhu’s name according to Lovecraft’s recommendation in his letters (roughly [ˈkɬʊlˠ.ɬuː]). For some reason, that makes me want to pronounce fhtagn as something like [ˈɸtag.n̩] or [ˈɸtaʔ.n̩].

    Now, let’s not get started on the pronunciation of Hastur. That way (literal) madness lies.

  68. J.W. Brewer says:

    Glory, honor, and imperishable fame to whomsoever can induce protesters in some third-world capital experiencing political unrest to chant Amerika Fhtagn for the cameras.

  69. David Marjanović says:

    [ˈɸtag.n̩]

    I agree.

  70. In a similar vein, the supposedly common call from Iranian leaders for Israel to be “wiped off the map” is an (intentional?) mistranslation of a phrase that’s better rendered as “vanish from the pages of time.”

    It’s almost as if there’s a political motive behind these bad translations.

  71. vanish from the pages of time

    Yes, sure, whole countries are prone to vanish without any violence.

  72. It happened to Poland a couple of centuries ago.

  73. Similarly, when in English we beat someone at a game, we don’t use a stick, and while some prestige dialects of English prefer dead metaphors from Latin over living ones with Germanic roots suppressing a revolt can be just as violent as drucken den Aufstand ünter or verdrangen ihn.

  74. David Marjanović says:

    Unterdrücken, inseparable prefix, is what you do to ideas and to groups of people, not to revolts; for those you resort to more violent metaphors, like ersticken, “suffocate”, or niederschlagen, “beat down”. It’s ironic that you tried to translate “suppress” literally…

    Verdrängen is never used in this context, it means “crowd out, push away”.

  75. “It happened to Poland a couple of centuries ago.”

    I’d be interested to know which of the partitions of Poland you think was accomplished without violence.

  76. I remember reading that this literal translation, which horrified the Americans, did not indicate an intention to kill or destroy but meant “We will outlast you”, specifically “Our regime will last longer than yours”.

    Мы вас похороним!, to be exact.

    I think Pratchett makes a joke out of this ambiguity (bury-outlast vs bury-put in a hole and cover with earth), writing about one of his formidable witches “She had buried three husbands, and at least two of them had been dead when she did so”.

  77. I’d be interested to know which of the partitions of Poland you think was accomplished without violence.

    Fair point, but of course my point was not that there was literally no violence but that the intent was not to wipe out Poles but to rearrange the geopolitical map. The Russians, Austrians, and Prussians would have been perfectly content if no Poles had been harmed in the process; they just wanted their borders rectified.

  78. Oh, that’s what you’ve meant. But of course, British would be perfectly content for 13 colonies to remain in the empire without any violence and revolutionaries would not mind if king George and the mother country left them alone without the war.

    There is, I guess, a school of strategic thought in the US that thinks that if America maintains a super-duper powerful military and threatens to bomb whomever disagrees with its goals to Middle Ages, everyone will be super nice and quiet. We probably should call them peaceniks.

  79. J.W. Brewer says:

    Indeed, “Peace Is Our Profession” was the official motto of the Strategic Air Command, which during the Cold War had charge of pretty much all of America’s nuclear weapons except for the submarine-based ones controlled by the Navy. If my memory is accurate, I saw with my own eyes a big sign with that motto on it near the front entrance to some USAF base I visited on a cross-country trip in … let’s see … musta been ’81.

    (Whatever the intent may have been at the time of the Partitions, over the course of the 19th century both the Prussians and the Russians engaged in episodic attempts to suppress Polish culture and coerce assimilation toward their own culture; the Hapsburgs may have been mellower and/or knew they couldn’t transition from an old style multi-ethnic empire to a new ethnically-based nationalistic one if they tried, so they didn’t try.)

  80. But of course, British would be perfectly content for 13 colonies to remain in the empire without any violence and revolutionaries would not mind if king George and the mother country left them alone without the war.

    Yes, of course, and neither side wanted the other wiped out. This is in stark contrast to the situations implied by the people who insist on taking “death to” literally.

  81. J.W. Brewer says:

    The classic semi-veiled rhetorical death threat in the run-up to 1776 was Patrick Henry’s “Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ….may profit by their example.” I.e. “hey, just some friendly advice — you might want to think about stopping doing the annoying things that are making us want to kill you.” I assume in a broad enough context “Marg bar X” can generally be plausibly understood as conditional, i.e. if X would only stop doing Y and start doing Z instead, we would no longer be calling for X’s marg.

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