Naff names for dictators
Posted: 17 August 2012 12:13 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Stalin (Man of Steel) reminded me of the names the Kims of North Korea have adopted: The Great Leader, The Dear Leader, and, now, The Great Successor.
These sound risible and ludicrous in English (I’d have gone for The Revered Leader rather than the Dear one) but is it a problem of translation? Do these names sound as bad to South Koreans in Korean, ideology aside?
I thought Mao Zedong’s designation “the Great Helmsman” more imaginative and a halfway-decent metaphor.
Do these names only work in closed societies? It’s hard to know as no one can take the piss there.

There must be many examples, also of right-wing autocrats. I once read a definition of government having definitely gone wrong when statues of leaders are erected whilst they are still in power.

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Posted: 17 August 2012 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Googling around yielded this: Mobutu of Zaire changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga, which, according to most translations means “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.” He thought well of himself, yes? According to an alternate translation, the name meant: “the rooster that watches over all the hens.” I wonder if there is a statue of a rooster in his memory.

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Posted: 17 August 2012 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Googling around yielded this: Mobutu of Zaire changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga, which, according to most translations means “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.” He thought well of himself, yes? According to an alternate translation, the name meant: “the rooster that watches over all the hens.” I wonder if there is a statue of a rooster in his memory.

I wonder what language it is meant to be in. It’s not Swahili or his native language Ngbandi.

Kuku means chicken in Swahili, and waza means “think”. I would have guessed that Ngbendu was some kind of part of Ngbandi.

Anyone else think that the official translation sounds bogus?

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Posted: 18 August 2012 01:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Does anyone here know if Ivan the Terrible’s sobriquet was used in Russia in his own time? To quote his Wiki entry:

The English word terrible is usually used to translate the Russian word grozny in Ivan’s nickname, but the modern English usage of terrible, with a pejorative connotation of bad or evil, does not precisely represent the intended meaning. The meaning of grozny is closer to the original usage of terrible—inspiring fear or terror, dangerous (as in Old English in one’s danger), formidable or threatening. Other translations were suggested, such as Ivan the Fearsome or Ivan the Formidable

I can easily imagine ‘formidable’ or ‘fearsome’ being a term of official praise for a Russian ruler in the 16th century - and just about any other century, come to that.

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Posted: 18 August 2012 01:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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There’s Ntombi oif Swaziland, the Indlovukazi or Great She-Elephant. One of Haile Selassie’s titles was the Great Conquering Lion of Judah.

My own award for best name? (taken from Wikipedia’s entertaining list of monarchs by nickname.) Come on down John George the Beer-jug! (John George I, Elector of Saxony). Now there’s a man I’d be happy to have as ruler!

[ Edited: 18 August 2012 02:05 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 18 August 2012 08:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Does anyone here know if Ivan the Terrible’s sobriquet was used in Russia in his own time?

Good question.  This site says that in his lifetime the popular nickname for him was Мучитель [Muchitel] ‘the Torturer’; this site says that “Грозный” (’the Menacing/Dread/Terrible’) was first used 32 years after the tsar’s death, by his enemies.

Edit: The Mobutu question is also a good one; it was asked here a couple of years ago but did not get answered.  Now I’m curious too.

[ Edited: 18 August 2012 08:33 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 18 August 2012 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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languagehat - 18 August 2012 08:27 AM


Edit: The Mobutu question is also a good one; it was asked here a couple of years ago but did not get answered.  Now I’m curious too.

There’s an interesting discussion on the Wikipedia Talk page for the main Mobutu article. See Translation of his name to English and Name translation.

re the translation: The cock that leaves no hen unruffled someone comments,

That’s the Tshiluba translation of his name. The Ngbandi translation is the one stated in the article. Both are correct.

And further down:

When I was resident in Zaire in 1983-84, I was told by local citizens that the name meant “Mobutu the mighty rooster who leaves no hen untouched.” Given that “kuku” means “hen”, and I believe “seko” means “rooster”, I consider this to be accurate. I was told that the language was Lingala, a lingua franca of the military in Zaire.

It does seem strange that it shouldn’t be more easily identifiable. I presume the above are all Bantu languages and similar?

[ Edited: 18 August 2012 11:41 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 18 August 2012 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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LH, I am curious as well. And Aldborini‘s post sheds light on some of this mystery.
I posted this because I recalled a journalist talking about being the Mobutu of the internet and curiosity killed my morning:

Googling around yielded this: Mobutu of Zaire changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu waza Banga, which, according to most translations means “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake.” He thought well of himself, yes? According to an alternate translation, the name meant: “the rooster that watches over all the hens.” I wonder if there is a statue of a rooster in his memory.

OP Tipping:

I wonder what language it is meant to be in. It’s not Swahili or his native language Ngbandi.

Kuku means chicken in Swahili, and waza means “think”. I would have guessed that Ngbendu was some kind of part of Ngbandi.

Anyone else think that the official translation sounds bogus?

In 1966 he came to power. Perhaps he snuck his native tribal Ngbandi name into his title, since there were so many languages he could choose from (the number is somewhere greater than 200 as linguists are still untangling the many families of languages there). His title could be a mixture and bastardation of them, ensuring that no one person could belittle him by addressing him by his mighty moniker?

In 1971 Mobutu required that everyone in the country had to change their names from ethnic tribal ones, French, Belgian, Dutch, etc. to Zairean names, thus further sowing confusion....

Lingala is an official language, as are French and Swahili. From what I’ve read, the first two are generally used by police and military to begin a conversation meant to establish power, then switching to a more casual shared language.
Anyway, FWIW, I think “according to most translations” makes sense and is not bogus, but earnest efforts at a job he purposefully made impossible.

After all of this I still picture a grand statue of a rooster.

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Posted: 19 August 2012 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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That’s the Tshiluba translation of his name. The Ngbandi translation is the one stated in the article. Both are correct.

It does not seem possible for such a complicated phrase to mean one thing when translated into English on the basis that the source is Tshiluba, and something really utterly different when translated into English on the basis that the source is Ngbandi To achieve this would require some kind of genius in the field of constrained writing. There’s just too little similarity in the meanings. I could just about accept that the long definition is an embellished metaphorical meaning corresponding to the literal meaning concerning the fowls (but accepting this would require that the two translations are basically from the same language, whereas Tshiluba and Ngbandi are not all that closely related.) Seko and waza don’t appear to be a Ngbandi words.

I do hope one of you has a good relationship with a Nile-Congo language expert because I am very curious about all this.

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Posted: 19 August 2012 07:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It does not seem possible for such a complicated phrase to mean one thing when translated into English on the basis that the source is Tshiluba, and something really utterly different when translated into English on the basis that the source is Ngbandi

I completely agree.  I think I’ll make an LH post of it and see if anyone knows the facts.

Edit: Posted.

[ Edited: 19 August 2012 08:09 AM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 19 August 2012 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I don’t know either of these languages, but my mother is now probably the last speaker of one dialect of Sesotho so the actual language in his title may never be discovered, if the title indeed did come from one language and not a combination of different languages or dialects.  Mobutu decreed that all names had to be African, and this name sounds African, at least.

However - we know that he adopted his grandiose title but do we know who actually suggested it to him?  Could it have been an “admirer” who was having a laugh at his expense by suggesting a nonsensical title?

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Posted: 21 August 2012 11:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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The Great Leader, The Dear Leader, and, now, The Great Successor.
These sound risible and ludicrous in English

To you, not to a North Korean. Only because you haven’t been brainwashed (yet ;-). I watched on TV with fascinated horror, the sight of crowds of adults and children weeping piteously at the death of that dreadful head of a dreadful regime.  I am sure the tears were perfectly heartfelt and genuine - that’s the most horrible part of it. Don’t you remember the scene at the end of 1984, where Winston, after his release from the Ministry of Truth’s mind laundry, sits looking at the TV set, shedding tears? “He loved Big Brother”........

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