Does the World Cup have a lingua franca?

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 15 2006 5:29 PM

Does the World Cup Have a Lingua Franca?

How to curse out a referee from another country.

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

Frustrated Polish players complained on Wednesday that a blown call might cost them a chance to advance in the World Cup. On the same day, a Swiss referee made a questionable call that went against the team from Ukraine. What language do soccer players use when they bicker with the refs?

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

Any language at all, as long as they can get their point across. Many world-class players have spent time in teams around the globe and speak a variety of languages. The USA's Landon Donovan, for example, picked up some Spanish playing with Mexicans in Southern California, and then some German when he signed with Bayer 04 Leverkusen. If a player doesn't happen to share a language with the referee, he might yell in his native language just to convey that he's upset. "Any kind of fellatio comment is inevitably understood," says Alexi Lalas, who was on the U.S. World Cup roster in 1994 and 1998.

Advertisement

It helps to know a few choice phrases to throw at your opponents, and players sometimes brush up on their expletives for a particular game. Lalas once regaled an official in Ecuador with the Spanish translation of "son of a bitch." The resulting phrase turned out to be far more offensive than the English version, and he got a red card on the spot.

In a pinch, a player can resort to sign language. Hands together means "dive"—as in, "I didn't tackle him. He took a dive." A finger pointed at the eye tells the ref to "keep your eyes open." Opposing players might earn the international "choke" sign, or the just-as-easily interpreted "I'm a crying baby, boo hoo hoo."

Cursing out the refs may be one area where the American team has an advantage over its foreign rivals. According to a new rule, all of the referees selected for this year's tournament had to pass a test of written and spoken English. That ensures that all five officials at a given match can communicate with each other. (Each officiating team consists of three referees from the same country or region, and two more officials who might be from the other side of the world.)

For a little bonus help, players can consult the six-language dictionary of soccer-related terms that's handed out by FIFA. The book lists important phrases in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Fernando Clavijo of the Colorado Rapids and Alexi Lalas of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Science

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 18 2014 10:42 AM Scalia’s Liberal Streak The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 11:25 AM Gays on TV: From National Freakout to Modern Family Fun
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM Where Pregnant Women Aren't Allowed to Work After 36 Weeks  
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 11:48 AM Watch the Hilarious First Sketch From Season 4 of Key & Peele
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.