Vuvuzela

« previous post | next post »

When the U.S. soccer team plays Brazil this afternoon in the Confederations Cup final,  the stadium will be buzzing with the sound of plastic trumpets called vuvuzelas. (See Delia Robertson "Vuvuzela: Popular Symbol of South African Football", VOA News, 6/25/2009).

Here's an example (with simulated crowd noise) of how a vuvuzela sounds:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In normal South African games, there would apparently be hundreds or thousands of them. There's a more realistic-sounding recording at the site of www.boogieblast.co.za:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

That site claims that the device originated  with a "women's Chinese basketball team"; reminds us to "REMEMBER… YOU ONLY HATE THEM, IF YOU DON’T HAVE ONE…"; and observes that your vuvuzela can also be used as a cricket bat, hearing aid, petrol funnel, water sprayer, drinking funnel, 4G mobile communication device, walking stick, light saber, and jousting stick.

It seems that outsiders are mostly less enthusiastic (Robyn Dixon, "South Africa abuzz over talk of banning soccer fans' favorite horn", LA Times, 6/28/2009):

Hatred of the vuvuzela, the noisemaker wielded by South African soccer fans, ignited the blogosphere even before the FIFA Confederations Cup, the country's dry run for 2010, which ends today when the U.S. national team plays Brazil for the championship.

During the current tournament, foreign players, coaches and journalists have called for a ban of the vuvuzela. There is debate about whether it's a unique part of South African culture, and therefore untouchable, or just a cheap plastic import that makes a lot of noise, like an electric air horn or a whistle.

One vuvuzela — a loud, tuneless blast — sounds something like a foghorn. But a stadium full of vuvuzelas, all tooting simultaneously, is either a most exhilarating and exciting sound or a noise so irritating that it borders on being painful, depending on the listener.

It's been compared to a deafening swarm of wasps. Or a herd of flatulent elephants.

A SouthAfrica.info page says that

There's uncertainty on the origin of the word "vuvuzela". Some say it comes from the isiZulu for – wait for it – "making noise". Others say it's from township slang related to the word "shower", because it "showers people with music" – or, more prosaically, looks a little like a shower head.

The wikipedia article offers the alternative names lepatata (said to be the term in Setswana), and stadium horn, and quotes some other European vuvuzela hatas:

During the match between United States and Italy, BBC 3 commentator Lee Dixon referred to the sounds as "quite irritating". FIFA received complaints from multiple European broadcasters who want it banned for the 2010 FIFA World Cup because the sound is drowning out the commentators. Netherlands coach Bert van Marwijk and Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso also called for a ban, the latter saying the horns make it hard for players to communicate and concentrate while adding nothing to the atmosphere

The American players are taking a positive attitude, however:

And the deafening blare of the vuvuzelas that some teams at the Confederation Cup have complained about? The Americans don't mind them one bit.

"I think we've shown a spirit and competitiveness that people love, and that's infectious for people," [Landon] Donovan said. "We expect the same for tomorrow night, too, that people will be out there wanting to see us do well, and we thrive off that."

The OED hasn't added vuvuzela to its online lexicon yet, but the Word Induction Ceremony can't be far off, given the word's prominent role in international sports reporting over the next couple of years. (Note also that vuvuzela is worth 23 scrabble points even before bonuses — or would be, if it were added to the official word list.)

Then there's also the makarapa.



25 Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 12:44 pm

    From the attack in the sound file, I get the impression it calls for something like a trumpet embouchure–it's not enough just to force air through it, as with a kazoo. Thousands of football fans who know how to do that? Terrific. Blast away.

    [(myl) Yes, I think it's exactly a valveless plastic trumpet. There's even a Vuvuzela Orchestra:

    ]

  2. Mister Pancake said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

    The vuvuzela is truly irritating. The sound files in this post don't really accurately portray just how these things sound in a stadium (the boogieblast one is more accurate, but usually you can't hear any other crowd noise any more over the buzz of vuvuzelas). It actually sounds more like a large angry swarm of bees has invaded the stadium.

    I kinda hope they do ban it.

  3. Sili said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

    I don't know what they're complaining about. It's not like it's reflective souvenir programmes …

  4. Nathan Myers said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    I imagine Donovan waiting until he's certain the microphone is off, and then hissing "They must all be destroyed!". No player would dare seem to be anything less than enthusiastic about the horns lest their owners turn them on him.

  5. Bloix said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

    They're horrible. They make it impossible to watch the matches.

  6. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 2:35 pm

    They remind me of the red trumpets that are a staple of the Quebec Carnival.

  7. Christopher said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 4:38 pm

    They're very similar to the ones seen and heard in South Philly during the Mummers' Parade every New Year's Day. I like the sound of "vuvuzuela" a lot better than "cheap plastic trumpet" though!

  8. Bobbie said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 5:54 pm

    That horn ranks right up there with my least favorite **indoor noise — those horrible "clackers" at basketball games!

  9. Mark F. said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    If these are what I think they are, they've been fairly commonplace at American college football games for decades; since at least the 80's I think. Commonplace but not ubiquitous.

  10. JimG said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

    Another reporter suffering from recency illusion.

    Air horns and "trumpets" are common and customary in stadia in all sorts of places. The custom of "everybody" bringing one and using it constantly MAY have started with Japanese soccer fans and their horns powered by cans of compressed air. The fans use their horns for the full 90 minutes of a soccer game. Cacaphony!?!? In Bahrain, some fans play an arab flute and sing a chant for the entire game. Brazilian fans are partial to samba whistles (and other whistles) sounded with a samba beat.

    The South African name is attractive.

  11. Robin said,

    June 28, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

    Good luck with the idea of banning them. I asked my brother back in South Africa how South Africans feel about this and he said that even my 77 year-old mother has one, and that she can produce a respectable amount of sound from it. They have been an intrinsic part of the soccer-spectating experience in South Africa for years. The fact that there is so much discussion about them in the international media, which is experiencing them in a South African setting for the first time, shows that irrespective of their origin, the way they are used at matches is uniquely South African. South Africans know this, and would be deeply offended if there were any attempt to ban vuvuzelas.

  12. Aaron Davies said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 1:45 am

    i assume "hatas" is supposed to be "haters", pronounced non-rhotically? it took me a few extra seconds to figure it out, as the spelling suggests a [ɒ] for the first vowel, not a [eɪ]. interestingly, i can't think of a better way to write it, and "playa-hater":"playa-hata" is nearly 2:1 in ghits.

  13. Michael W said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 4:34 am

    This seemed like the perfect chance to try out Wordnik. Entering 'vuvuzela' only returned Twitter results (too new of a word I suppose to be in any more established source of theirs).

    I got four results, from which it could be learned:

    It has cultural significance in South Africa, and some relevance to 2010.

    It's something you might need to learn to 'blow' for the 2010 World Cup.

    It is not an air horn, despite what 'stupid Americans' have said.

    A more in-depth explanation of the word could be found on some place called 'Language Log'. (This very post of course).

    I think the link to LL is somewhat fortuitous, but it's interesting to see at least a partial understanding one might get purely from seeing it used.

  14. Shmuel said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 10:23 am

    Can't the sound be filtered out by broadcasters? Doesn't seem like it would be too complicated.

  15. Aaron Davies said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 11:12 am

    btw, anyone with sufficient control should be able to play bugle calls on it, if it's really a valveless trumpet (i.e. by definition a bugle). i wonder how hard "charge" (either of them) would be to get out of it…

  16. Dolla said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    The vuvuzela, contrary to revisionist history, is not a traditional South African trumpet, but the product of a very recent, corporatist inspired history. That's problematic of course, but I would even be forgiving, if it wasn't so annoying.

    I liked this piece on the vuvuzela:
    http://www.footballiscominghome.net/the-hosts/the-vuvuzela/

  17. Walshie said,

    July 1, 2009 @ 4:51 am

    Go to http://www.sa2010.gov.za/node/1945 for more information re the origins of the vuvuzela…

  18. richard said,

    July 1, 2009 @ 5:18 am

    A truly annoying and monotonous noise that drones on continuously throughout the game. There is no noticeable variation in the sound that would suggest a response to what's happening on the ground, or any interest by the blower in the game itself. One cannot hear any other singing or cheering by people who are actually following proceedings. If the Saffers are so keen on this then they're welcome to it. I watch a lot of football on the television but have turned off games in the past because of this idiotic noise and I'm not surprised there is a serious attempt to at least tone it down, but how can that be done without banning it altogether? And screeching tennis players can take a hike too.

  19. richard said,

    July 1, 2009 @ 5:20 am

    grumble grumble

  20. grey said,

    July 9, 2009 @ 7:28 am

    Viva Vuvuzelas!

  21. Global Voices in Swahili » Afrika Kusini: Kuvuvuzela au Kutovuvuzela? said,

    July 19, 2009 @ 5:27 am

    [...] Language Log anasema kwamba "thamani ya vuvuzela ni sawa na pointi 23 za mchezo wa bao la maandishi hata kabla ya kupewa faida – au pengine ni sawa na hivyo, kama lingeongezwa kwenye orodha rasmi ya maneno." [...]

  22. Christina Laguarda said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

    officially ban or keep the vuvuzela at http://www.banvuvuzela.com/

  23. Christina Laguarda said,

    November 18, 2009 @ 8:18 am

    BAN THIS AWFUL THING AT http://www.banvuvuzela.com !!!!

  24. “nervtötende, 1m lange Plastiktröte” « tossed in translation, too said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 5:59 am

    [...] Bezeichnung, und deren abzusehenden Aufstieg im internationalen Kontext schon vor fast einem Jahr berichtet (wo auch eine andere Quelle zitiert wird, die das Wort von dem isiZulu-Ausdruck für "Radau [...]

  25. The Culture of Vuvuzelas? « Ethnotale: Up Close and Personal said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    [...] So that got me thinking, what exactly is the history of the vuvuzela? It's certainly become big news as some fans argue for a ban on the horn while others say that doing so is ethnocentric. Curious, I did some searching and came across this post in a 2009 thread from the Language Log [...]

RSS feed for comments on this post