"Two chairs"?

« previous post | next post »

In the interview discussed in the previous post, there was one place where some combination of phonetic variation in vowels and cultural variation in measurement units left me puzzled. The context is as follows:

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.

Georgina_Ball: Kim Dotcom's a real standout a larger than life character
and- and uh very large in person as well
one of the things his lawyer said in court was
look this guys not going to flee the country he's so big he wouldn't get through customs without being noticed
Lisa Mullins: How big is he?
Georgina Ball: O K I'd say
don't know the weight there but about two chairs (?)
here
Lisa Mullins: So in pounds we can just guess
Georgina Ball: I'm about fifty five K Gs I'd say he'd be about three of me.
((apparent editing break))
I'd estimate he's about three thirty pounds

It's plausible for Ms. Ball to be temporarily stumped by the conversion from kilograms into some measure comprehensible to decent God-fearing Americans. But in her first attempt, she seems to suggest that the local New Zealand metric for a person's weight would be "chairs" (pronounced "cheers", of course).

I don't think that this can be right. So either (1) there really is a New Zealand unit of weight called the chair; or (2) there's some other unit of weight that sounds like that; or (3) Ms. Ball was making a sort of joke, based (say) on the idea that Mr. Dotcom is big enough to need to sit on two chairs at once; or (4) ???

I trust that some reader with antipodal experience can enlighten us.

Share:



27 Comments »

  1. mollymooly said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 1:37 pm

    The "fat = two seats" equation is standard for airlines, but not for courtrooms AFAIK.

  2. Chandra said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 1:46 pm

    No idea what she meant, but I did notice that the interviewer made a breathy little noise after the word in question that could be construed as a quiet laugh, so maybe there was something elsewhere in the interview that could give context for a joke?

  3. Bobbie said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

    55 kilos = 121 pounds, so three of her equals about three [hundred] thirty (or corrected to 363) pounds. Whatever a "chair" is, it must be about 150 pounds or 68 kilos.

  4. Tikitu said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 1:52 pm

    Kiwi weight might come in "stones" (especially for the generation now in their 50s and 60s) but chairs is unlikely. I hear the word following ("here" in your transcript) as "yeah" with a little laugh mixed in at the beginning, which supports the joke theory.

    (I am from NZ but have lived away for eight years. "Two chairs" sounds to me like typically irreverent Kiwi humour – matches the lawyer quote that way too.)

  5. Jordan said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

    Maybe I'm weird, but when I read through it I immediately assumed she meant the guy was big enough to need two chairs to sit on.

  6. kuri said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

    Maybe it was a comparison with actual chairs in the room, i.e., "He's about as big as two of these chairs I'm pointing at"?

  7. Mark F. said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

    I think "two chairs here" means "two of the chairs here in the courtroom". After all, she's trying to estimate, so her first natural thing to do would be to use some size-related description. Is there any reason to doubt that?

  8. Xmun said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    I'm from New Zealand. "Chairs" is not a measure of weight. She means (I think) that his size is so great that he'd need two chairs to sit down on.

  9. Xmun said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

    As (I belatedly notice) Jordan said an hour and six minutes before me

  10. Michael Briggs said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 3:49 pm

    I liked the transcription of 'Jeez' as 'Gs.'

  11. Xmun said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 4:00 pm

    It's not 'Jeez'. It's 55 kg, spoken as 55 kaygees.

  12. Vireya said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 4:09 pm

    I think it is possibly a bad editing break, and she actually made a comment about him sitting on two chairs. When they added in the estimate of about 330 pounds, they took out the chairs comment, but a bit clumsily.

  13. Hrayr said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    I agree with mollymooly, in that 'two chairs = fat' for airlines. The connection seems natural and yes humorous for me from "flee the country he's so big he wouldn't get through customs" to "about two chairs" since to flee the country and go through customs requires flying in the case of NZ. And in the context of having to fly, the person is so big he needs two chairs.

  14. Patrick Daughters said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

    From the context of talking about fleeing and customs, I assumed she was thinking about air travel. So, not exactly a measure of weight so much as girth.

    But I look forward to seeing more New Zealanders' opinions.

  15. Simon Holloway said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

    When she said, "He's about two chairs… here", she indicated her belly. The pause allowed her both effect, and the time taken to move her hand in a manner that conveyed the large convex shape that she was implying. His girth is that of two chairs, which is to say that you would theoretically require two chairs stashed up your shirt if you wished to impersonate him.

  16. Chris Waugh said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 7:34 pm

    I'm also a Kiwi (although lived outside of NZ most of the last 12 years), and I agree with Xmun and Tikitu, she's saying Kim Dotcom is so big he needs two chairs.

  17. Sarah said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 8:30 pm

    In Terry Pratchett's books the Dean of Unseen University is referred to as 'Two Chairs' because of his weight, which may add some context to option (3).

  18. Marinus said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 8:50 pm

    Another confirmation from New Zealand that this is a joke, not a genuine indication of some measure of weight.

  19. Rubrick said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 10:06 pm

    I'm pretty sure it was some sort of mental confusion between the Man With Three Buttocks and Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson.

  20. Nick said,

    January 28, 2012 @ 10:42 pm

    I think it's important that they're not talking about weight at first, but size. I think that this makes the two chairs = needs two chairs to sit in interpretation the most plausible (and from my reading, quite clear).

  21. AntC said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 1:46 am

    Irrelevant factlet: there was in Christchurch, NZ, before the earthquakes, a restaurant called 'Six Chairs Missing'. I think this was a play in 'two chairs cutting' at a barber's.

    Apart from confirming that units of weight here are not chairs but kay-Jeez (and seldom kilo's, less KILogrammes), I can't throw any further light.

    I would add that staffing levels at news organisations have been filleted over the years. So that there is typically a reasonably professional anchor 'in the studio', and a bunch what seem like undergraduates 'on location'.

    This is not journalism as I knew it in Britain 15 years ago (although I think Murdoch seems to have murdered the 4th Estate there). This is not even informed 'reportage'. The approach seems to be to get somebody/anybody with a microphone to stand close to the action and relay what they see. No understanding, no background, no rehearsal. Apparently it's supposed to engender a feeling of immediacy/actualite. No wonder they're nervous, no wonder thay talk blather.

    (Before the locals 'bag' me for negativism: NZ is a brilliant place to live and play — just don't have big expectations of old-world norms of civilisation. As if this guy's weight has anything to do with the price of fush.)

  22. Bryn said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 5:52 am

    Definitely a joke … but it gave me the impression that she was fumbling to find units – and she described him in terms of the chairs in the studio.

    Perhaps his girth could be described by the "two chairs … here", "here" as in where they were sitting?

    I (a Wellington native) have never heard a NZer talk about someone as being "two chairs" to imply that they'd require two chairs.

  23. AntC said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

    @Bryn re the fumbling for units

    Remember Ms Ball was talking to a US station. She probably knows they wouldn't understand kay-jeez, but she's too young to know about pounds weight. (NZ went metric in the early '70's.)
    I'm trying not to personalise all this to Ms Ball's idiolect ("play the ball(!), not the man/woman" is a typical NZ imprecation – weird for a country whose main code is rugby).

    My earlier comments about her (and in the DRESS raising thread) were based purely on using my ears. But here's a wee bio: http://www.agendatv.co.nz/Site/agenda/show/about.aspx
    Only my talk of "undergraduate" was gratuitous.

  24. Andy Averill said,

    January 29, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

    Clearly a reference to EM Forster's essay "Two Cheers for Democracy"…

  25. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 30, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    There isn't to my ear any strange vowel pronunciation there.

    I once sat next to a guy like that in economy class all the way from Zurich to LA – 11 hours – and I think anyone who's had that experience will not have any trouble understanding the reference.

    Three (hundred and thirty pounds) comes to about 160 kg, I'd expect NZers to be familiar with both, and from the pictures I'd say it's not too bad a guess.

  26. Gene Callahan said,

    January 30, 2012 @ 10:37 am

    "There isn't to my ear any strange vowel pronunciation there."

    Are you from New Zealand? Because no one else in the English-speaking world sits on "cheers."

  27. Ben Hemmens said,

    January 30, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

    No; I'm not from NZ, but I've known a few people who were and I meant strange from the point of view of a passing knowledge of how they talk. It isn't as strange as the "sucks suck sheep" in the joke, let's put it that way.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment