"Ustam" + "k" = 10 months in jail

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In Turkey, outspoken newspaper columnist Önder Aytaç has received a 10-month jail sentence over an errant "k" on Twitter.

Here is how the situation is explained in Zeynep Tufekci's widely cited Medium post:

Meet “k”, the character that got newspaper columnist and academic Önder Aytaç a 10 month jail sentence in Turkey. Aytaç is a columnist for a newspaper affiliated with the Gulenist movement, followers of Fettulah Gulen, the self-exiled cleric who lives in Pennsylvania and was once the AKP government’s closest ally, but now is among its bitterest enemies. The fight between the former allies surfaced over the closing of “private schools,” or “dershaneler,” which the Gulen movement operates in dozens of countries around the world, including the United States. These dershaneler are crucial to the movement as they are the source of both recruits and money. The Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdogan, announced in late 2013 that he would be shutting them down.

During the bitter fight, Onder Aytaç tweeted this:

The tweet referring to the private schools says: “CLOSE THEM DOWN MY CHIEF :-)”, using the word “ustam” which means “my chief” or “my master,” and is a common nickname for Erdogan among his supporters. Aytaç added a letter, “k” to the word which transforms the end portion of the word to an off-color abbreviation, in effect writing “eff off.” [Or, as Ali Ates suggested on Twitter, it was like saying “my chiefffs”—adding a ffs at the end]. Erdogan sued under Turkey’s restrictive defamation laws which make it a crime to insult “public officials during the course of their job.”

Vice News is a bit more specific with the translation from Turkish, and also identifies a second tweet using the same off-color wordplay:

In a tweet posted on September 20, 2012, Aytac posted a link to his opinion piece that attacked an education program backed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said: “Close the prep schools, if you will, my master”.

The word “ustam” means “my chief” or "my master” in Turkish, a common way to refer to Erdogan. The rogue “k” inserted on the end, however, turned it into a phrase which literally translates as "fuck your pussy" but is used by Turks in a manner roughly synonymous to “fuck you.”

Aytaç claimed that the extra "k" was merely a typo, but the fact that he added the letter in two separate tweets would seem to undermine that explanation. In any case, can any Turkish speakers enlighten us with a more detailed analysis of the pun in question (ustamustamk)?

Update: The tweet from Ali Ates quoted by Zeynep Tufekci above helps out a bit:

(For those who don't know, "FFS" is an abbreviation for "for fuck's sake.") So by adding the "k" to ustam, it creates the letter sequence amk. That, according to some online forums, is used as an abbreviation for amına koyayım, which matches the Vice News gloss of "fuck your pussy."


  1. Levantine said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

    In terms of its level of offensiveness, "am" is actually better translated as "cunt".

  2. Zubon said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

    As for plausible excuses, "I don't watch for typos much on Twitter" must rank very high, especially with the M and K keys next to each other. It's not hard to imagine that someone who types "ustam" as "USTAAAAAAMMMMMM" may not be the most careful typist.

    As for doing so twice: I have typoed "the" at least 15 times today in various ways, and I hope I fixed them all.

  3. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    Is it unremarkable in the Turkish context for a newspaper columnist to put "(PhD)" with his name in a seemingly-informal context like his twitter presence? In a US context that would be something of a red flag for me (signalling something like "I am both pompous AND insecure about my social status") but I fully accept that this is the sort of thing where different cultures may have different baselines and expectations.

    It would seem like there must be forensic typo experts out there who have built up databases of typos and can tell you just how likely or unlikely it is that a word that should have ended with an m (or a semi-arbitrarily long string of m's, which might be different) would inadvertently acquire an extra k. Patterns obviously might differ by keyboard layout and I suppose might be affected by other factors as well.

  4. John Lawler said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    As George Carlin put it in The Seven Words,
    "Those /k/'s are aggressive consonants".

  5. Levantine said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 6:34 pm

    J. W. Brewer, it's not exactly the same thing, but many scholarly books published in Turkey preface the author's name with "Prof. Dr." or some such. I don't believe I've ever seen this happen in anglophone academic publishing.

    [(myl) This is also common in Germany. And an acquaintance with two doctorates went by "Prof. Dr. Dr. X".]

  6. Levantine said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

    I just managed a typo of my own: I meant "prefix", not "preface".

  7. k-k-klown said,

    May 1, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

    How pathetic. It's like write 'fuck off' somewhere and insist later that you were banned for using letter 'k'.

  8. Victoria Simmons said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 3:09 am

    I finally understand Mr. Erdoğan's hostility to Twitter. Who knows what could happen with all those random k's flying around?!

  9. orin ed deniro said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 5:08 am

    When a friend received his Ph.D. and was about to leave for medical school, the character playing his wife, who had been married before, came on stage in a skit honoring the friend and introduced herself as Mrs. Mrs. Dr. Dr. Smith.

  10. Rod Johnson said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 9:17 am

    (orin ed deniro: That was an interesting mindfuck of a comment, since "the character playing his wife" preceded the information that this was in a skit by enough for my brain to construct an everything-is-fake scenario straight out of Philip K. Dick. And who had was playing the wife, the character or the actor? And who had been been married before, the actor, the character, or the wife? Just… I need more coffee.)

  11. Mark F. said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 9:50 pm

    Of course insulting an official during the course of their job is just the kind of speech that most needs to be protected.

  12. Bloix said,

    May 2, 2014 @ 10:09 pm

    More properly, it would be Herr [or Frau] Prof. Dr. Dr. X.


  13. Brett said,

    May 3, 2014 @ 10:08 am

    The first time I gave a scientific talk at a German institution, the person introducing me jokingly asked if he should introduce me as "Herr Doktor Professor." It was funny, because by virtue of being an American, I was titled a professor, whereas significantly more senior people who would be in the audience had lower-sounding titles. The only other person in the room who could legitimately be called "Herr Doktor Professor" was a Nobel laureate.

  14. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 3, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    Actually, how *did* it come about that Americans call Senior Lecturers "Professor"? And is this American exceptionalism, or are there parallels elsewhere in the world?

  15. Levantine said,

    May 3, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

    David Eddyshaw, you don't even have to be a senior lecturer to be referred to (informally at least) as "professor". In my first teaching position as a lowly postdoc, most of my students called me "professor" without my ever telling them to.

  16. David Eddyshaw said,

    May 4, 2014 @ 8:04 am

    Come to think of it, during a year when I was as lowly a university teacher as it is really possible to be, some of the less acculturated American students would call me "professor." I assumed they were winding me up (several of them were New Yorkers, so this remains my working hypothesis.)

  17. Jeffry House said,

    May 10, 2014 @ 7:30 am

    In Ontario, Canada, teachers at post secondary institutions which provide technical training went on strike. t these institutions, you can learn to be a law clerk, a clothing stylist, or a dental technician, for example. The teachers' strike demands included a 10% salary increase and to be called "professor".

    The administration quickly caved in on the latter demand only.

  18. Tracy said,

    May 12, 2014 @ 3:50 pm

    When I was a first year in college I and many other students initially called all instructors "Professor" because we didn't know graduate students sometimes taught classes. I'm pretty okay with that, since at least for the classes I was in, there was no difference in teaching ability from full professors, as far as I could tell.

  19. Colm Barry said,

    July 1, 2014 @ 8:47 am

    To begin with, Turkey already has some of the severest defamation laws anyways. Many years ago, a girl (a foreign exchange student) was sentenced to jail because she had put a post stamp on a postcard to send home from Turkey but had scribbled a fez onto Ataturk's head. The fez being a religious symbol and Kemal Mustafa being secular, this was seen as a gross insult to Turkey's founder and thus a punishable offense.

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