A book written within and on the backside

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This morning's Get Fuzzy featured a Bulgarian stereotype that seemed slightly, well, random:

Bucky Katt's assumption seems to be that the dress code at a Bulgarian nightclub would be ragged and strange, thus (at least partly) explaining Rob Wilco's pre-torn and pre-soiled shirt.

As it happens, this morning's Stone Soup featured a more familiar Bulgarian stereotype, based on the history that resulted in the name Lactobacillus bulgaricus:

So I thought I would see what other Bulgarian stereotypes might be floating around out there, and as a result, I stumbled on a relevant story from last fall that I somehow missed at the time — "Aliens 'already exist on earth', Bulgarian scientists claim", The Telegraph, 11/26/2009.

Aliens from outer space are already among us on earth, say Bulgarian government scientists who claim they are already in contact with extraterrestrial life.

Work on deciphering a complex set of symbols sent to them is underway, scientists from the country's Space Research Institute said.

They claim aliens are currently answering 30 questions posed to them.

Lachezar Filipov, deputy director of the Space Research Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, confirmed the research.

He said the centre's researchers were analysing 150 crop circles from around the world, which they believe answer the questions.

"Aliens are currently all around us, and are watching us all the time," Mr Filipov told Bulgarian media.

"They are not hostile towards us, rather, they want to help us but we have not grown enough in order to establish direct contact with them."

A few days later, "badmoviefan" at the site abovetopsecret posted a letter said to be from Filipov himself:

This year, I had the opportunity of putting together a team of experts representing various scientific fields and walks of life. We worked together on a project based on the original work on our own Mrs M.Vezneva, a former architect and correspondence member of IAI. Mrs. Vezneva has two published books containing dictionaries of universal symbols language via which she states that pictograms may be interpreted. In her books, she engages in a dialogue regarding global issues with the crop circles “creators”. It is based on the universal symbols language, I.e. Pcychometry and telepathy.

The aim of the “Dialogue 2009” experiment is to carry out a similar dialogue regarding the use of the crop circles but using different participants. We believe that the crop circles are real existing formations from unexplained nature, and that they carry information from alien to us sources. We have already 36 participant replies which we are currently analyzing. Currently, there are facts confirming our initial hypothesis, mentioned above, however we will publish our final thoughts after careful consideration by all team members.

More information about Ms. Vezneva's pictogramology is available on a special website, including a dictionary in which my favorite item is the remarkable entry

“A book written within and on the backside” – the human consciousness and sub-consciousness, the human memory from his past lives; the human brain, “sealed by seven seals”.

Inexplicably, Cybertronian has not yet been added to the ancient writings in Ms. Vezneva's collection.

As a topical hook, Reuters/Ipsos has just released a poll showing that "One in Five (20%) Global Citizens Believe That Alien Beings Have Come" (4/8/2010). National alien belief rates are reported to range from a high of 45% in India to a low of 8% in the Netherlands, with the U.S. (24%) in the middle. Bulgaria isn't listed, but Italy (25%), Russia (21%), Poland (19%), Czech Republic (18%) and Hungary (14%) are.


Those who believe that "alien beings have come to earth and walk amongst us in our communities disguised as us" (20%) are more likely to be men (22%) compared to women (17%), under the age of 35 (25%) compared to those aged 35-54 (16%) and those over the age of 55 (11%) and those more likely to be higher educated (22%) compared to those who are lower or middle educated (19%).

The poll didn't break out national Academy of Science members as a separate category, but perhaps in that case the effects of age neutralize those of sex and education.

[And for lagniappe, this is real science: "Two new alien species of Bidens have been recorded in Bulgaria". The alien Bidens really were found in the Varna railway station, but they turn out not to be among those that Mr. Filipov's group believes are already observing among us on earth.]

[Finally, we need to revisit Roman Jakobson's language-learning method, in which Bulgarian plays a central role.]


  1. The Volokh Conspiracy » Blog Archive » “Two New Alien Species of Bidens Have Been Recorded in Bulgaria” said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:48 am

    […] here for more; thanks to Prof. Mark Liberman for the pointer. Categories: […]

  2. Jon Weinberg said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:56 am

    Another reading is that Bucky Katt believes a Bulgarian nightclub would be the least trendy sort of nightclub around. (French nightclub? Trendy. Swiss nightclub? Trendy. Bulgarian nightclub? Not so much.)

  3. peter said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:57 am

    I am reminded of the possibly-fictional story of the landing of an alien spacecraft on the quad outside the Philosophy Department of a university. After exiting his craft, the alien captain told the Head of the Department he came in peace and would happily answer any two questions the humans wanted to ask. After quickly consulting with his departmental colleagues, the Philosophy Head asked the alien captain the following two questions:

    Q1. What two questions would you ask, if you were in our position?
    Q2. What answers would you give to these two questions?

    The captain of the alien ship answered immediately, with:

    A1. Those two questions.
    A2. These two answers.

  4. theophylact said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 11:03 am

    Am I the only one who remembers the Bulgarian Megabite?

  5. Robert Elliott said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    It's not really entered the realm of the cliché yet, but thanks to a long-forgotten story, (mostly) tech site The Register has taken to referring to breast implants as 'Bulgarian airbags'. At least among those of us who read the reg, that phrase has become part of the vocabulary. A quick search of theregister.co.uk for the word 'bulgarian' reveals 72 stories, at least half of which have some manner of mammary connection.

  6. John Cowan said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    A Bulgarian computational linguist of some note (C sharp, perhaps) once said to me that the biggest surprise for his generation of scholars after 1989 was the deep and intimate connection in the West between science/mathematics and Teh Funny. Evidently Eastern Bloc science had been using a sort of 19th-century German framework that equated the humorous with the trivial, so the further in your profession you went, the less of a funnyman you could afford to be. He particularly mentioned Alice in Wonderland as an exemplar; the Bulgarian translation, he said, was "not nonsense but rubbish".

    Evidently some sectors of the scientific economy haven't caught on. Or perhaps they have caught on all too well to the publicity value of hoaxes.

  7. Sili said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

    I can never remember who to attribute the the quote to, but supposedly some physicist of some renown had an answer to the Fermi Paradox*:

    "Ah, but they're already here. We just call them Hungarians.**"

    *"Where are they [the aliens]?"

    ** In reference the unusual number of highly intelligent scientists from Hungary at the time: John von Neumann, Leo Szilard and so on.

  8. Dan T. said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    There are alien species of the U.S. Vice President?

  9. jimbino said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

    I have problems comprehending "a renaissance fair due to hygiene issues."

  10. Barbara Partee said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    My favorite part of the nice (non-hoax) article about the alien Bidens is the picture of Vladimir Vladimirov's shoe, showing how one of the alien Bidens spreads its seeds. Perfectly serious and appropriate, but it does show a sense of humor.

  11. Amber said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

    I'm not sure about reading a book that has been pulled out of someone's backside. :/

  12. v said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

    Hm, depending on what is meant by a nightclub, well it's pretty much the opposite, in Bulgarian nightclubs you would see one of the most absurdly metrosexual dress codes in the world. Most foreigners who by some misfortune do end up in a typical one looks do look ragged and scruffy in comparison.

  13. v said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

    Hm come to think of it, maybe that's what was meant, how foreigners are usually unprepared and looks shabby in comparison and stand out for that? That's what I would have assumed the comic refered to if not for the commentary here.

  14. jeffrey said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

    I agree with "v" above – that's what I got.
    And here's another language-related Bulgarian item: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQt-h753jHI (a contestant singing in "English" on the Bulgarian Idol show)

  15. Rubrick said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 3:27 pm

    It upsets me that people are so quick to invent Bulgarian stereotypes without ever having visited Bulgary.

  16. Hwat said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

    "It upsets me that people are so quick to invent Bulgarian stereotypes without ever having visited Bulgary."

    Bulgary? Pun intended?

  17. D.O. said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    No list of Bulgarian oddities is complete without Baba Vanga.

  18. Simon Cauchi said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

    Hungarians come from Hungary. Bulgarians come from Bulgary. Stands to reason.

    I don't think the post-vocalic L has yet become quite silent.

  19. Hwat said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 6:33 pm

    Stands to some kind of reason. It was a funny juxtaposition of self-righteous tone about misrepresentation of the country and ignorance of the very name of the country.

  20. Rubrick said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

    It was intended as a joke. Not, however, a pun. Nor a palindrome.

  21. Elizabeth Braun said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:18 pm

    Now, if there's going to be a section on 'literally' and 'figuratively', I think there ought to also be one on 'random'. Do you mean 'random', or do you really mean 'bizarre'??=)

  22. Rosa said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

    Don't know if this is what Bucky Cat was talking about, but there used to be a nightclub in New York called the Bulgarian Culture Club (aka Mehanata) …Gogol Bordello got its start there. People who frequented the club definitely vacillated between the ratty and the metrosexual.

  23. Ray Girvan said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

    Simon Cauchi: Bulgarians come from Bulgary

    The implied connection is true, etymologically.

    bugger, n
    [a. F. bougre:{ L. Bulgarus Bulgarian, a name given to a sect of heretics who came from Bulgaria in the 11th c., afterwards to other ‘heretics’ (to whom abominable practices were ascribed) …
    Oxford English Dictionary

  24. Ray Girvan said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    PS I should have checked Google Books: "Bulgary" turns out to be a genuine archaic usage, as in Orlando Furioso (here).

  25. Nathan said,

    April 11, 2010 @ 10:50 pm

    The only stereotype of Bulgarians to which I've been exposed is that they write computer viruses. But that's somewhat out of date.

  26. peter said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 4:07 am

    Nathan – Bulgaria was the COMECON-designated centre for computer design and manufacture for the enitre Eastern Bloc during the communist era, so the country may well have a disproportionate number of unemployed people with programming expertise.

  27. Adam said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 4:48 am

    Well, all I can say is that those guys at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences sure throw a good conference dinner party!

  28. cameron said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 10:24 am

    With regards to Rosa's comment above: Mehanata still exists. It moved around a couple of times, but it's been on Ludlow street on the Lower East Side for a couple of years now. When I saw the cartoon, I too immediately thought the cartoonist might be making some oblique reference to that particular Bulgarian nightclub.

  29. jc said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    Funny; my stereotype of Bulgarians is that all play the bagpipe. I don't think that idea's out of date …

  30. David Eddyshaw said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 4:33 pm

    @Jon Weinberg:

    Swiss? Trendy? Is it the cuckoo clocks?

    @Dan T.

    Well obviously.

  31. Even Goes Where Only Can’t « Literal-Minded said,

    April 12, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

    […] but you can look for it in the GoComics.com Stone Soup archive (April 11, 2010), or you can read Mark Liberman's post about this strip on Language Log, although he's commenting on it for a different […]

  32. Nathan Myers said,

    April 13, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    jimbino: scan back for "fired".

    The castle in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was placed in Vulgaria.

  33. mollymooly said,

    April 14, 2010 @ 6:11 am

    A hoax official artwork in 2009 depicted the EU's 27 member states via stereotypes. Bulgaria took most offence at its symbol, the squat toilet.

  34. Jennifer said,

    April 16, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

    The Stone Soup strip isn't based on a Bulgarian stereotype, however. Trader Joe's sells an eggplant garlic spread in a glass jar; the label copy claims that is a traditional Bulgarian recipe. The spread really does look … as described. Perhaps the stereotype came earlier in the process?

  35. brotzel said,

    July 29, 2010 @ 8:24 am

    Anynoe remember the "bulgarian unicyclist's jockstrap" in Reggie Perrin?

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