"Mama ŠČ!"

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Among the entries in the  2023 Eurovision Song Contest,  there's one of particular linguistic and political interest — from Croatia, Let 3's Mama ŠČ!:

[The video of the song's final Eurovision performance is blocked (at least for now) in the U.S. … but there seems to be a version of it here…]

The Croatian lyrics and an English translation are available on genius.com, and the annotation for the English translations explains (among other things) that

Mama is a key word in the song as it references a national personification of Russia as a mother.

For his 70th birthday in 2022, Vladimir Putin got a Tractor from his Belarusian ally, Alexander Lukashenko.

“šč” is read as: /ʃ/ as in the word “shop” and /ʧ/ as in the word “change”
When asked “how will english speaking people pronounce it” their answer was “we adapted throughout our history to some things, let them adapt to it a little. They will learn.”

The song's Wikipedia entry tells us that

In interviews with Jutarnji list, the band reported that the song title is a reference to the Russian letter Shcha (Щ). The song, according to the band, is an anti-war song; in the interview, the band reported that after total Armageddon has been waged on Earth, a rocket would land on Earth, containing the letters "ŠČ". In other interviews, the band has also claimed that "ŠČ" could also mean the sound someone makes when somebody orgasms, a blood type, or a sound someone makes when they are meditating.

In further interviews with the Croatian newsite Pressing, the band claimed that the song was a metaphor for the Russian Federation. The band claims that in the song, they mock dictators for being "childish", with an emphasis on the Russian president Vladimir Putin and his decision to launch the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to Hrvoje Cvijanović, the "tractor", which is mentioned numerous times in the song, is symbolism for the Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko, who has aided Russia in the invasion, including by gifting a tractor to Putin for his 70th birthday.[7] The song criticizes both leaders, calling them "psychopaths", although rather allusively, since performers are precluded from promoting political messages on the Eurovision Song Contest.

Wiwibloggs amplifies:

And what about the repetitive “ŠČ”? Well it’s just two letters from the Croatian alphabet and it has no meaning.

Damir Matrinovic — who goes by Mrle — gave N1 a non-sensical answer when they asked for the meaning.

“5000 years older than the first alphabet found, it is the oldest letter,” he said. “Now we will send our alphabet from Dora into orbit by spaceship. When Armageddon on Earth subsides, the rocket will return and bring the first alphabet again.”

According to the band's Eurovision page,

This established and much-loved group have released 10 albums, one of which, Nečuveno (Unheard), quickly sold out despite the record being completely blank.

Their Wikipedia page notes that there were only 350 copies to sell, and just one (not offered for sale) of their next album:

In 1997, the band released their fifth album, titled Nečuveno (translated as 'Outrageous' or 'Unheard-of'). It was distributed as a CD, but it had nothing recorded on it. Nonetheless, 350 copies of the album were sold. Just one copy of their follow-up, Jedina (transl. 'The only one'), was initially made; the band refused to sell or distribute it. The record company eventually released the album in slightly different versions. As a protest, the band staged a (fake) suicide by firing squad on Ban Jelačić Square in Zagreb.

Wikipedia also describes some performance techniques not presented to the Eurovision audience:

In December 2006, the band was sanctioned by police after performing naked at an open-air concert in Varaždin. The band's defence that they had not been naked because they had corks in their anuses did not convince the judge; the court found them guilty and fined each member kn 350 (€47.78). On 14 December 2008, the live afternoon talk show Nedjeljom u dva was cut short by the host after two of the band members simulated the ejection of a cork from their rectums.


  1. Jerry Packard said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 11:04 am

    I always liked the Russian Cyrillic letter Щ as in the word ‘borscht’ борщ because it represents such a complex series of sounds, at least to the English-speaking ear.

  2. Tom Dawkes said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 11:25 am

    But we have “pushchair”!

  3. Laura Morland said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 12:16 pm

    I just watched the video (no problem here in France), my jaw dropping with astonishment the entire time. How to describe it? Queen meets The Village People IN DRAG accompanied by pyrotechnics unimaginable by either band.

    The comments are worth a read: e.g., "I voted for Croatia from Ukraine. All our family sended sms for this charismatic group. Ukrainians understood your message and thank you for your support. Together we are strong !!!"

    "As a Croat i want to thank everyone that voted for them, it is unfortunate that juries did not realise the message of this song but the international public did and it is the only thing that matters. See you next year and ŠČ❤"

    "You can hear the whole crowd [in Liverpool] go ŠČ! Amazing! Greetings from Croatia❤️❤️❤️"

  4. John F said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 3:32 pm

    Very similar to ש

    A Eurovision shibboleth?

  5. cameron said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 8:56 pm

    I remember distinctly the first time I heard a native Russian speaker pronounce the name Nietzsche. the series of consonants was so vivid

  6. xakerman said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 12:50 am

    curious indeed.
    because Russians see this song totally from another side:

    tractor – reminding for a ukrainian rocket that hit a tractor in poland

    this small pycho – much more reminds of Zelensky, because of his height and addictions

    and a real clue – Krokodilski psihopat, crocodiles are green (zeleny in slavic languages)

  7. languagehat said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 9:21 am

    Russians no longer pronounce the letter as /ʃʧ/ — it is simply an extra-long /ʃ/.

  8. Jay Sekora said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 11:10 am

    Russians no longer pronounce the letter as /ʃʧ/ — it is simply an extra-long /ʃ/.

    Or more precisely, /ɕː/. It is, however, still /ʃʧ/ in Ukrainian (and /ʃt/ in Bulgarian).

  9. cliff arroyo said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 2:07 am


    Impressive copesmanship. It would be wonderful to see russian creativity channeled into more constructive endeavors than imperialism and ethnocide….

  10. xak said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 6:42 am

    @cliffarroyo, are you serious, man?
    we just fighing nazis again, those, that was raised by US gov-t in ukraine, after we, by mistake, let it be separate.

    I don't know what they tell you, but ukrainian and russian people is a one ethnos. I am half ukrainian myself. We just cleaning shits that US dumped there. Those who tried to deny and forbid russian language.

    Shame for Europe, actually, someday they will understand what US did to them. But now they still scared shitless.

  11. Philip Anderson said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 7:12 am

    The USSR was often mocked for celebrating the success of its tractor factories (while its agriculture declined), and Lukashenko seems to have retained that old Russian tradition. But I wonder if there was also an allusion to the Ukrainian tractors that pulled abandoned Russian tanks out of the mud in the first weeks of the invasion?

  12. xak said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 7:23 am

    >> was also an allusion to the Ukrainian tractors

    Actually I really doublt it. "Krokodilsky" and "zelensky" sounds quite close for a slavic ears, that is hard to understand for others

    My translation of song?
    Mama bought a tractor – mother Russia gave Ukraine a chance to separate and be free after USSR splitted.
    Mama loved a moron – russian liked Zelensky while he was an actor and an comic.
    Than moron wanted to play and we havе an armageddon.

    Also words in verse smartly chosen so it can be understood by any slavic language user. It's real fun watching ppl trying to prove that song is about Putin.

  13. A. Barmazel said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 8:23 am

    >> Russians no longer pronounce the letter as /ʃʧ/ — it is simply an extra-long /ʃ/.

    > Or more precisely, /ɕː/.

    Even more precisely, it's /ɕ/; in some dialects, it may be lengthened intervocalically; but in other environments, it stays short.

    It is, however, very distinct from /ʃ/; a minimal pair is чаша /tɕaʃa/ "bowl" vs. чаща /tɕaɕ(ː)a/ "thicket"

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 11:11 am

    It's at least modestly interesting that Щ is one of the Cyrillic glyphs that is omitted from the standard Cyrillic alphabet that was used for the Former Yugoslav Language of Serbo-Croatian and remains in use for certain of its successor topolects, which I daresay a fair number of Croats of a certain age can still read even if it might be impolitic for them to admit that. I assume the omission was because the phonotactics of Serbo-Croatian did not make it useful because the Š sound and the Č sound rarely occurred adjacent to each other, but maybe the story is more complicated than that and/or things have shifted since that alphabet got standardized in the early 19th century?

    I am amused to learn, by the way, that the Montenegrins have recently added to their own Cyrillic alphabet (maybe trying to differentiate themselves from the Serbs with petty orthographic gestures?) a glyph that looks essentially identical to the Latin-FYLOSC Ć but is pronounced like the Latin-FYLOSC Ś and is rendered thus when Montenegrin is transliterated from Cyrillic to Latin script.

  15. streetmentioner said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 6:51 am


    Which is more likely:

    a) A leftist Croatian band wrote a song critical of Zelensky and fooled everyone by *literally explaining that the song is about Putin* and displaying a decapitated Putin in their promo materials

    b) You are astoundingly high on your own motivated reasoning


  16. xak said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 5:55 pm

    @streetmentioner yep, I read it already.
    My thoughts? they are fucking scared to say clearly that Zelensky is a psycho.

    Europe, being constantly pushed by US, keeps sending weapons and praise Zelensky,
    although most of europeans already see his Hitlerian ambitions,
    and Russia is just getting stronger and stronger, as always in crisis times.
    We actually live now better here than before that "sanctions" lol. And Putin's credibility here is highest of all his time ruling.

    So Let3 can say in their interviews anything, facts is all that matters.

  17. xak said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 6:03 pm

    @streetmentioner , they know perfectly well that they will not be allowed to publicly denigrate Zelensky, so we have this anti-militarist song with hidden clues about what it really is about

  18. xak said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 6:07 pm

    offtopic: is "denigrate" offensive word now? I heard white US ppl are not allowed now to say anything related to negroes.

  19. Philip Anderson said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 1:32 am

    As a European, I can assure you (and American readers) that Europeans are very supportive of Ukraine (probably more so than some Americans) – witness the Ukrainian colours everywhere – and despise Putin. Even before the invasion, he was blamed for murdering opponents overseas and imprisoning critics.
    Facts: Russia has invaded Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine; Ukraine has invaded nowhere.

  20. xak said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 1:59 am

    Philip Anderson,
    >>Ukraine has invaded nowhere
    That's a mistake, they tried to wipe russian-speaking population on their own territory (Donetsk, Lugansk, etc), so they split its own people and invaded "unwanted" part of it.

    They also tried to forbid our language, more than 2/3 of Ukrainian people speaks russian as native. This is not something we forget.

    I live on Russian Far East, it's closer to Japan then to Europe, and ukrainian refugees are everywhere here, they are part of our people, no one dare to say to them that they are alien here.

    Please understand this – no matter how bad Putin is –
    Zelensky is much, much worse.

  21. xak said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 2:10 am

    >>(probably more so than some Americans)

    heh, no american give a single fuck about what's happening on other continents,
    they have a plenty of their own problems, starting with deteriorating infrastructure,
    and ending with half-dead president and gerontocracy in their government.

  22. xak said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 2:46 am

    and one more about Crimea…
    30 years ago I went to visit my grandmother in Crimea. Beautiful place. Actually it was never ukrainian, it's an autonomous republic. And it's too important as a strategic point to just give it to some psycho. You can call it invasion or just comeback, no matter – Crimea is russian and it will be.

    And what happened in Georgia?

  23. cliff arroyo said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 3:51 pm

    "they tried to wipe russian-speaking population on their own territory"

    Best refutation of that…. untruth (corroborated by Ukrainians I know).


    "we just fighing nazis again"

    For countries that share a border with russia…. the nazis aren't in Ukraine but in Moskva (the city not the submarine).

  24. xak said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 9:53 pm

    soo…. what does THIS mean then?

    "Zelensky published a photo of a Ukrainian military with Nazi symbols"

  25. xak said,

    May 18, 2023 @ 10:42 pm


    trying to deny the obvious – is doublethink,
    oh, those orwellian times…

  26. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 19, 2023 @ 10:53 am

    Xak, the page to which you link in your comment claiming that "Zelensky published a photo of a Ukrainian military with Nazi symbols" credits the photograph to "Телеграм-канал«Zelenskiy / Official»" (= 'Telegram channel "Zelenskiy / Official"'); the Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, credits it to "AP Photo/Libkos". There is therefore doubt that Volodimir Zelensky published the image at all, and even having looked at it very closely, a colleague and I can see no evidence of any Nazi symbols whatsoever …

  27. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    May 19, 2023 @ 2:56 pm

    Can we please stop feeding this obnoxious troll?

    BTW, I've had comments moderated for no apparent reason, and this repulsive thing spews obscenities, slurs and propaganda and nothing? The comments policy is getting increasingly puzzling on here.

  28. Taylor, Philip said,

    May 19, 2023 @ 3:55 pm

    I believe that the moderators are correct in allowing Xak to comment here as he sees fit — is not freedom of speech the most fundamental of all human rights ? I do not believe that we who are responding to his comments are "feeding" him at all — rather, we are pointing out the many errors in the claims that he makes, and thereby ensuring that the true facts are reported here rather than Xak's very one-sided claims and assertions.

  29. xak said,

    May 19, 2023 @ 10:28 pm

    sorry guys, lol, I just thought someone can hear me.

    That's a language log, so I pointed to a language fact – topic song intentionally made
    so that only slavic language people can make a link from Krokodilsky to Zelensky.
    It even can just be transliterated to grammatically correct Russian.
    Оный малый – психопат
    Малый – подлый психопат

    Зеленый крокодил, ёпта

  30. xak said,

    May 19, 2023 @ 11:26 pm

    about ŠČ:
    how they pronounce it is not really similar to letter Щ, in russian this spelled as
    Щя (Shchya) that is short version of Сейчас – meaning "soon".

    and a funny one:
    Mama, idem u rat (we go to war) sound as идём врать (we go to lie)

  31. A. Barmazel said,

    May 21, 2023 @ 1:47 am

    @J.W. Brewer:

    > I assume the omission was because the phonotactics of Serbo-Croatian did not make it useful because the Š sound and the Č sound rarely occurred adjacent to each other, but maybe the story is more complicated than that and/or things have shifted since that alphabet got standardized in the early 19th century?

    It's much more straightforward than that: when Vuk Karadžić was creating the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in the early 19th century, he wanted to get rid of any and all ligatures, aiming for one-to-one letter-to-phoneme correspondence. Ѣ (for je) and Ю (for ju) had the same fate as Щ; nothing to do with their co-occurrence frequency. The Croatian Latin alphabet was created shortly afterwards, and had the same one-to-one correspondence.

    Щ has interesting stories with many twists, certainly worth a Language Log post of its own; such a pity to see a discussion of Щ derailed into a political flame-war :-(

  32. Michael Watts said,

    June 3, 2023 @ 6:24 pm

    Russia has invaded Georgia, Crimea and Ukraine

    Russia did invade Georgia in 1921. The conflict in 2008 involved Georgia invading Russia, not the other way around.

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