A funny kantry with cunning linguists

“White c*nt.” With these two words, England flanker Tom Curry ensured South Africans would place work on the backbench for a week in pursuit of a new passion: amateur linguistics.

“White c*nt”, for those of our readers lucky enough still to be living in an unsullied state of ignorance, is the insult that Curry claimed, to the referee, had been flung at him during last weekend’s Rugby World Cup semifinal by Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi.

“What do I do?” Curry could be heard asking referee Ben O’Keefe. “Nothing, please,” replied O’Keefe, thereby confirming his place in history as possibly the Springboks’ favourite ref of all time. But Curry and his team wouldn’t drop it and a complaint was lodged with World Rugby – and this is where the academic hard graft really began for South Africa at large.

Not since Egyptologists were deciphering the Rosetta Stone in the summer of 1822 has so much feverish attention been paid to a few words. First came the ontological line of inquiry: if Mbonambi had indeed called Curry the unmentionable word, could it be defended on epistemological grounds? In layman’s terms: was it true?

The consensus from South Africans, unearthing various pieces of bad behaviour from Curry in the past, was that the insult had some evidentiary weight behind it.

But that was irrelevant, because the second line of defence now pushed to the front. Given the fertile multilingual soil in which the Springbok team was steeped, what were the chances Mbonambi would opt for a stodgy Anglo-Saxon insult? When he had so many spicier South African options at his disposal? P*es. Ms*nu. A smorgasbord of more colourful, linguistically undetectable slurs were at the tip of Bongi’s tongue.

Then came the roiling third wave of Bok defence, which would prove to be the strongest current of them all. What if Curry’s remedial English ears had simply misheard an Afrikaans field directive to the team? Kant. Side. Wit kant. White side. Wyd kant. Wide side. Watter kant? What side? The word “kant” began to be thrown around with a frequency unheard of outside German philosophy seminars. This, surely, was the answer. Any kant would do, be it wit, wyd or watter.

The Springboks started ostentatiously hurling the word around during training sessions in the course of the week. “Watter kant?” Bok management staff member JJ Fredericks was recorded asking Mbonambi. “Die middel kant,” replied Mbonambi. Were they taking the piepie? Who cares? We’re all running with it now. It’s our national alibi now, and we don’t want to hear another word on the vak. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

P1. Front page. 28 October 2023


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