The July 11, 2005 issue of Time in the United States carried an article about the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez (“Tracking Hurricane Hugo”). The first paragraph lacked one word. It said, “Since he became President in 1999, Chávez has publicly, in Spanish, called Bush an a______ who is trying to assassinate him.”
The omitted letters immediately whetted my brain. What word did Time not want to print? I thought of “animal.” That would not be a nice thing to say about the president of the United States. “Assassin” was another possibility, but I figured that Time wouldn’t have hesitated to use that word since they used its derivative verb in the same sentence.
I finally thought that maybe the word was “asshole,” possibly prohibited by Time since I believe it is one of the very few parts of the anatomy that has not been seen in its pages.
I decided to call Brian Ellsworth who, together with Tim Padgett, wrote the article. No, he confirmed, it wasn’t meant to be “animal” nor “assassin.” The “asshole” guess was the correct one. It is also an incorrect translation.
At the end of February 2004, Chávez told thousands of people that President Bush was a “pendejo” if he believed what others were telling him about Venezuela. The word “pendejo” in Venezuela means “a person of whom others are taking advantage.” It is not a compliment, but it is nowhere as insulting as “asshole.” “Asshole” is very strong and Chávez did not use the word.
Patrick Markey and Pascal Fletcher of Reuters news service seem to have been the original sources for this translation and it has traveled the world since then. Mr. Ellsworth defended its usage saying it is now the commonly accepted translation of what Chávez said. But who gave two Reuters’ reporters the right to determine what is the accepted translation for a Spanish word? I could find no one in Venezuelan barrios who recognized it as a correct interpretation for “pendejo.”
I thought possibly in other countries “pendejo” might mean “asshole.” In Mexico last week I asked people about what the word signified to them. “Stupid” and “fool” were common replies–very different meanings than “asshole.”
But on the plane returning to Caracas I started reading The World Is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I was only sixteen pages into the book when I discovered that Reuters is outsourcing many of its news stories to Bangalore, India. Is it possible that “pendejo” means “asshole” there? Did Patrick Markey and Pascal Fletcher of Reuters really exist or could these have been pen names of writers in Bangalore?
Brian Ellsworth sounded like a nice person on the telephone, but he said that he would be out of Venezuela for a while. Is it possible that he, too, is in India at the present moment with some of the other 245,000 Indians who are answering telephones and using pseudonyms? Does Time have people writing their stories there also?
Time, by repeating the inaccuracy of Reuters has to accept responsibility for their action. Misters Ellsworth and Padgett are writing for millions of people about Venezuela. The story was supposedly written from Caracas and a brief check with people here could have helped them clarify the matter before rushing to publication and repeating a serious error.
Even though many in the United States and throughout the world may think President Bush deserves the title that Chávez supposedly used, Chávez did not use it. It is Time major news sources stop saying that he did.