(Warning: the posting quickly descends into various kinds of vulgar, unsavory slang.)

From Kyle Wohlmut (from Twitter) on Facebook this morning, with the comment “good morning fuckers’:

(#1) A set of three plastic kitchen scoops, in a package designed to hang on a supermarket display hook; note the notch at the top of the package, for slipping over the hook; the back of the package has the name of the item in four languages, from four countries, the countries identified by flags (in tiny, muddy, b&w images), and as you go down the list, the referents of the names — names evidently supplied by some translation software — drift rapidly away from a kitchen scoop and get raunchier and raunchier: ‘scraping, scratching’, figurative ‘son of a bitch’ (literally ‘son of a whore’), figurative ‘fucker’ (referring to a contemptible or stupid person; to any man, to a guy; or to some unspecified object)

With some effort, I have identified the four languages: Chilean Spanish (Chilean is important; Argentinean is different; see below), Italian (raschiatura ‘scraping, scratching’), Brazilian Portuguese (European / Iberian / Peninsular is different — in Brazilian, filho da puta, literally ‘son of a whore, whoreson’, used in slang as an epithet roughly like son of a bitch or motherfucker ‘unpleasant or disliked person’), and, well yes, (widespread) English. The first two flags (Chile and Italy) are a piece of cake, but the third (Brazil) is tricky, and the fourth I can’t identify at all (to my eyes, it’s pretty much a dark gray blob).

This exact image has been passed around on a number of places on the net, making it incipiently memic, but unlike many such images (which are at least in part, inventions, things that might have been, rather than things that actually occurred at some place and time), this one bears every mark of being genuine. It does, however, come without any context, as if it just dropped from the sky, which makes it baffling why the name of the item should appear in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and English.

User-friendly labeling. But of course this turns on the fact that the scoops were being marketed in Chile (in supermarkets in Santiago, rather than four thousand miles away in Mexico City or Los Angeles) and on the fact that the marketers intended, generously and helpfully, to provide labels for their product that these customers would recognize.

Americans are familiar with user-friendly labeling at the macro level, with getting Spanish translations for names (because Latino USA) and frequently French as well (because Canada), but local accommodations are very common. For example, the Silicon Valley YMCA in Palo Alto prints its information signs in several languages, some of which — Vietnamese, Russian — you might not have predicted.

So user-friendly labeling brings us Italian translations in Chile; there’s a significant Italian community there, and a truly gigantic one next door in Argentina. And (Brazilian) Portuguese translations there, for marketing within the economic zone. Plus English translations almost everywhere, Chile included, for international marketing.

However, user-friendly labeling hardly ever extends to supplying alternative labels in other varieties of the language of the supplier. In the US, soft drinks will be marketed under this commercial name but advertised as soda or pop (or coke), without alternative names. (Potato) chips in the US, crisps in the UK, with completely different packaging to go along with the names; a chips package doesn’t tell you about crisps, and a crisps package doesn’t tell you about chips. And so on.

In line with this, the Chilean label doesn’t offer other Spanish names for a kitchen scoop, even when the alternatives (pala, cuchara, perhaps others) are standard in neighboring Spanish-speaking countries (Argentina, in particular). Places where people don’t use cogedor (literally ‘catcher’, from the verb coger ‘to take, catch, grab, pick up’ plus the agentive suffix –dor) for a dustpan, a small shovel, or a kitchen scoop (as they do in Chile and some other parts of the Spanish-speaking world) because in those places (which include Mexico, the US, and Argentina), the verb coger is used as sexual slang ‘to fuck’, so we get cogedor ‘fucker, someone who has sexual intercourse’, and the vulgar usage drives out the innocent tool senses.

Where do fuck-verbs come from? Verbs of physical aggression (conveying ‘chase, hunt, catch, grab, hit, pound, throw’ and the like) and verbs of penetration (conveying ‘pierce, stab, prick, lance’ and the like) are always candidates for creative metaphorical usage as nonce fuck-verbs. Some of them catch on and become conventional verbs for this purpose; these will be all over the map in register, style, polarity of affect, taboo level, association with particular social groups, and so on. Each verb has its own story, and the stories shift over time.

There’s an enormous amount of randomness in these processes. Spanish coger (and its derivative noun cogedor) went sexual (and got dirty) some places (Argentina) and not others (Chile); then it spread along paths of social association.

Extensions: desexualization and amelioration. At the moment, it looks like Argentinean cogedor ‘fucker’ is both sexual and (mildly) taboo. But it could follow the path of English fucker and pick up non-sexual and non-pejorative uses. On the noun fucker in GDoS:

1 one who has sexual intercourse [1st cite 1598] … 3 a general term of abuse, e.g. You stupid fucker! [1st cites in mid-19th century] … 6 a man, a fellow, with no particular abuse intended and even some degree of affection [1st cite 1927; 1959 Colin MacIness, Absolute Beginners: It struck me so hard how absolutely lonely the poor f–cker was] 7 an unspecified object, irrespectve of its qualities; an animal [1st cite 1945]

I took Kyle Wohlmut’s header “good morning fuckers” (addressed to us readers) for the image in #1 to be an instance of sense 6, but he might have intended sense 3, or even sense 1. Or he might just have been floating them all at once. On the other hand, the following comment on Facebook:

Me, every day in the kitchen: “Where the fuck are those little fuckers?”

is a straightforward example of GDoS sense 7.

Background: the physical objects in #1. The image in #1 isn’t great, so here, from the Table & Kitchen (“los especialistas en menaje”) site, a set of three plastic kitchen scoops (which might actually be the ones in #1):


In #1, they’re in a package designed to hang on a supermarket display hook; note the notch at the top of the package, for slipping over the hook. Such packages, in just such displays, are found in supermarkets all over the world (I find this a remarkable fact). (I would have shown you a big supermarket display of housewares in such packages, but all the photos I could find required a fee for use.) Here’s another package with plastic kitchen scoops, on sale locally (here on the SF Peninsula) from Rite Aid Pharmacy via Instacart:


Flag Day for cogedores. The truly easy flags to identify are the first, Chile’s, a handsome blue, white, and red number:


And the second, Italy’s familiar green, white, and red (which I think of as Italian food colors):


But then the third, which should have been Brazil’s flag, except that I know that the Brazilian flag (#6 below) looks nothing like the third flag image in #1, which has one solid five-pointed star in the center of a single-color background, no stripes or bars:


There are, in fact, only two national flags that satisfy my description above: Somalia (white star on a light blue background) and Vietnam (yellow star on a red background). The first is very pretty, the second quite arresting, but neither resembles the third flag in #1.

It then occurred to me to abandon national flags and just go for flags historically associated with Brazil. Bingo! Snagged the fucker!

What’s in #1 is a highly stylized rendition of the Brazilian presidential standard (used since 1902, with small variations over time). The current version:


This is basically a yellow star on a green background, with a bunch of secondary details that are fun to find (on artistic grounds, though, I’d do away with the text).

One Response to “cogedores”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Clicking on the image and looking closely at the blown-up result suggests that the fourth flag is the Union Jack (UK).

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