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The Many Meanings of Chips Funga


[This is a guest post from Big Show Africa correspondent Anders Kelto]

It’s 2 am in downtown Nairobi, Kenya. Wendy Kimani is doing what a lot of young people here do around this time—standing outside a night club, holding a bag of French fries. You can see the grease soaking through.

“It tastes like heaven,” says Wendy. “Greasy as hell. And we like it that way.”

French fries to go—or chips funga as they’re called here—are the late-night snack of choice in Nairobi. But recently, chips funga has taken on a whole new meaning.

“It’s basically taking a lady home who you don’t know,” says singer Anto Neosoul. “You met her for the first time, and you take her home for a one-night stand.”

Neosoul is a rising star on the Kenyan music scene. His song, ‘Chips Funga,’ has been riding high on the airwaves here for more than a year.


Neosoul says when he first heard the term chips funga he immediately got it. He says young Kenyans are constantly inventing new slang terms—in English, Swahili, and tribal languages.

The phrase chips funga started popping up on Facebook and Twitter about two years ago, says Harriet Ocharo, a 25-year-old technology writer. So she decided to blog about it. She asked readers about the “etiquette” of a chips funga. The comments started pouring in.

“No sleeping over,” was one comment. “No phone calls before 9 pm, like, there’s nothing to talk about during the day, so you only call for the hook-up in the evening.”

“No emotional discussions. All gifts are accepted; money is always good. No baby talk.”

Ocharo says, at first, it was mostly men who used the term. But now, women use it too. They’ve even come up with a spin-off: sausage funga. You can probably figure out what that one means. Ocharo says women’s use of these slang terms is a sign of the times in Nairobi, where women no longer feel bound by traditional gender roles.

“Nairobi is a very free town,” says Ocharo. “No one judges a woman if she chips fungas a guy or the other way around. I think it’s a good sign.”

There’s even an online dating site called Chips Funga.

But singer Anto Neosoul says he sometimes worries that young people in Kenya are chips funga-ing too much. And they’re putting themselves in dangerous situations.

“We might contract HIV and AIDS,” says Neosoul. “We might contract STDs and STIs, we might get pregnant.”

Anto even worries that the term makes people want to chips funga – because it sounds funny and lighthearted. So he wanted his song to send a message: that it isn’t necessarily good to be a chips funga. The third verse, which he sings in Swahili, does just that.

“If I put it in English,” says Neosoul, “it would basically be, ‘Put on some ketchup, put on some mayonnaise, put on some salad, you’ve just been served. So, you’ve had a one-night stand, and that’s what you are. You’re chips. You’re French fries. You’re vegetables. And you’ve made yourself cheap, like chips.’”

That’s the message Anto wants people to hear. But it may be the opposite message that has them singing along.

Watch a 15-minute documentary of the chips funga phenomenon here.




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Inventing a Word for a Facebook Relationship

Whichever language any of us speak, we have rarely shied away from coming up with new words. Now of course, unnamed new things surround us every day—especially new things on the internet. We forget that only in the recent past, we have had to come up with words like email, podcast, blog, crowdsourcing, tweet, the cloud and countless more.

Most of these words (for the time being) originate in English, and migrate to other languages. Some languages go with two words: their adaptation of the English word, and something made up in their own language. Chinese, for example, has a couple of ways of expressing email: 伊 妹儿 (yimeir, which sounds a bits like email) and 电子 邮 件 (dianzi youjian: electronic mail, often shortened to 电邮: dianyou).

When it comes to naming the as yet unnamed, social networking sites are fantastically helpful. My colleague at The Big Show, Jonathan Dyer, used Facebook to great effect when he posted this request:

“Is there a word for someone you have never met yet you share dozens of friends in common and they like or comment on just about everything your FB friends post? If not, will someone invent one so that I know how to refer to <name withheld> when/if I ever meet him?”

Here’s what he got back:

Perifriends

Pre-friend

Viral acquaintance

Virtual friend potential or possible electronic frenemy

Franger

E-quaintance

Strend

Friends once removed

Pseudofriends

Digifriends

Half-lifes

Visiblings

Friendeavours

Friendvilles

Friends-once-removed

Second-friends

Secondhands

Seconnections

The Uninvited

Friendlings

2nd-degreers

Beyonders

Outsidekicks

Plus-twos

Members of my unnetwork

Twoodles

Stalkwards

Collabores

Commentals

Michele Bachmann

Facebrat

Jonathan’s favorite, though, was Facequaintance.

Also in the pod this week:

  • The Iran-based translator of Firoozeh Dumas’ “Funny in Farsi” has vanished, probably arrested.
  • Debunking myths about the Chinese language and things Chinese leaders are believed to have said.
  • Multilingual Angolan singer Lulendo.

Listen via iTunes or here.


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Twanging with Lynne Murphy aka Lynneguist

A conversation with University of Sussex linguist Lynne Murphy. An American in Britain, Murphy maintains the Separated by a Common Language blog, where she goes by the moniker Lynneguist.

Murphy’s accent is soft, but that doesn’t stop Brits from mocking it and labeling it twangy. If she has a twang, then the guitarist in the painting is Dolly Parton.

Among the many observations noted in her blog, Murphy has seen British English lose some of its status among Americans. We talk about that, along with the changing accent patterns in Britain surrounding social class, and pronunciation of the word water.

Listen via iTunes or here.

Photos: Wikicommons


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What’s Assyrian for Canuck?

After a global effort lasting nearly a century, the University of Chicago is publishing an Assyrian dictionary. We hear from one scholar at the British Museum who dedicated three years of his career to the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary Project.  In the scheme of this endeavor, three years isn’t especially long: the project began in in 1921. It is 21 volumes long.

Why spend so much time on a “dead” language? Because this was the world’s first written language, according to most experts. The cuneiform script — used first for the Sumerian language, and then to write Assyrian and Babylonian — inspired  that better-known ancient writing system, hieroglyphics.

The raw material for this dictionary was text written on Mesopotamian clay and stone tablets. There were legal and medical documents, love letters, epic poems, the lot. There is now hope that ancient history will now be rewritten, giving pride of place to Mesopotamian culture. Egpytians, Greeks, Romans: your time is up.

Also in the pod this week, Donald Keene’s love affair with Japanese has culminated with his move from New York to Tokyo at the age of 89. Keene recently stopped teaching at Columbia. His retirement received far more coverage in Japan than in his native United States. He learned Japanese in the 1930s, then honed his skills interrogating captured Japanese troops during World War Two. In New York, he leaves behind him a Japanese cultural center named after him.

The pod features two other items:  France prohibits broadcasters from saying Facebook or Twitter on the air. And is the word Canuck offensive? Not to most Canadians, says Vancouverite (and Vancouver Canucks fan) Andrea Crossan. However, the delighfully cheesy song Andrea  dredged up to make this point may offend even if  Canuck does not.

Listen via iTunes or here.

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Globish, health care, and a Facebook misunderstanding

This week, the case for and against Globish. A group of writers and artists debate the proposition that a simplified version of English is uniquely equipped to take over the world. That argument is made by Robert McCrum in his new book, Globish. (The term globish was popularized by Jean-Paul Nerrière to mean an emerging and simplified form of English used by non-native English speakers). McCrum believes that English is the ultimate open-source language: it welcomes, absorbs and adapts foreign words like no other language. What’s more, its grammar is relatively simple, which makes it more suited to universality than, say, Russian or Arabic. Wait a moment…Russian and Arabic, as complex as they are, are spoken across dozens of borders. In any case, perhaps it’s all that global travel that has turned English into a grammatically simpler language. This point, and many others, come from John McWhorter‘s New Republic critique of Robert McCrum’s assumptions. Read other reviews of Globish here, here , here and here. (I could link on and on; the man clearly has a magnificent publicist).

Also, now that millions more Americans have health insurance, clinics and hospitals are under pressure to make their services more accessible to non-English speakers. The pod has a report from Kansas City.

Then, a quick update on World Cup TV viewing habits in the United States with Brad Adgate of Horizon Media. If you think that only Spanish speakers watched Univision, and only English speakers watched ABC and ESPN, think again.

Finally, a conversation with Gregory Levey, whose book Shut Up, I’m Talking has more Facebook fans than Bill Clinton. Gregory has concluded that these are fans not of his book, but of the expression shut up, I’m talking. He’s trying to figure out how — or even whether — to address these followers. It’s the curse of having come up with a catchy, slightly obnoxious book title. In our interview, I suggest to Gregory that for a future book, he might consider the title I Hate When One String of my Hoodie Becomes Longer Than the Other. That title would come with more than 1.5 million Facebook fans, even before publication.  Our original, 2008 interview with Gregory Levey, about his adventures writing speeches for the Israeli government is in two parts, here and here.

Listen to the podcast  in iTunes or here.

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