Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Paraguay es en Sudamerica

One serious drawback to being a textual scholar is that I find it hard to see text anywhere without some part of my mind analyzing it. Yes, unfortunately this includes restroom graffiti.

On a wall in my building, some scribe decided to immortalize the sentence "Paraguay es en Sudamerica" (accent inexplicably on the first "a" in "Sudamerica") for the viewing pleasure of our local defecators.

So, the question is ... why? The urge to use writing implements in the stall aside, why this sentence? Given the mis-placed accent mark, the person is unlikely to be actually from Paraguay, so nationalistic pride is an unlikely motivator. Was someone sitting there thinking, You know, I'd wish I were giving a geography lecture right now. I understand the "For a good time call" style of graffiti, but this is an enigma.

But the saga continues. Someone else read this and changed it to "Paraguay is in Sudamerica." Again, I find this change a mystery. Perhaps this is someone with an irrational hatred of Spanish ... why then not also change "Sudamerica?" Maybe they hate words that begin with the letter "E?"

The next change that followed was someone scribbling the words "is gay" over the latter half of the sentence, making "Paraguay is gay." Uh, what exactly does this mean? The previous manifestations of graffiti were odd and seemed to be without logical motive, but this sentence seems completely nonesensical. Does this mean that every person is the country is gay? Or perhaps males of the national bird of Paraguay, the bare-throated bellbird, feel attracted to other male birds? Or perhaps this meaning of the word "gay" simply means something bad, or undesirable ... why would someone in Troy, Alabama have a deep and abiding hatred of Paraguay?

This is followed by something scratched into the wall -- apparently, one of our interlocuters had no pen. The next phrase, with an arrow pointing to the "Paraguay is gay" reads, "You wish fag." So, apparently, the scratcher read the above and assumed it meant something about homosexuality (rather than general undesirability) ... and they imagined that some gay man previously sat in the stall wishing that the entire country of Paraguay were gay. I find it trouble to follow the imagination of this person: Well, look at that. Some fag was sitting here trying to think of what entire countries he wishes were gay, and he chose Paraguay. Well, I'm not gonna take that! I'm gonna strike a blow in defense of Paraguay's honor! Lemme just scratch, "You wish fag" here ... that'll show him!

Apparently, the most recent person to combine scatology and geography didn't care for that description of Paraguay as gay, because they squeezed in the letter "r" so that the sentence now reads, "Paraguay is gray," suggesting, I suppose, that many people in Paraguay are eligible for Social Security.

So, what has textual scholarship taught me? It has taught me that Paraguay is a country of geriatric homosexuals in Sudamerica. Perhaps that should be their new tourism slogan: Come to Paraguay, land of gray gays en Sudamerica!

And this is why it is sometimes a very bad thing to be a textual scholar.


  1. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Well, at least it has provided you with a saga more interesting to read and analyze in the bathroom than what's happening with Angelina Jolie's baby.

  2. A further point is that the original is in bad Spanish (aside from the accent mark): to say something is in a location, you use the verb estar, so it would be "Paraguay está en Sudamérica." (I personally would say "en América del Sur," but the other's OK too.)

    --language hat

  3. Anonymous1:48 PM

    Dear Dr. Scott Nokes:

    Your notes about Paraguay surprised me. I live in Paraguay since 1990 (actually, I'm argentinian) and I find that your explications are out of order. Let me invite you to this kind and warm country and feel yourself our anti-american spirit. But be ware, in South America we don't want any more ignorant and stupid rednecks go wants to rule the world, as your president Bush.

    Yours sincerely


  4. Dear Dr. I found your reflections funny. I am paraguayan and just wanted to explain to you the riddle of your graffity. When someone writes Paraguay es en Sudamerica in the local jargon that would be something close to the English sentence Paraguay rules in South America. By the way just a suggestion for your scientific work: dont waste so much time speculating when u can easily get the answers to your questions going to the sources. Cheers.

  5. Another point: the person who wrote the first graffity is very likely to be a paraguayan since most people here have serious problems locating accents in spanish properly. The reason for this is that we are a bilingual country and everyone in Paraguay mixes Spanish and Guarani on writing or speaking.

  6. Anonymous10:15 PM

    obviously the doc was not aware the half of the paraguayan population is under 34 years old.. which makes for about two and half millions, nearly three millions of young, beautiful, vibrant, openminded, friendly and lovely people. He probably hang out in the old local gay bars only... which can be a window of old queers, and they are all right, but in fact, most of young people don't care about other's sexuality and if they do.. is because they want sex.