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vete al carajo

The insult used by Hugo Chávez against Alvaro Uribe at lunch during yesterday's CELAC summit meeting (the best chronology of events I've found is in this Clarin report, which has Uribe calling Chávez a coward first) was "vete al carajo", a phrase which is difficult to translate but I suppose the general gravitas equivalent in English is "go to hell".

But the origins of the phrase are interesting. On a ship, "carajo" is Spanish for "bird's nest", the little spot at the top of the tall mast where some sailor sits as look-out. In the days of the tallships, pirates, plundering, conquistadores and all that jazz, one of the punishments used by the ship's captain on a long transatlantic voyage was to send sailors to the bird's nest for an extended period; no water, no food, exposed to direct sunlight etc. Since that time, the punishment order, "Go To The Bird's Nest!" (in Spanish 'vete al carajo') has passed into Spanish slang as a "screw you" type of insult.

Today's Spanish lesson over. Three fingers of rum served. The end.

As for the Chavez/Uribe spat, this Bloomie note is pretty fair and balanced. Here's an excerpt:

Chavez told Uribe to “go to hell” during a closed-door lunch yesterday after the Colombian leader called him “a coward” and told him to “be a man” at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean countries in Cancun, Agence France-Presse said, citing a Colombian diplomat it didn’t identify. Chavez said today that he regrets the “painful” argument.

Mexico President Felipe Calderon announced at the summit that a commission headed by Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez will work to facilitate better ties between the neighboring Andean nations.

While lefties and righties champion their favourites in the fight, the people that really matter (Chávez and Uribe) clearly see how stupid and regrettable it all was. It'd be nice to think that that heated moment might become an ice-breaker and the two guys (who are known to have got on very well in previous years) can find some sort of solution to the current bad blood. Otto the Optimistic signing off.