Mujica v Kirchner: it takes an old bag to spot an old hag

Español: La presidenta Cristina Fernández junt...

So which one is in the prime of his or her youth? Cristina Fernández de Kirchener and José Mujica, a man who obviously says it with flowers and flowery language. He’s 77 and she is a mere 60.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a bit of fun this morning telling a Brazilian friend the news that Uruguayan President José Mujica was having to offer his “heartfelt apologies” because he had apparently called his Argentinian counterpart, Christina Fernández de Kirchner, an “old hag“, and the Argentinians were not greatly impressed. You can read the BBC’s report in English here.

What he had been overheard saying, the BBC said, was “This old hag is even worse than the cross-eyed man“. (The latter being a reference to her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who had what in English is known as “a lazy eye”.) The BBC said Mujica blamed the quip on his “rough language skills”. Perhaps he should start following some language blogs.

My Brazilian friend, who is a bit deaf, initially thought I had said she had been called an “old bag” or “old rag“. But when I explained no, she was not a bag or a rag, the word was hag, he didn’t know that word, so I had to look it up in Portuguese for him. A hag is defined in English dictionaries as an ugly old woman or a witch: Not having any dictionaries to hand, I quickly went online for an English-Portuguese dictionary, and had this offering:

hag    =   (ugly) bruxa,      (nasty) megera,   (witch)  bruxa


A witch or bruxa. (Photo credit: Edzed Photography)

I then went to BBC Brasil’s version of the story to see if it used the word bruxa. It said he was offering his “sinceras desculpas” and translated the offending remark thus : “Esta velha é pior do que o vesgo.

Calling someone a velha is probably not as bad as calling them a bruxa. Velho and velha are the masculine and feminine adjectives for “old” and when used as a noun mean an old man or an old woman, respectively. Vesgo means cross-eyed.

I then went to the BBC’s Spanish site, BBC Mundo, to see what it had to say on the subject, because presumably his original remarks would have been in Spanish anyway. It said he was offering his “sentidas disculpas“, and the offending remark in Spanish was “Esta vieja es peor que el tuerto“.

I couldn’t find a report on the story on the BBC’s French news site but I did find one in Le Monde, which said the Uruguayan president was célèbre pour son franc-parler (well known for his frankness) and it translated the line as “Cette bonne femme est pire que le borgne“. (Bonne femme means a good woman but it must have those ageing connotations).

My next search was in the Italian media, a report on la Repubblica TV, where you can watch José make his gaffe. The Italian translation is “La vecchia è peggio del guercio“.


The flak is flying in South America. (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Now to Romanian. I have as yet not been able to find a report on the incident in the Romanian language media, but if I do come across one I will include it here in as update. (If anyone comes across one please send me the link). My English-Romanian dictionary gives the following words for hag: babă and hoască, and an online dictionary offers these: baborniţă and vrăjitoare. Among the words for old is vechi, which is obviously related to the Italian word above. When you use an online translator the offending sentence comes out as nonsense, so I won’t go there.

I do think that Mujica (born 1935) calling Kirchener (born 1953) an old hag is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. That man has enough bags under his eyelids to go shopping with!  


2 thoughts on “Mujica v Kirchner: it takes an old bag to spot an old hag

  1. The translation of “vieja” as “old hag” is correct. When used as an adjective, “vieja” is indeed “old feminine X” but as a noun, it has distinctly negative connotations and can also mean “washed up” as well as “no longer sexually viable.” This may have been a pot/kettle case as you suggest, but there aren’t really any male equivalents that I can think of. (Crotchety, grumpy, etc. not being nearly as extreme.)

    • Hello, thanks for your insights, and for supplying the nuances. I think you have made a very interesting point about the lack of male equivalents and I will follow up on that in another post and use your comments there too, if I may. I am enjoying your blog and your observations. I hope you are well, cheers, Bernard

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