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vuvuzela also vuvu

noun [countable]

a long plastic instrument blown by football fans to make a loud trumpeting sound

'Former England captain Bryan Robson believes World Cup managers could struggle against the noise of the South African plastic trumpet, the vuvuzela. Robson, who is manager of Thailand, saw his side lose 4-0 to South Africa in a warm-up match in Nelspruit on Sunday … the deafening and tuneless noise from the trumpet drowned out his instructions from the bench and he had to call players over to the sidelines. "With that noise they could have an advantage in the World Cup," he said.'

BBC Sport 16th May 2010

'The horns are now being sold on supermarket shelves, and the latest buzz for vuvu fans is to change their mobile phone ringtone to the sound of the horn.'

Perth Now 18th June 2010

For soccer aficionados across the globe, the wait is over – South Africa 2010 (or simply 2010 as it is referred to in South Africa), the FIFA World Cup, is finally upon us. But this year, it seems that anyone watching, or indeed playing, the 'beautiful game' will also have to get used to the 'beautiful noise'. Make a grab for the ear plugs, guys, because 2010 World Cup matches are likely to be accompanied by the deafening sound of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas.

it seems that anyone watching, or indeed playing, the 'beautiful game' will also have to get used to the 'beautiful noise'

A vuvuzela is a brightly-coloured plastic trumpet, usually about a metre long, which is commonly blown by fans at football matches in South Africa. Playing the vuvuzela requires a practiced combination of lip and lung action to produce an extremely loud, monotonous sound, a bit like a foghorn. If you'd like prepare yourself for this assault on your eardrums, then click here for a sample experience.

Available in a variety of colours relating to different teams, the vuvuzela has become a trademark of South African football supporters, whose frenzied blowing reaches an ear-piercing level whenever their side gets close to the goal area. Unsurprisingly, however, the popularity of the vuvuzela has not been uncontroversial, critics claiming that the loud, haphazard noise it makes causes distraction to both players and coaches. Such concerns led FIFA to consider banning the use of the vuvuzela in 2010 World Cup matches, an action it was later dissuaded from taking by the South African Football Association, which argued that vuvuzelas were an integral part of African football culture and essential for an 'authentic' South African football experience.

In the aftermath of a 4-0 defeat at South Africa's newly-built Mbombela stadium, Thailand's head coach Bryan Robson recently described the vuvuzela as 'Bafana's (=the South African team's) 12th man', suggesting that the intimidating noise of as many as 90,000 of the instruments will be something that South Africa's opponents will have to try to overcome during the 2010 competition.

Background – vuvuzela horn and vuvu

The vuvuzela, or simply vuvu, is said to be based on the Kudu horn, a tribal instrument used to summon villagers to meetings. Originally made of tin, the vuvuzela rose to popularity in South Africa at football matches in the late 1990s. Its fate was sealed in 2001, when South-African-based company Masincedane Sport began to mass-produce a plastic version, thereby making it essential kit for football supporters across the country.

The origin of the word vuvuzela is uncertain. Some argue that it originates from the Zulu for 'making a loud noise'. Others maintain it relates to township slang for the word 'shower', because it 'showers people with music'(!). The announcement in 2004 that South Africa would host the 2010 World Cup gave the vuvuzela a massive boost, securing the word itself a place in the dictionary.

For more South Africanisms on and off the pitch, check out the June 2010 edition of MED Magazine, which gives an overview of the lexicon of South African English.

You may also be interested in South African English month over at the Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 8th June 2010.

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