Osama bin Laden - Ladinek

30-09-2001

So, what more can be said, two weeks after the terrorist attacks? Well, not much to be honest, certainly not as far as the Czech Republic is concerned. Nothing has emerged from the mouths of Czech politicians that hasn't already been said a thousand times by politicians elsewhere in the world. TV chat shows and political discussion programmes are dominated by the same relentless deconstruction of the events of September 11, the same endless speculation about American military action, the same superficial analysis of Islamic fundamentalism. And the same name is repeated over and over again like a mantra: Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden.

So is there anything noteworthy about the Czech reaction to September 11? Anything at all that sets it apart from any another country? Well, perhaps there is something.

The only uniquely Czech reaction, as far as I've been able to ascertain, concerns Mr bin Laden himself, or rather his name. And in order to explain this properly we'll have to pause here for a brief examination of the complexities of Czech grammar, and the Czech use of diminutives. Let's not beat about the bush: Czechs like diminutives. Most simple nouns have a diminutive form. Sometimes they merely indicate size - so 'stul' means table, but 'stolek' means little table, and 'stolecek' means wee little table. Sometimes they denote affection - so 'chlap', meaning boy, becomes 'chlapec' and 'chlapecek'. And sometimes they're a combination of the two - 'pes' is dog, but you can - and indeed do - say 'pejsek' or even 'pejsanek'.

Anyway, you've got the hang of diminutives. Let's get back to international terrorism. The thing is, a few days after the attacks, a friend told me he'd heard a group of men in a pub referring to bin Laden as 'Ladinek'. My initial reaction was to laugh out loud, so ridiculous did it seem. That was soon replaced by a feeling of shock and outrage - how dare they make light of someone accused of masterminding the most atrocious act of terrorism in modern history? Then, after the popular use of 'Ladinek' had been confirmed by other Czech friends, I began to wonder whether there was anything more sinister to it.

Does referring to bin Laden as 'Ladinek' - 'wee little bin Laden' - imply affection, as it does with other diminutives? 'Ladinek' certainly wouldn't be used to denote smallness of stature: in the TV footage he looks around 6 foot tall. So does it suggest sympathy with militant Islam? Are there waves of anti-American hatred brimming under the surface of Czech society? I think not. I hope not. In fact I presume 'Ladinek' is merely a linguistic knee-jerk reaction, an innocent semantic slip of the tongue. And maybe it's even a way of belittling him, neutralising the images of terror and destruction that the words 'Osama bin Laden' evoke.

30-09-2001