Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A mystery on the motorway

[click to expand the photo and view the mystery]

Although most Kiwis shun the charms of poetry, they nevertheless find ways to delight in the ambiguity and complexity of language. Baby naming, for instance, has become an unofficial literary genre in this country, with couples consulting historical dictionaries of names, arguing about the aesthetics of one name versus another, and nervously checking their choices against those of other members of their postnatal coffee groups.

Personalised number plates also offer Kiwis who might never buy a book of poetry an opportunity to play with language. Like the haiku, the personalised plate is a form which imposes severe constraints on a poet. With only a few characters to play with, the poet must cram as much meaning as possible into his or her plate, without sacrificing precision and wit. Sadly, bad, boring plates are as common as bad, boring haiku. Do the owners of ITHELP or EZMONEY or IM BILL really expect us to impressed with their work?

Sometimes a number plate gains its effect from the vehicle it adorns. I remember seeing, a few years ago, a Ford Escort, or some similar mode of car, with a souped up engine and, I think, purple lights, decorated by a plate that said UTERUS. I thought that the owner of the car must have been striving for a poetic juxtaposition of feminine language and masculine imagery. Perhaps, though, he was just a seventeen year old boy racer sharing a car with his gynaecologist Mum.

A reader of this blog sent me this account of her sighting of a mysterious personalised number plate on one of Auckland's motorways:

 The other day B spotted this car on the motorway ahead of us...B is normally a sedate driver (one of my friends lovingly calls him 'Grandma driver') but once he spotted this car he was like a bull to a red rag. Suddenly he sped up and started to drive our ancient ford laser like it was a rally car. The poor old ford was darting in and out of traffic as B was trying to catch up to the red car, I've never seen him drive like that before! 

I wondered what an earth was going on as B was saying "noooooo.....must be a terrible mistake!.....who would.....what the F#*%!" Then I spotted what he was looking at, the registration plate of the car read 'JEWE DI'. Of course for B this was personal after all he is descended from a long line of Rabbis. Finally we reached the harbour bridge and B swung a poor straining ford around a bus and pulled along side the 'red rag' car. "I just have to see who is driving that car" he said. 

The driver was a middle aged woman but we didn't get a good look at her as she changed lanes and out of clear sight. We carried on driving to our destination, Brett shaking his head and muttering under his breath "must have been a typo...surely?!" I pointed out to him that perhaps it was and that the middle aged woman wasn't against Jews but in fact had something against Hamish Dewe and that the plate read: DEWE DI. We would love to know what was behind the choice of plate number...was it a brash anti-semite statement? a anti-Hamish statement?...what do you think? 

Personalised plates are vetted by the Ministry of Transport, and I think it's safe to say that a phrase as offensive as JEW DI wouldn't be allowed onto the roads. DEWE DI may not be obviously offensive, but it is certainly obscure, to me as well as to my correspondent. A quick search of translation sites doesn't turn up a match for the phrase in any of the word's hundred or so largest languages, though 'di' is apparently a preposition in Italian and several other tongues.
Another search informs me that Dewe is the name of a small district in the part of Ethiopia where many Afar people live. The Afars are spread across parts of Somalia and Djibouti as well as Ethiopia, and speak their own language, which is not closely related to the Semitic Amharic tongue used by Ethiopia's traditional elite. I found an Afar dictionary online, but a search with the phrase DEWE DI drew no blood.

Here's a desperate and rather silly suggestion: given that 'di' can mean 'of' in Italian, and given the fact that Italy colonised Somalia and, for a few years, Ethiopia, and perhaps left some of its language behind in those places, is it possible that the plate belongs to an Afar person who wants us to know that he or she comes, originally, from the Dewe district of Ethiopia?

The alternative, of course, is that someone is thinking evilly about my old mate Hamish Dewe. I know Hamish can be a very tough book reviewer, but wishing him dead seems a little over the top.

Footnote: Skyler comments "Trust you to arrive at such a convoluted explanation. My bet is that there's someone out there named Diana Dewe." Why didn't I think of that?

Footnote (2): if the plate is really supposed to say JEWE DI, could it be quoting this Yoruba-language song?

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

doesn't it say JEWE DI

1:38 pm  
Anonymous br said...

Judi...a martial art??/

3:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i c a j

5:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luxuriant imaginings but a shave with your Occam's razor, Scott would give the ever so mundane ...

6:10 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Damn you Farrell! You're always cracking every riddle! You should be on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

And why can't I ever see what is in plain sight?!

9:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But why the space between the jewe and di Farrell?!!

9:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


10:05 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

"Jewes" is of course the spelling used by Jack the Ripper in one of his notorious taunting letters addressed to the police.

It has been conjectured (by Alan Moore, among many others) that this is not so much a misspelling as a reference to the story of the "three jewes" (or juwes, or jubes) in Freemasony:

"In the story of Hiram Abiff, the three Jewes (or Jubes) named Jubela, Jubelum and Jubelo, use the implements of their lower degrees, the setting maul, the rule and the square, kill Master Mason Hiram in an attempt to get the Master's Masonic secrets before the completion of the Temple. They hide the body, which is later "raised" and properly buried. Later in the story they wail mournfully that it would have been better to have suffered the fates of their bloody oaths than to have killed their master."

I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, but I fear that "Jewe di" does quite possible denote the presence of a high-ranking Freemaon, possibly even a Templar or member of the Priory of Sion in the little red (!) car ...

8:10 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

holy hell!

9:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lol u r ALL wrong

9:12 am  
Blogger bielby said...

Maybe it's the Fullerton School's Vice President has emigrated from the US?

12:00 pm  
Anonymous rave on said...

It is apparent that we delude ourselves with delusion.

9:51 pm  
Blogger skalusanini said...

Not Italian for sure"as "di"has to be followed by another word. Anyway I am sure it is not as bad as it looks. You can always find out who the car owner is and ask them directly?

3:59 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Locate the map you wish to test this on, you may need a map to find it.
Ensure the map you are using to find the the map is not a bad map by testing it using this technique
Start on any point on the map you are testing (if you cannot find anything on the map i.e. it is blank, it is probably a bad map.
From this point attempt to get to another point
If you are lost, this is a bad map. If not lost, or only slightly confused, move to the next point.
Using your map, find a map.
Return to step 1.

5:44 pm  

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