Zizou and Head-Butts

The 64th and final game of the 2006 World Cup was played on Sunday, July 9, in Berlin, Germany. For more than a month, teams from 32 nations had struggled against each other to determine which would claim the title of champion in the sport played and watched by more people than any other sport in the world-football. No, not American football; European football, or soccer, which is played with a round ball that's moved down the field with balletic touches and by vicious kicks and headers. Usually, it is the ball that is headed, but in the final moments of the championship game between France and Italy, the world was shocked to watch France's greatest player, Zinedine Zidane-affectionately known as "Zizou" to his millions of fans-turn and deliver a vicious head-butt to the chest of Italian player Marco Materazzi, who was walking behind him. Zizou was summarily ejected from the game, and the world began to wonder what Materazzi could have said that would provoke such a violent act on the part of the French team's captain. Bits and pieces have come out since July 9, but what was actually said may never be known.

Whatever the provocation, Zizou committed assault and battery. Assault is putting someone in fear without actually touching the other person (Zizou's aggressive strides toward the Italian, for example); battery is actually making contact with the other person (butting his head into his opponent's chest and knocking him down). Assault and battery are very old crimes: as common law crimes, a guilty party can get up to 20 years in jail for either offense. They also qualify as civil causes of action for damages.

A more interesting question than what Materazzi said is what language did he use to speak to Zizou? Did the Italian player say something in Italian? I don't think so. He might have spoken to Zizou in French, but I bet he was using English. Whether English or French, however, the Italian was using a foreign language to communicate something to the Frenchman. These are treacherous waters; an example from a speech my father once gave will more than illustrate the danger. Speaking passable French, my father once stood to address a table of French men and women during a dinner he was attending in Paris. He thought he said that he was kissing the hands of all the ladies at the table. Unfortunately, he mispronounced the French verb "to kiss," which is very close to the French word for the four-letter curse word in our language that begins with the 6th letter of the English alphabet (which is 'f' if you can't count). The people at the table looked up at him in shock, hearing what they thought was a vulgar word, but they immediately began to laugh when they realized he had mispronounced the French word and had only wanted to 'kiss' the ladies' hands!

Could it be that the Italian player mispronounced an English word, and unintentionally provoked Zizou to head-butt him? Maybe what he said was not what Zizou heard? Watch out if you think you're becoming comfortable in a foreign language. Someone just might head-butt you before you have a chance to explain. And knowing he's assaulting you will not be much consolation.


The author is a local attorney specializing in Intellectual Property law and can be reached at LawEur@aol.com.


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