When David Simon wrote The Wire he delved deep into Baltimore street slang, but even that didn’t prepare him for the intricacies of Spanish argot, where what sounds like fighting talk is just as likely to be a bit of flattery.
The US television writer found himself at the centre of a Twitter storm that began when Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the leftwing Unidas Podemos party and a big fan of The Wire, praised Simon’s latest series, The Plot Against America.
The series, based on Philip Roth’s book of the same name, follows the emergence of a fascist regime in the US in the 1940s. Iglesias tweeted that the series showed that fascism was never far away, provoking a flurry of responses in praise of and attacking Spain’s own fascist regime under Francisco Franco.
Simon, who had no idea who Iglesias was, found himself mentioned in hundreds of subsequent posts, as Twitter users traded insults in Spanish and Catalan.
He retweeted Iglesias’s message with the comment: “So, if my poor Spanish holds, this fellow liked the bent of a miniseries and tagged me. And so now into a second day, my Twitter feed is full of Francoists and Catalunyans screaming at each other in languages not my own. Well okay. It’s 1937 again. Fuck the fascists. No pasaran.”
Over the course of a weekend’s worth of exchanges, there were crossed wires when Simon misunderstood the complimentary message Olé tus cojones (You’ve really got balls) to mean “Your balls stink”. The screenwriter responded by insulting the sender’s mother until someone explained that olé isn’t related to oler, the verb to smell.
“Okay, so I’ve wasted the entire morning insulting the mothers and rhetorical paucity of Spanish fascists and Francoists on Twitter,” Simon eventually concluded. “But I have learned that ‘smell your balls’ is actually a compliment. So it’s a bit of a break-even.”