It was a simple slip of the tongue, people say. But when the pope accidentally utters a vulgarity during a public speech, people notice. That’s what happened during Sunday’s weekly blessing by Pope Francis, sparking a flurry of comments on social media.
The pope quickly realized his misstep and corrected himself. But there are things people simply cannot un-hear, and this seems to be one of them.
“The words the Pope stumbled on were ‘caso’ (example) and ‘cazzo’ which means ‘f***’ in Italian and often trips up those not used to speaking the language,” as Britain’s The Daily Mail reports. The Telegraph reports that the word has other translations.
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET: About The Pope’s Language
Readers’ comments saying we misrepresented the pope’s speech led us to do more research; we’ve made some changes to this post as a result.
Before publishing this post earlier today, we confirmed that the word “cazzo” has several possible translations into English, including the f-word. That meshed with reports we saw on Twitter, and in Italian media, that dated to Sunday afternoon (well before any English-speaking media outlets had reported on the gaffe).
But the word’s main denotation is as a vulgar term for “penis.” It also has connotations and uses — in phrases or as an exclamation — that are commonly translated as the f-word. A look at the Collins Italian-English dictionary explains the differences in frank terms (warning: the language is stronger than we’d use here).
Our original story reported that the pope is widely seen to have made an innocent and fairly common mistake. While that remains true, I’ve updated the headline and some of the text in this post to better reflect the nuances of the word as used in the Italian language. I apologize for the confusion.
Our original post continues:
The stumble offered an unexpected distraction to a large crowd that had gathered on a rainy Sunday to watch the pope deliver a message of charity to his followers, speaking from the window at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.
“If each one of us does not amass riches only for oneself, but half for the service of others, in this **** … in this case the providence of God will become visible through this gesture of solidarity,” he said, as he read from prepared remarks before delivering the traditional Marian prayer of the Angelus.
Francis didn’t look away from his notes as he quickly corrected his momentary flub, but he left “the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square and those watching around the world asked themselves ‘Did he just say f***?'” the Daily Mail says.
In the Italian media and on Twitter, people were quick to draw attention to the gaffe — but also to forgive it as a common mistake for those who move from speaking Spanish to Italian. The pope, 77, is a native of Argentina.
The Italian magazine Excite compared the mistake to slipping on a banana peel, and predicted the incident might add to the popular appeal the pope has generated since he assumed his new post.
Here’s the relevant portion of the video:
To help you follow along, here’s the original Italian, from the Vatican:
“E così la Provvidenza di Dio passa attraverso il nostro servizio agli altri, il nostro condividere con gli altri. Se ognuno di noi non accumula ricchezze soltanto per sé ma le mette al servizio degli altri, in questo caso la Provvidenza di Dio si rende visibile in questo gesto di solidarietà.”