Colorful language from Iranian president

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Cyrus Farivar reports on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's sometimes shocking use of language in public speeches.

KATY CLARK: Iran is also raising eyebrows because of a recent speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He was speaking at an event to welcome to Tehran a group of Iranian expats living in the US. What was unusual was Ahmadinejad's utterance of some crude expressions that high-level politicians in his country rarely use. It's gotten a lot of attention from Iranians around the world, as we learn from reporter Cyrus Farivar.

CYRUS FARIVAR: Among all the turns of phrase that President Ahmadinejad used in his speech earlier this month, there's one that's gotten everyone talking.


FARIVAR: In Persian, the expression, ?mameh ro looloo bord,? means ?The boogeyman snatched the boob.? Mothers use it when weaning their infants off breast milk. More publicly, Iranians say it to each other when they've missed out on something, like if they've lost out on a business deal, or missed out on an opportunity. It conveys both that something was taken, but also that the person should move on, and just deal with it. And now, thousands of Iranians have watched it on YouTube and passed it around the Internet.

FARHAD SALAMIAN: It's a very, very vulgar and cheap expression.

FARIVAR: That's Farhad Salamian, an Iranian journalist and blogger now living in Germany. He explained that what makes the phrase so shocking isn't so much its vulgarity, but more so that it came from the highest office in the land.

SALAMIAN: This language is undiplomatic, Ahmadinejad is the president of a country. He shouldn't use this language as a political man, as a man who wants to represent the country. It's shameful.

FARIVAR: In this context, Ahmadinejad was trying to convey to the West, and especially to the United States, we're standing up for ourselves, so deal with it. Something like, the good old days are over. Part of the reason for speaking in this semi-crude way, Iran watchers say, is a type of linguistic populism. Just like how George W. Bush scored political points for being a straight-talker when compared to John Kerry's intellectual loquaciousness. Omid Habibinia is an Iranian media analyst living in Switzerland. He says that the use of this type of language is playing to Ahmadinejad's religious and conservative base in the rural areas of the country. Even though Ahmadinejad was the mayor of Tehran before he was president, he's trying to show that he's a man of the people.

OMID HABIBINIA: When you listen to his speech when he goes somewhere in other cities in the country he always uses this language and it's a lot of fun for the people who are listening to that.

FARIVAR: Of course Ahmadinejad is by no means the first Iranian leader to insult Washington. The late Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, coined the phrase ?The Great Satan? when referring to the United States. Abbas Milani, a professor of Iranian Studies at Stanford University, says that Ahmadinejad has mastered the art of speaking to many audiences. But he says Khomenei did it first.

ABBAS MILANI: When he was talking to the people, he used the language that made him sound like almost a village preacher. When he was talking to theologians, he talked the language of theology. Ahmadinejad has been a very astute observer of Khomeini's style and he has understood that language is a very, very powerful tool.

FARIVAR: And while Ahmadinejad's words can seem crude or bombastic, he's also been known to adapt Western language into Persian. In fact, within days of his ?boogeyman snatched the boob? comment, Ahmadinejad also spoke about Esfandiar Mashai, his chief of staff. Mashai had recently come under fire. Government conservatives had been politically attacking him, an Ahmadinejad ally, rather than the president himself. So the president responded by saying.

MILANI: ?Mashai has my full support.? That's not how any other president in my memory in Iran says I still am behind somebody. That's almost a translation from what the White House usually says about a beleaguered politician.

FARIVAR: Of course, Ahmadinejad will have another opportunity to speak directly to the world leaders, and the American public, when he attends the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in late September. For The World, I'm Cyrus Farivar.