|The internet’s finest Africa* reference™|
*That’s the song, “Africa”, not the continent, of course
Not a thing, however much Toto fans might wish it were otherwise. There is a view — a remarkably resilient view — that the worst rock lyric in history —
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
— is even worse than we conventionally imagine:
A correspondent writes:
“Sorry but you ALL HAVE IT WRONG!!! THE LYRIC IS “RISES LIKE A LEOPRESS”... THIS HAS BEEN BUGGING THE F OUT OF ME FOR YEARS. I think Weezer screwed up the whole world in this lyric... read his lips in the video.”
Now while I respect the the vigour with which this argument is put, I cannot agree with it. As for lipreading, no chance: the video cuts away to Steve Lukather who, rather like a tone-deaf footballer singing the national anthem, has forgotten to sing along at the key moment.
And we must allow Mr. Paich some facility with logic and common sense, even if not much. Olympus may not rise above the Serengeti plain but, being a mountain, it does at least rise above things like plains.
As for “leopresses”, who can say? What even is a “leopress”? We take it to be some kind of creative contraction of “leopardess”. But it cannot be this, for two reasons:
Firstly, female leopards, however described, do not really rise above things like plains in the way mountains do. The sorts of things that do rise above plains are, of course, mountains, but also rain clouds (mainly in Spain), spumes of volcanic ash, hot air balloons (as per the above, I am told, it is only from a hot air balloon, that has already risen above the Serengeti, that one can even see Kilimanjaro) and things like that.
Not lady leopards.
Secondly, the “leop’r’ess” contraction strikes us as implausible. Elsewhere Mr. Paich gives the strong impression of not being in the habit of making literary contractions for the sake of space. He has already jammed twenty-one syllables into a line with space for only fourteen, after all.
Thirdly, if you did want to squeeze “word for a big, fast, African cat” into two syllables, instead of butchering “leopardess”, wouldn’t you just use “leopard”? Or lion, or cheetah, for that matter? Are lady leopards more given to “rising” than gentlemen cats? The JC has limited experience of this sort of thing, but we doubt it.
Our correspondent continues undeterred:
“A female leopard is known as a leopress IN Africa, where they live mostly. A leopress would surely, most definitely rise above the serengeti, because they sleep in trees.”
Now this is a nice try, but we think “surely, most definitely” materially over-eggs it. And, while no wizard in African linguistics — but nor is Mr. Paich — the JC can find scant evidence that “leopress” is “a special African term for a female leopard”. It seems fanciful: most people in that part of the world speak Swahili, and in that language leopardess, we gather, is “chui”. In a way it’s a pity Mr Paich didn’t use it: it would scan a lot better. But still, the point remains: a sleepy she-leopard, slinking up a tree for a nap, may be “elevated”, but is this really the sort of magnificent “rise” one might compare with a distant twenty-thousand-foot mountain? We don’t think so.
Ultimately, we cannot do better than the official Toto website, which contains all Toto lyrics, including those of Africa. See for yourself. It is “Olympus”.
- ↑ It has escaped the compliers of the OED and, for what it is worth, Websters.