Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Curse Words

Persons of extreme sensitivity or puritanical leanings might as well stop reading right here; others might find, as I do, each language ‘s choice of curse words and  purported profanities as revealing national characteristics of its users.

Anglo-Americans favor mostly innocuous or childish CW  (to initialize curse words henceforward) by way of a potty mouth, itself a bit of a euphemism. A big favorite in America is ”Your mother wears army boots,” about as housebroken as CW can come. I am going to focus on Hungarian and Serbian ones, both rich in gusto, compensatory for belonging too small or too highly regimented nations.

Thus the Croats, constrained by both Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Roman Catholic restraints, have come up with ludicrous terms for parts of the body, based mostly on the German Scham meaning both shame and the vagina, i.e., “stidljivost,” shamefulness, a chickenfeed CW compared to Hungarian and Serbian popular parlance. Which Croatian ones are the subject for laughter out loud by Serbs and Hungarians, going in for far saltier things.

Take, for instance, walking in the streets of Belgrade, the Serbian capital, or in the so-called korzo, the favored universal promenade, where the prolific, loud expletives  are “jebi ga,” fuck it, or “jebesh mu” fuck his (something or someone), expressions with which the parlance of even many educated speakers is laced raising almost no eyebrows. Rather more problematic is the Serbian “idi u pichku materinu,” or the Hungarian version, “menj az anyad pichajaba,” go into your mother’s cunt. ” Serbian even has a popular alternative for that organ, “pizda.” Neither form has any truck with something as infantile as pussy.

Moreover, elaboration thrives, as for example in “I fuck your mother’s black whorish cunt,” in either Serbian or Hungarian, still fairly routine stuff. But I must confess to a certain abstemiousness myself, not using any of the above, but contenting myself with much milder utterances, such as “Go to hell” or “Go to he devil,” even though I am aware that neither hell nor devil exists. This restraint despite the fact that even the highly civilized French has the tougher “va te faire foutre,” coming from that neither small nor a powerless nation. But consider that even in literature, such wildly unhampered practitioners as Rimbaud and Lautreamont made no use of expletives. Yet, as always, there are exceptions. The poet Apollinaire’s celebrated comic-pornographic work, “Les cent mille Verges” which is S&M, but turns into Vierges (rods into virgins), which is comedic sacrilege. think of Saint Ursula and her retinue.

To my eternal regret, I don’t know or read Italian, so I can’t say what obtains in that language  beyond the rather ungracious “porca Madonna,” and the totally anodyne “porco di Baccho.” For Spanish, I depend entirely on Hemingway, from whom I get “cojones,” pricks. I would be particularly interested in what gives in Scandinavian languages, as well as in other Slavic ones, of which I am ignorant. However, there is a Russian fiction by Mikhail Arcybashev, in a translated scene from which a man pays a poor young woman quite handsomely to let him whip her naked buttocks a specified  number of blows.
Most writers even in, say, Hungarian, make no use of CW, not even, such as the wonderful Frigyes Karinthy or the less wonderful Peter Esterhazy. To be sure, I have neither read nor heard very recent performances in foreign languages, and cannot speak conclusively to anything but English.
Even there, I have avoided such writers as Hubert Selby (“Last Exit to Brooklyn”) and note that even in most of them, as in Henry Miller and Norman Mailer, there is little or no CW. There are others, so-called Beats, typified by William Burroughs with his “Naked Lunch,” and the once ubiquitous Charles Bukowski., neither of whom I have read at all. In speech, my friends and I have remained essentially chaste. The same goes for most recent British writers.

But not so, strange to say, for the theater, as wallowingly spearheaded (if that is the word for it) by David Mamet, with any number of contemporary playwrights having made use—some more, others less—of his CW. What I find interesting is that the verb for sex and the four-letter version of excrement are profusely employed, but the grant almost never includes the sexual organs, I don’t quite know why. It may be out of some last-ditch effort at respectability that cannot be sloughed off, like the verb, which, through frequency of use has come to pass as practically inconspicuous.

Things used to be different in Restoration England, as for example in the writings of that remarkable rake and poet, Lord Rochester. In his only once performed play “Sodom,” he apostrophized the female organ brilliantly as “This is the warehouse of the world’s chief trade,/ On this soft anvil all mankind was made.” In the play, Rochester’s patron and butt, King Charles II, is satirized as saying (using the contemporary pintle for penis) “And with my pintle I shall rule the land.” More rowdily we get dear “Industrious cunt shall never pintle want,/ She shall be mistress to the elephant.” (Was that about poor dear Nell Gwynn?)

To this day, few publications are allowed to print anything like that, although The New Yorker does permit the verb for sex. I myself do not advocate unrestrained use of CW, lest it, too, lose its sting. Nudity in the theater is permitted, more often of men than of women, make of it what you will. There has also been simulated intercourse, though not the actual thing as in “Sodom.” In Germany, there was something called “Nacktballet,” from a leading female dancer-choreographer, Marie Wigman. it never crossed boundaries, although I for one wouldn’t have found it unwelcome anywhere.

And what about the future of CW? Having no crystal ball, I cannot predict it. I am , however, all for it as long as it is used judiciously  and not indiscriminately. As for my own limited, personal future, there is no telling what can prevail. I daresay that neither angels nor devils espouse nudity and uncalled-for CW.


  1. I don't like to cuss. However, sometimes a CW will get to the exact point you were trying to make. If I'm not in mixed company, I will blurt out a "shit" or a "fuck" if it illustrates my meaning well. "Get the fuck outta here," is a nice example. I remember in Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle used CWs perfectly.

    "Who you fuckin' lookin' at? You fuckin' lookin' at me?"

    I almost never use "cunt." Or "cock" for that matter. I have my CW limits. I heard "bloody" is a cuss word in England. My young son (eleven) learned "bloody" on YouTube, and he was walking around saying "bloody this" and "bloody that." I told him not to use "bloody" in that way. The other day he also said "friggin'" I asked him where he heard that. He said he heard it on television.

    The worst cussing I've ever heard was when I was in the Navy. Every sentence had at least 2 or 3 CWs. When I got out I had to adjust to speaking without using CWs. It was rough.

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  2. Replies
    1. I'm going to go out on a member and say yes.

    2. No. Cojones means "testicles."

      Balls = Bolas

    3. That's what I wrote. Testicles, balls, agates, kegs...

  3. Cojones means testicles in my book as well. I find the words crown jewels, which I remember from my teens, an odd one for a male to possess. A woman may feel otherwise. As a child they were grapes

    As to the male member, it's gone through quite a few changes, verbally, I mean, over the years. In my early years dick was for pre-teen boys, and I've never lost my (mild) surprise that it's become "grownup", as it were, and persisted for over a half-century since.

  4. I remember it as the "FAMILY jewels." Reminds me of the hysterical movie by Jerry Lewis called 'The Family Jewels.' He plays about six characters in it. Very good film. The French loved Jerry Lewis because he was an auteur (I can see Simon coughing up his morning coffee right about now).

    I had a friend named Dick. His full name was Dick Richards. I always wondered about the logic behind naming someone with the same first and last name. It worked out for William Carlos Williams, though. I would never do it to my kid.

    Anyway, my friend Dick caught hell every day at school. "Hey, Dick!" they would say, emphasizing (loudly) the word DICK.

    I said, "Hey, DICK, (I did it too) why don't you go by Rick or Ricky or Rich or something? So, he did. He started signing his papers and documents with "Rick". It didn't always work, though. People would just say, "Hey, DICK, why'd you change your name?" Then the whole hallway of kids would start laughing hysterically (including me).

  5. I think curse words are used too often in the street. This probably reflects a decline of decorum generally. Provocative column. Thank you, John.

  6. The short march

    "Your mother wears army boots!"
    Last century it was a slur;
    Now proudly wears them in cahoots,
    With docs so it you'll never hear.

    1. Clever, Scotty! 2 thumbs up.

    2. A be C

      A is for choice
      As in choosing one box
      Yet containing unlimited
      Cunts n cocks

    3. Dear Scotty:

      My new obsession is plastic bags. There are so many plastic bags in life. The plastic bag is a menace. I hate plastic bags. Why can't we invent a container that dissolves itself: a bag that will break down over a short period of time. Yes, I used a colon, you bastards. I like using colons. Colons are useful so shut up.

      "Don't hang around for centuries, plastic bags," I scream at the plastic bags that I've just accumulated at the grocery store. I buy an apple and I put it in a plastic bag. I buy a squash and put it in a plastic bag. "You are a scourge," I say to them.

      I could get "paper" but then I'd be killing trees. I like trees, so I get YOU >> plastic bags. You're despicable, plastic bags. Why can't you be like trees? Trees die and then dissolve into a compost, whereas plastic bags just sit there for millions of years causing trouble.

  7. I wish a belated " Happy Valentine's Day " to you and your Significant Other, Professor Simon ! Did you know that Scientific Studies have stated that "Queefing" is at its highest point of the year every February 14th ?

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