Thursday, February 23, 2012

Let's Talk About Swear Words

This week’s blog is about language, so let’s talk about swear words!
In books from a more genteel era (BR—Before Rap) authors would illustrate a character’s anger thusly: “He (never she) said a four-letter word.”  Incredibly, French authors from the times BR were of a like gentility: “He (never She) said the five-letter word.”   Because merde means sh*t in French, and m***e is the word that should never be said in polite company.
With apologies to our host nation, the French are very uncreative in their swearing.  One word pretty much covers everything that m***e can’t: putain  (“whore”).
To illustrate my point, this is what an Americain film looks like with French subtitles.  You’ll see that the French are missing out on some linguistically gymnastic turns of phrase:

Anger is bad.  So we use many substitutions to help us curb our use of swear words:

Here are some helpful visual aids to help one duck under someone else’s angry swear words.

In all cultures, swear words tend to relate to subjects that are taboo or that are best practiced in privacy.  Here’s a remarkable fact: In Quebec, where they speak a funny form of French, the worst things you can say involve the sacrosanct Church.  The very worst thing you can say to someone is to call him a communion host.  Those crazy canucks sure are cute, aren’t they?

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