Editor R.V. Branham writes in the introduction toCurse and Berate in 69+ Languages
, “Why do people swear? This is asked by Puritans, prudes, & hall monitors. One would more reasonably ask why people don’t swear more often. Mencken said that people are at their most interesting when they are at their worst, & Dorothy Parker asked of those with nothing nice to say that they sit next to her.”
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With this in mind, Branham set out to collect naughty words, plundering the brains of people around the world. “So the folders began to grow,” he writes, “with scraps of papers and lists.” Before he knew it, he had a book deal. And thank God, because now there’s a handy reference guide for the world traveler that contains just about everything he needs to know to communicate effectively – such as, say, how to say “Dog Fucker, Goat Fucker, Horse Fucker, Cat Fucker, Sheep Shagger (& Bestial Variations)” in many a language. Yay!
Swear words are strikingly universal, but it’s the extra flourishes within cultures that make this book utterly fascinating. Take the “Asshole/Arsehole (& Variations)” page. In Web-obsessed Korea, where a guy died after a playing an online game for 50 hours, there’s a word for “Internet ass/arsehole”: net hǔng-mun. And while there’s only one Internet asshole entry, there’s a whole host of Internet slut variations -- particularly popular in Croatia -- on the “Cell & Mobile Phones & Lap-Dancing Lap-Tops & Other Crimes Against a Civic Society (& Variations)” page. But back to the “Asshole” page. The Portuguese entry is definitely original: “Yr ass/arsehole’s so huge an aircraft carrier would fit right in.” (If you must know, O seu olho do cú é tão imenso que até um porta-aviões cabe lá dentro.)
This is a fun book to flip through and explore. There are interesting language tidbits -- you’ve gotta love Swahili for letting people add “in triplicate” to their insults. But of course it’s most entertaining to giggle at the insults themselves. On the “Slut/Slutty/Horny (& Variations)” page, the Dutch say greppeldel (fish bone pussy), the Japanese say iero-kyabu (“Yellow cab” slut), the Swedish say slyna (“mattress”), and in Yiddish, it’s nafke/shikseh (gentile/goyem girl, & of course a slut).
BTW, sexism aside, “mattress” definitely needs to make the leap to English. I’m totally cribbing that one! – Cathy Matusow