Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Seeing is Believing?

Maybe the picture in the previous post was Photoshopped. After all, if they could change this.....

To this....

Things we're unlikely to see again

The Giffords' shooting brought this picture back to mind. Question: was that a real gun the kid was playing with right next to JFK?

Friday, 7 January 2011

What the $*%&ç§

There is no Malay word for fuck. Proponents of the Whorffian hypothesis would argue that the Malays either abstain from, or are indifferent to a bit of how's-your-father. This is however belied by the fact that Indonesia is the worlds 4th most populous nation. From personal observation, most Malay men are  unhealthily obsessed with sex, a natural backlash to the sexual repressiveness of Muslim society (Allah isn't quite so omniscient after all). In recent years a slang word, "kongkek", has crept into daily usage and become quite widely used. I am told that the word is of javanese origin and as Java is the most highly populated island in the Malay archipelago, perhaps this makes a bit of sense after all. Interestingly, Japanese society which also lacks the F-word, has nonetheless become a mecca for porn of  a staggeringly eye-watering depravity. Personally, I can vouch to whacking off on enough J-porn to strike blind the entire College of Cardinals in the Vatican.

Cantonese, on the other hand, suffers from an embarrassment of riches. The most common swear-word, "tiu", is cognate to the Anglo-Saxon "fokken". It is usually combined with references to the target of abuses' mother's organs of procreation and their state of feminine hygiene to form triple or quadruple-barreled insults. And thats with just ONE swear word. Cantonese (and also Hokkien)  contain multiple variants  referring to the genitals (male and female). 

In Cantonese, as in Spanish and Italian, just saying "your mother's" in the right tone and context is sufficient to be deeply insulting. It's striking that across many cultures, the mother is a surrogate target of abuse. Is this based on the belief that the maternal bond is strongest and thus would be potentially the most hurtful and offensive target? Or is this really the case? Could it be that an insult directed against the father, and by extension to the family name and honour (due to patrilineal descent), be so grave as to require bloodshed just to appease the demands of honour and hence, throughout history, we have become culturally conditioned to a more manageable and less socially destructive form of abuse?

Along the lines of moderation in swear words, in "Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)", Orwell gives the etymology of the word "barnshoot", a mild, almost schoolmarmish exclamation of exasperation that is perfectly acceptable in genteel circles. The word was brought back by Anglo-Indians and derives from the Hindustani "bahin-chut" or "sister-fucker", certainly not the sort of word that springs to the lips of a vicar's wife after spilling some Darjeeling on a Chantilly doily. Orwell was unable to explicitly provide the literal meaning due to the suffocating censorship of the time and could only vaguely allude to a similar word in Aristophanes (I'm too lazy to search through my copy of the collected plays for the reference), but take it from me (or my Punjabi friends), "sister-fucker" it is. Years later in "Animal Farm (1945)", Orwell still had to tone down a passage where the pigeons shat on the heads of the invading men to "muted upon them".

Another word that has slipped beneath the radar into polite usage is "poppycock" which comes from the Dutch "pappekak" meaning "soft shit". And, as Bill Bryson informs us, they also have a term, (in fact two), for the variety of a harder consistency, "poep" and "stront". So with respect to the Whorffian hypothesis, one expects the Dutch to be Calvinistically punctilious and extra-regular in their bowel movements. Back to the Cantonese, swearing is so rampant among the, sniff, lower-orders, that I have personally witnessed manual labourers greeting one another with a cheery "Fuck your mother, how's things?".

The power of swear words lies in their taboo nature, hence the common resort to references of a sexual and scatological nature, normally both no-no's in polite conversation. Until recently, blasphemy was also a potent taboo, hence the origin of "damn" (or God-damn for emphasis), and "bloody" (from "God's blood" i.e. the saving grace of Christ's blood shed for us on Calvary...blah, blah, blah) or even Jesus/Jeez/Gee-whiz as an example of taking the Lord's name in vain. Indeed, the blasphemy taboo was so strong that it was preferable to replace "God" when used as a swear-word with "cock"! This allowed Shakespeare to pun in Ophelia's speech, "Young men will do't, if they come to't; By cock, they are to blame". But with the waning of religious fervour, much of the potency has been drained out of these words and using them hardly raises an eyebrow these days. The only commonly "accepted" profanity that I could think of combining all three taboos is "Holy fucking shit" which I admit is pretty lame (submissions welcome!).

One thing that has always intrigued me is the use of "pussy" for vagina. Cats have always struck me as having an essentially feminine nature while dogs just seem masculine (notwithstanding that they come in both genders, the Platonic ideal of a cat, in my mind, is female and vice-versa for a dog). Is this just a personal idiosyncrasy? I'd like to know if corroboration (or counter examples) can be found in other languages.

Mrs Slocombe's pussy was always mewing for some stroking

And more. They just don't make them like they used to.

And finally, I leave you with this earhole-clearing blast of profanity from Cook and Moore