I remember when I first moved to Armenia in 1995. I made a special point of learning swear words in Armenian. Actually, I think what really happened was that I learned most of them by accident. Swear words in Armenian and even Russian sound a lot like regular words. Therefore, sometimes I’d wind up cursing when I didn’t mean to. For instance, one time I accidentally told my host mom that I would “fuck” a new house next week. Why? Because the verb “to have” is irregular and I failed to conjugate it properly. If you try to form the future tense the usual way, you end up swearing. To make the future tense of the Armenian verb for “to have”, you must revert to the root and add a “k'” to the beginning of the word. Many people who are just learning the language forget to do that and accidentally end up being rude. Fortunately, my host mom wasn’t offended and just gave me a quizzical look.
I knew an American couple in Armenia who were tasting wines. They were told that if the wife drank one wine in particular, she would have boy babies. As is the custom in Armenia, the lady got up, tasted the wine and offered a toast in her most basic Armenian, enthusiastically looking forward to “fucking” boy babies. Incidentally, she later learned how to conjugate “to have” properly and she did eventually have a son after they left the country. Then, some years later, she and her husband divorced.
You’d think I’d want to learn German swear words, given my penchant for cursing. I have tried to pick up some of the language while we’ve been here, although I confess that I haven’t taken an actual class. I know a class would help. I know it would be good for me, help me meet new people, and get a life, but I just don’t want to be bothered with it. Curiously enough, I don’t even really care about learning curse words. I have learned a few of them, but I don’t use them. I’ve found that a lot of people speak English anyway and don’t mind using English curse words to their heart’s content. It’s probably good that I don’t know a lot of German curse words, since I already have a fairly broad command of English ones.
This morning, I ran across an interesting discussion about the old insult, “Schweinehund”. If you’ve ever seen National Lampoon’s European Vacation, you’ve no doubt seen the scene where Clark Griswold and his family go to Germany (although they were actually in a German speaking part of Italy) and knock on the wrong door. The first house they come to, Clark says, “Guten Tag, my family and I are looking for sex.” He meant “Sechs”, which is the German word for six and is pronounced a bit differently than “sex”… more with a “z” sound, like “zechs”.
The husband of the couple the Griswolds disturb calls him a “Schweinehund”, which translates to “pig dog”. I’ve never heard anyone here call someone a “Schweinehund”, but a discussion on Duolingo indicates that it’s kind of an old fashioned insult, perhaps a nicer way of calling someone an “Arschloch” (asshole). Maybe your granny would call someone a “Schweinehund”, rather than an “Arschloch”.
Someone else wrote that Schweinehund is also useful in another way. If you imagine you have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and you give in to the angel’s demands, rather than the devil’s, you have beaten your “innerer Schweinehund”. Say, if you decide to mow the lawn rather than watch another trashy reality show… or you go to the dentist rather than visit a bar. You’re being responsible, rather than irresponsible… not listening to the devil.
I’m sure there are people in my life who wish I would clean up my language. My father used to give me grief about swearing. Actually, he didn’t give me grief so much as a good clock upside the head. I think swearing is better than physical violence, don’t you? But if I’d ever told him that, he’d probably clock me again. He wasn’t big on self-control, except for when it came to foul language. I think it’s because his father used a lot of profanity, and hearing it probably traumatized him. Unfortunately, my grandfather was abusive, particularly to my dad, who was his eldest son. Likewise, I got the brunt of my dad’s issues, since I was his youngest and probably most outspoken daughter.
Maybe it would have served me well to be more genteel, refined, and ladylike. On the other hand, I suspect that would have also made me more boring than I already am. Despite the idea some people have that swearing isn’t “interesting”, I’ve found that many people, in fact, enjoy a good swearing session. They particularly like a creative swearing session. Like my husband says, I come by it honestly… lots of Celtic blood. And if I had adopted more of a refined attitude, I might have attracted one of the dullards in my hometown rather than my exciting and ever-pleasant husband Bill. Bill loves it when I curse, because I often say the things he wants to say but won’t.