Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Lesson in Profanity

I was having dinner last night with an American friend and two Russians when the American lamented the lack of мат (Russian profanity) in her vocabulary. It’s not that she wants to swear like a Russian sailor, but she does want to be able to recognize curse words when she hears them in the street. Our Russian companions refused to teach her any obscenities, so she asked me if I could help her out. Over the years, I have picked up a few Russian expletives—hockey matches were a good start when I studied abroad, and then Dima filled in the gaps (Belka is on the receiving end of a lot of insults). But while I’ve learned many of these words, I don’t actually use them. First, cursing in Russian carries more weight than it does in English. Second, and more importantly, I remember how idiotic my Spanish students sounded when they tried to swear in English. They had no idea what they were saying and their phonetics were terrible—it was all “beach” this and “sheet” that. If you’re going to swear, you have to swear right.  And that’s just not something I can do in Russian or Spanish.

Even so, I wanted to share my basic knowledge of Russian мат.  “You know the Б-word, right?” I asked.  She did not, so I leaned across the table and whispered it to her like we were children. The Russians were highly amused—by my accent, mostly—and one of them decided to share a joke that made use of the word.  I missed the subtleties, but there was a male cat, his kitten son, and a whore. When he got to the punch line, my friend and I stared at him blankly, not entirely sure he’d finished telling the joke.

“You two really need to learn Russian,” he sighed.

Perhaps to prove that I do know a modicum of Russian, I jumped in with my next inappropriate phrase: “Go to the d--k!” That’s the literal translation of the Russian, but in practice, it’s more like “Go f--k yourself.” I picked up that choice phrase from a Spaniard in Basque Country, so it may have gotten a little convoluted along the way, but I think it ends up gaining something in translation. I wish I could export that to America, but alas, I’m trying to clean up my language.

You see, after reading my novel, my older sister pointed out that two of the main characters sound way too similar.  Stephie corroborated Melissa’s claim, highlighting a specific line of dialogue as an example.  Reading the line in question, I suddenly realized why they sound so alike—both characters talk like me. And I am way too liberal with the F-word.  I did a quick “Ctrl F” to see how many times I had used “f--k” or one of its derivatives, and was horrified when I got more than 50 results. Naturally, every utterance comes from one of these two characters. Those f---ers have been spending way too much time around me.