Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Mot Juste

While working in Germany I learnt that the word for "shit" in German is "Scheiße" pronounced "sha-izay". But of course, it's a dirty word so people don't say it, especially not in the work-environment. So they say "shit" because that's not a dirty word, not in the German language. I have seen similar practices in other places other languages.

Translation is not the only subterfuge. There are replacements for the dirty words in the same language too. When I first went to US and started watching the TV shows, I was appalled by the language. My favorite type of TV shows are comedy sitcoms and they are mostly based on a family situation or friends and families. I was shaken out of my socks watching a young girl use words like "screw" in her father's presence! Believe me, I opened the dictionary and checked to see if there was any other meaning. No, it is the word that means "sexual intercourse".

The difference between "screw you" and "fuck you" is only that one can be used on the national television and the other has to be replaced by a beep.

There is a whole system of such replacements words that covers profanities, blasphemies, aggression and sometimes just plain nothing. For example, I'd really like someone to explain to me what is gained by replacing "ass" with "arse" when both are pointing to the same part of our anatomy.

My point is when everybody around us knows what the word we speak really stands for, what is the sense of this whole shocked-look-hand-on-the-mouth kind of righteousness.

Both sets of words mean exactly the same thing, convey the same meaning and yet...

I think Man must be the only animal in the animal kingdom who has two faces!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, your blog was advertised across the top of scrolling ads in my gmail account and I decided to check it out. I came across this comment about "screw" being the same as sexual intercourse and then "screw you" being one in the same as "fuck you." I agree with you that "screw" can replace "fuck", but your example of a daughter saying "screw you" to her father more often than not is NOT the sexual intercourse meaning but the dismissive "fuck you" meaning. The "fuck you" here is different from something along the lines of I want to "fuck you," or I want to "screw you" which is the sexual. All in all, "screw" and "fuck" can be used interchangeably, but note that there are two meanings one sexual and one dismissive as I explained above.

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