Wednesday, December 10, 2008
What does a mom do when her kids use the M-word (see today's story)? Does she look to an old French billboard for the answer? (This one, an ad for "La Roue" savon--see the old red wheel in the background?--seems to suggest a good old-fashioned washing-out-of-the-mouth with soap!
: gadzooks! goodness me!
Update: my friend Alicia just wrote in, adding this: The correct translation of saperlipopette if you believe Tintin translations anyway... is "blistering barnacles"... Thanks to Captain Haddock!
J'ai retrouvé le plaisir de la BD grâce à ce personnage libre de dire merde et non pas saperlipopette. I rediscovered the enjoyment of the comic book, thanks to the character who was free to say "sh--" and not "gadzooks". --from Le Monde, from the article ZEP, PÈRE COMBLÉ DE TITEUF
AUDIO FILE: listen to my son, Max, pronounce the French word "saperlipopette" and hear the example sentence: Download Saperlipopette . Download Saperlipopette
In books: Merde!: The Real French You Were Never Taught at School
... and the memoir Immoveable Feast: A Paris Christmas
A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
On the way to the dishwasher, my son drops a dirty spoon.
"Merde!" says he.
I zip my lip, for a moment, and think about how the French use the M-word freely, starting from a tender age. I'll never forget hearing it shouted at the beach, in Marseilles... by one stuttering sand-castle engineer, a little tyke of four years old. "Merde!" he exclaimed, when the water rushed up, demolishing his digs.
"Merde? He said 'merde'!" I remember my astonishment at how the French parents continued to chat, comme si de rien n'était.* Once again, I began to question and compare cultures, thinking back to my experiences in the States. In my mind's ear, I could not hear the same four-letter complaint on a beach, whose shores were closer to my native land. Surely, back home, a four-year-old wouldn't shout the S-word? No, I decided at the time, American toddlers don't cuss like that.
And then I had kids of my own. I think I've been on them about their cussing ever since they turned two (the age of mimic--and they weren't mimicking me!).
"Max!" I complain to my now thirteen-year-old. "Fais attention à ce que tu dis! Careful what you say!"
"Qu'est-ce que tu veux que je dise? Well, what do you want me to say?"
What's wrong with the perfectly retro "rats!"? I wonder. Now there's a keen expletive!
"Zut!" his father offers, picking up the dirty spoon and putting it in the machine, along with the breakfast bowls.
"Que ton langage soit... soit..." I search for a French word to illustrate my point and, taking a clue from my son, who is already halfway up the stairs, on his way to his room, I find it. "See to it that your language is ELEVE!"* Yes, elevated--raised to a HIGHER level!
Max, putting on an aristocratic air, and leaning dramatically over the guard rail offers this:
I smile, satisfied, but my satisfaction is short-lived when, with a snicker, my son comes up with another possibility.
"Oh, Max! That's LOW!"
"Crotte!" he snickers.
"Low. So LOW!"
"Go on, scat, get out of here!"
Remembering that little tyke on the beach in Marseilles, and his side-swiped tower, I think about "language building" and all those vain attempts to bring our kids' speech to "a higher level," against the waves of influence. (Not an easy undertaking when I don't understand French as they do--and now that there is a third language to contend with: French "texto" or text messaging.) With all the lofty, linguistic intentions, I wonder if I am, in a way, building my own chateau de sable*--only on a seemingly "higher" level; you know, a sand castle in the ciel.*
Comme si de rien n'était = as if nothing happened
élevé = high, elevated
une crotte = dropping (dog mess), i.e. "sh--"
le château (m) de sable = sand castle; le ciel = sky
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I'm afraid you'd be surprised and shocked at what quite young children say these days in the U.S., apparently causing little or no concern to their parents -- from whom they have undoubtedly learned the words, given what I hear adults saying in the presence of young children.
Posted by: Passante | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 02:50 PM
On a different subject, I see the advertisement for the CD, "A French Christmas." I would love to buy a French language CD and listen to the words, but with one big help -the French words (lyrics). Then I could sing along and also learn the words in French. Do you know, Kristen, if this CD advertised on your site has the French lyrics within?
On the subject of children's language, or adult language for that matter, we too often take the lazy "low road" and do not try to elevate our language to a more respectable level. My Christmas wish is that everyone would try just a little bit harder to be more worthy in that area!
Have a merry Christmas, Kristin, and a very happy new year 2009!
Love, Diane from Oak Ridge, NJ
Posted by: Diane Stanley | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 03:42 PM
I had a funny "first thought . . ."
Well, two of them, one tumbling on top of the other (oh, fiddlesticks! . . . that's rather too transparent!)
1) Whether our culture winks at witty expletives, ignores, or censures them, I don't think there are too many people in position of power and responsibility, or of service and sacrifice, who "bleeped" their way to success (with the exception of a few blighted talk radio and late, late night comics, who usually squeeze into only one of those categories.)
2) My second, more provocative, thought was this . . . Hell's bells, I'm not sure how "advanced" a society would have to be before parents started teaching little Johnny or Jean . . . "Say merde, darling! M-m-merd-d-d-de! . . . when you slam your finger in la porte!" Is the romance of expletive found in it's utter departure from that which is taught? Holy smokes!
3) A third consideration presents itself! Great Scott! This, more in keeping with Kristin's post for today . . . how is it the French can get away with things like this so becomingly? Criminy! Some may quickly say that it is because they have, in fact, overcome the haunts of language inhibition. I doubt it! This is the question of the hour, non?
It's grossly unfair, by gum! Plenty of cultures have potty-mouths (did I SAY that?) on the streets, in homes, and, goodness gracious, in office buildings, with a little discretion. One still considers that the man or woman in the CORNER OFFICE WITH A GREAT VIEW knows how to hold his dag-gone tongue!
I was standing in/on line with my daughter a few years ago . . . she was getting her driver's license repaired because of her foreign birth . . . and a sign was posted at the entrance, noting the ordinance number, saying that foul language was in violation of state law and would not be permitted. Land o'Goshen! I've never seen that posting in my life, although (owing to my great age . . . born more than a decade before the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan show) I did know such ordinances were on the books. I was bum-fuzzled!
One can only imagine the kind of language to which some of the clerks had been exposed for that posting to take place in this day and time, ordinances or no! Yikes!
I just suppose that a French child, grown up and as annoyed as one can become at the Highway Department offices, would cuss them out ... absolutely charmingly, for Pete's sake!
Posted by: Kerry in Oklahoma from Tucson | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 03:43 PM
Rats! Now I'll probably have to learn merde in French texting slang!!!
Merry Christmas - we'll be back in Vers on December 26.
Posted by: Joe Lillard | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 03:59 PM
www.paroles.net is a fairly helpful site for finding the lyrics to Fench songs if you happen to buy a French CD that doesn't have them. The magic of the internet!
Posted by: Carol | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 04:15 PM
Diane: not sure about whether the CD has lyrics with it.
Carol: thanks for the link; that ought to help!
Kerry - thanks for the fun and old-fashioned expressions. Can anyone add to these, in French or English? Criminy, Land o'Goshen, Great Scott... Mince, punaise, oh, fon! (can't spell this last one... which I think is an exclamation!
Posted by: Kristin Espinasse | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 04:26 PM
Kristin, You suggested a while back that I label the clean plastic bag container in the yard-crottes des chiens! Sounds a bit classier than dog poopy bags. My Mom had some wacky expletives "stars and garters" was one she used when family was around.
Posted by: georgie | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 04:51 PM
You might be delighted to know that "A French Christmas", is a 14 song album of traditional Christmas songs and it contains lyrics ... so you'll be able to sing along!
The 14 songs are
1. D'un coeur joyeux, chantez!
2. Il est né le divin Enfant
3. Petite ville Bethléem
4. Entre le boeuf et l'âne gris
5. Joyeux Noël
6. O viens bientôt Emmanuel!
7. Minuit Chrétiens!
8. La marche des Rois
9. Les anges dans nos campagnes
10. Sainte nuit
11. Mon beau sapin
12. Un flambeau Jeannette Isabelle
13. Que chacun s'empresse
14. Noël nouvelet
I'm sure you would also find the lyrics (les paroles) online.
Have a great Xmas!
Posted by: Newforest24 | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 05:34 PM
I had been living in France for almost a year and a half when one evening, I was cleaning up the dinner dishes at my friend Andree's house. An inadvertent lack of attention meant I cut my finger on some knife, causing me to curse up a little blue streak of my own. Andree and her sister were in the next room and caught me before I had regained my composure and came running--"Oh my God," Therese said, "He really has become a Frenchman." Andree said later, "And the words rolled off that filthy tongue as though you had been saying them your entire life!" I felt miserable with the cut in my finger but quite rewarded in the fact that I had assimilated even the naughty words so well! I knew I had gained real fluency then!
Posted by: James Wilson | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 05:44 PM
Most of us agree that les Francais sont realistes -- peut-etre les utilizent "merde" quand ne sensent pas eleve. Sans doubt "excrement" est mieux quand sensent eleve. Il y a Chaucer "characters" et il y a Churchill.
A little story about la "crotte":
In France for the 6th time and having been warned about droppings, not paying attention to crotte spots, a wrong step sent me flying and landing on my rump -- "Merde!" was spontaneous and rather appropriate. A gentleman assisted me to a standing position and continued immediately on his walk without saying a word. Never felt so angry, embarrassed, and frustrated at the same time! Standing there with crotte om my shoes, pant leg, and right hand, feeling anything but eleve, I remembered the pack of tissues in a pocket, wiped off as much as possible with my left hand (I'm right handed), and walked to the bus station where there was a public wash basin, all the while holing a tan decorated right hand away from my clothes and turned to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Quand se promenant sur les trottois en France, faites attention!!!
Posted by: Fred Caswell | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 05:48 PM
Thanks for this. It was a rude shock to me that the French curse so casually. I still remember working with a colleague who was frustrated with the slow Internet connection at work (this happened almost 10 years ago) and who screamed "putain!" (while looking at me!) and me bursting into tears and telling my boss that the said colleague called me a putain!!! I smile now when I think about it but it didn't seem funny then...
All the best to you and yours,
Posted by: Frances | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 05:56 PM
My five year old son's current favorite word for expressing frustration, anger, impatience, etc., is "Dammit!" Okay, don't ask me where he learned that. He also stamps his foot, in the classic style, and with enviable energy, when he says, it, or rather, yells it. Okay, and this IS true, I NEVER stamp my foot. Never! But honestly, French children must be taking their cues from their folks same as US kids. 'Merde' actually sounds kind of mild to me, especially if I pretend I don't know what the literal translation of the word is. 'Crotte' on the other hand. Well that's just - icky. Go to your room, Max!
Amanda in Portland
ps Kristin, thanks so much for your postings. I have been a silent enjoyer of them for a while now but will try to participate more. Best wishes!
Posted by: Amanda Ghest | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 08:23 PM
Saperlipopette...This reminds me of one of the Tintin album (I forgot which one) where one of the Duponts dtective twins found a "a gold nugget"=une pepite and gets tongue twisted:
Il dit:" Saperlipepite! Une popette"
Posted by: Bernard | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 09:40 PM
In the 1990's I was a tutorial teacher of French teens who came to the U.S. for a month in the summer. They stayed with families and during the day I had them for English language and American culture lessons in the mornings and field trips in the afternoon. They were supposed to be speaking English to each other but often lapsed into French and I learned quite a few "swear words" from them. (not their intention because they did not realize I was listening to them). I confess to pulling out the dictionary in the evenings to see what some of their words meant! I remember my 8-year old son telling me that he had learned the word "putain" from the boy we were hosting. He said Olivier used it when he would make a mistake playing a video game! Although he was not sure what it meant, my son figured out that it was probably a no-no!
Posted by: Connie | Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 04:02 AM
I'm trying to retrain myself (not very successfully) to say "snap". I think my son said he learned it from aussies? I read recently that Jaclyn Smith really does still say "fiddle-dee-dee". I think that's lovely that she was trained in such a way that it comes naurally to her. Kristin, keep up your efforts. When they are older, our children make choices we don't approve of and we won't be able to do anything about it, but those choices are then their responsibility. Our job as parents is to teach them the difference between their choices. If they grow up saying anything in front of anyone without consideration, then we haven't done our job as parents.
I'm amazed at young people i work with (in their twenties) that think it's ok to say they are "pissed off" or "you suck" in the public workplace. They are so used to hearing it that they are shocked to find out that it's offensive and improper in some environments. You stick to your guns! As some wise person once said "Parentling ain't for sissies"
Posted by: Tammy | Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 10:21 AM
Tout d'abord....., j'adore les couleurs délavées de la belle affiche ancienne pour le savon de Marseille “la Roue”.
I read the few lines underneath and thought immediately of the expression: “passer un savon” (à quelqu'un) = réprimander, gronder sévèrement (somebody). You wisely reacted, Kristin, and your dear Max didn't quite receive “un savon”!
(recevoir un savon = to be told off)
If “Merde!” (Shit!) came spontaneously out of his mouth it's because he's often heard that word around him. We are no longer in the middle of the XXth century when the interjection “Merde!” and the verb derived from it were considered as “gros mots”, only used by some rude men and badly brought up boys (les garçons “mal élevés”)!
Nowadays, “Merde!” has, somehow, lost its shocking vulgarity, because so many people use it “à tort et à travers” (wildly) and “à tout bout de champ” (all the time) -- when amazed, irritated, exasperated, but also when simply annoyed by something as irrelevant as a dirty spoon that dropped on the kitchen floor! Anyway, Max knows you noticed the M.... word -good!- and you're not too excited about it -great!- He will still use it, of course, but, hopefully, not to punctuate every sentence, and not in front of some people! Education and common sense will help him to know when not to utter the word.
I smiled when he gave you some milder alternatives. Interesting to notice he didn't suggest the word “Putain”! (in his mind, is it worse than merde? maybe...). Personally, I hate the interjection “Crotte!”, but will you be surprised if I confess I find “Crotte de bique!” milder, not serious, amusing? as if “la bique” (familiar for “la chèvre” -> goat) reduces the vulgarity factor of “crotte”. Subjective approach, I know.
To me, the inoffensive interjection “ZUT!” -- “Zut_alors!” -- is ideal to express all degrees of annoyance, but I suppose it would sound a bit insipid and out of fashion in the mouth of a 13 yr old boy. Will it become one day as obsolete as “Sapristi!” “Mince alors!” “Flûte!” ? Will the horribly smelly “Punaise!” survive or revive in the future? It looks as if the offensive “Putain!” has spread intensively and some people use it excessively. The obsolete “Bigre!” and “Fichtre!” to express amazement but also exasperation, frustration, even anger, seem to have gone.
As for the long and delightful “Saperlipopette!”, the word has certainly aged a bit. Bernard mentioned earlier on it reminded him of “Les aventures de Tintin” -- quite right. I must add it has a fantastically charming and childish flavour ... It makes me laugh... I do like it!
Posted by: Newforest24 | Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 07:24 PM
Strange to think that you a native English speaker blogs abouts French words daily while I, a native French speaker, blog about English words daily (and I do not even have the excuse of leaving in an English speaking country)!
Words are so wonderful.
Greetings from Rome.
Posted by: Nathalie (Spacedlaw) | Thursday, December 11, 2008 at 09:34 PM
What happened to "Nom d'un chien", and, "Nom de dieu" (a big no-no during my 1950s childhood, my cousins and I enjoyed saying it out of earshot of 'les grands'), my oncle Henri used to say "Nom de dios" with his slightly frenchy-flemish accent....
Posted by: JacquelineBrisbane | Friday, December 12, 2008 at 12:49 AM
Kristin, Unfortunately but I have to admit the English version of Merde has been a word I have had a difficult time obliterating from my vocabulary. However; since I am endeavering harder to live up to
my Christian dedication,I have a replacement
phrase you might find amusing though I'm not sure from what source I picked it up or how it would translate into French. When I am exasperated I say, "Shitake Mushrooms!"
Posted by: Pamela Normand | Friday, December 12, 2008 at 02:18 AM
A perfect word if there ever was one. A
little like supercalifragilisticexpealidoshous
Posted by: Susan | Friday, December 12, 2008 at 02:10 PM
I just finished up a three-month study abroad program in Paris that included French grammar classes through the Sorbonne. As the day of the final exam and then the orals approached, all of us in the “niveau avancé” class were showing signs of strain. Our wonderful professeur was sympathetic and did her best to prepare us for the rite of passage. As we left our final class, she shouted, “Merde!!” Now this was a very proper, very soft-spoken woman, so you can imagine our wide-eyed looks of disbelief as we stopped in our tracks. She was smiling and offered that it is a custom to say, “merde” before exams to bring luck. I always thought you were supposed to say “bonne chance” or “bon courage.” But I guess saying “merde” is like telling an actor to break a leg – someone started it a long time ago and it’s become an undeniable tradition and no one knows why. My classes taught me more than just grammar - they made me part of the culture.
Posted by: Barbara | Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 10:19 PM
My very dignified French/Flemish paternal grandmother (1883- 1979) didn't swear, but was superficially superstitious! She used to say that "passer sous une échelle apporte 7 ans de malheur" (so, if you don't want to be unhappy for 7 years, avoid walking under a ladder!) but "marcher dans la merde, ça porte bonheur" . There you are.
Before an exam, instead of saying to a candidate: "Bonne chance!", you say: "Je te dis / je vous dis Merde!" (not just "Merde!" on its own, but the little sentence). Nothing to do with swearing. This is a case of being superstitious!
Following Jacqueline Brisbane's post:
As soon as I read "Nom de dieu!" and its milder substitute, "Nom d'un chien!", I thought of all the other substitutes -> "Nom de nom!", "Nom d'une pipe!", "Sacré nom d'une pipe!" - and also, along the same line: "Pardi!", "Bon sang!", "Bon sang d'bon dieu!", "Bon sang d'bonsoir!" - all of them quite common in France in the 50s. Jacqueline, I'm sure one of your Frenchy/Flemish uncles or great uncles would have said (not in front of you, but you might have heard him saying): "Vindieu!", "Crévindieu!", "Crébondieu d'vindieu!". (nothing to do with "vin" = wine, but with “vain”).
What about the French archaic swearwords ending in "bleu"? In the Middle Ages, it was a mortal sin to swear with the name of God and blasphemy was punishable by death. Sacred words such as Dieu (God), used in blasphemous curses, got replaced by the word "bleu". For ex: the virulent and offensive "Mort (à) Dieu!” / “Mordieu!" (Death to God!), got transformed into "Morbleu!".
Other similar examples of interjections: “Sacrebleu!”, “Palsambleu!” (par le sang de Dieu), “Parbleu!”, “Ventrebleu!”, “Corbleu!”, “Jarnibleu!” (je renie Dieu -> I renounce God!). Those “bleu” swearwords were used a lot in the XVIIth century – we find them in Molière's comedies.
By the way, Jacqueline, you mentioned the "50s" in France, so, I suppose you remember George Brassens' song: "La ronde des jurons", 1958, probably banished by your parents as “ trop irrévérencieux”!? (= too irreverent ...)
Back to "Saperlipopette!". From "Sacredieu! "(blasphemy!), transformation into “Sacrebleu!”. A variation to “Sacreblotte!”, opened another line of swearwords: “Sacrelotte!”... which became "Saprelotte!", “Saperlotte!”and in the XIXth century, a funny extension transformed it into "Saperlipopette"... too funny and too childish to think it could possibly be offensive to anyone.
PS to Kristin,
just realised you threw a few interjections I never heard of (so, most probably of American origin). Time I do a bit of homework! ;-)))
Posted by: Newforest24 | Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 02:33 PM
Mmmm, I said I'd do my homework about the expressions you mentioned on Wed 10th (04:36 pm), so here I am ... I'll start with the last two.
1) “Mince!” / “Mince alors!” --> euphemism for “Merde!” / “Merde alors!” specially used when the so-called "mot de 5 Lettres" (M....!) was too offensive for most people. These days, M....! is less offensive that S...! in English, but some people may think it's just as bad.
2) “Punaise!” / "Purée!”--> euphemism for “Putain!” (une putain = a prostitute). Used as an interjection, it corresponds to F....! and to F.... Hell!
I must say “Criminy, Land 0'Goshen, Great Scott” were all unknown to me and they are not in my English to French dictionary, so I had to find other ways. I had a great time! ;-)
3) “Criminy!” --> Archaic. It comes from crimine / crime, euphemism for “Christ!”. Slang used to express surprise, astonishment, anger.
-> When expressing surprise, astonishment, not sure whether I'm right, but I imagine it might have been used in the same way as we use “Christ!” “Lord!”, “Good lord!”. “God!”, “My God!”, “Golly!”, “Gosh!”, Good gracious!”, “Good heaven!”, “Good heavens!”
- If so, in French, here are some equivalent expressions: “Mon dieu!” (My God!, My goodness! / Goodness me! / Good Gracious! / Gracious me!), “Bonté divine!” (Good heaven!), “Grand dieu!” ( God almighty!), “Grands dieux!” (God almighty! / Good heavens!), “Diable!” (My God! )
-> If used to express exasperation, here are some possible equivalents: “For Christ's sake!”, “For God's sake!”, "For Goodness sake!" ... “Heck!” (euphemism for Hell)
- In French, in the same context, the equivalent could be: “Pour l'amour de Dieu!”... as in “Taisez-vous, pour l'amour de Dieu!“ (For goodness sake, be quiet!). “Que diable!” (What the hell.......?).
-> If used to express anger, I'd suggest: "Damn it!", “Hell!”, “Bloody hell!”.
- In French, when annoyed or/and angry, what about "Que diable!", “Vindieu!” (also written “Vingt dieux!”, milder version of “Vains dieux!”), "Tonnerre de dieu!", “Sacré nom de dieu!” (see equivalent English interjections just above)... I don't mention "Merde" as it doesn't belong to the same (religious) context.
I'd like to say that, in France, I heard more than once French people saying, when puzzled, astonished, perplexed, panicked, frightened, can't cope, the following interjections: “Seigneur Jésus!”, “Seigneur-Jésus-Marie-Joseph!”... “Mon dieu mon dieu!,... served (or not) with some Pffff!... , “Oh lala mon dieu!”... I don't know of any interjection containing the word “Christ!”
4) "Land O'Goshen!" . It's an old-time rural American expression. The Land of Goshen represents the area in Egypt where the Jews lived before the Exodus, an incredibly fertile land. I thought it could be the equivalent of the Land of plenty, Eden, Paradise... French equivalents: Pays de Cocagne, Paradis terrestre, Arcadie, Pays de rêves. Unfortunately, I can't find any similar expressions, used as exclamations /interjections.
"Good heavens!" and "Great heavens!" don't mean the same. "I never!" (in French "Incroyable!", "Pas possible!") is a bit too simple and certainly not biblical...
5) "Great Scott" - interjection to show surprise, amazement or disbelief. General Winfield Scott (1786–1866) was a brilliant American general, respected and loved by his men.
Here, Scott = euphemism for God (?)
Could the equivalent be: “Good Lord!”, “Good God!” “Goodness me!”...?
No idea if “Great Scott!” is still a popular expression in some parts of the US.
Terribly sorry for the length!
Posted by: Newforest24 | Monday, December 15, 2008 at 08:35 PM
Your post on December 10th for finding lyrics of songs at www.paroles.net has been changed as of November 20, 2008.
La publication des Textes sur le site Paroles.net est suspendue par Ordonnance du Tribunal de Grande Instance de Toulon du 10 septembre 2008 à la requête de plusieurs éditeurs et de la CSDEM au vu des articles L122-4 et L335-3 du Code de la Propriété Intellectuelle.
Ordonnance reçue le 20 novembre 2008
Négociations en cours ...
I used this sight frequently. It was nice while it lasted.
Posted by: Stanley V, Wanek | Wednesday, December 17, 2008 at 09:13 PM
I take one-on-one lessons from a young french lady (who's from paris). The other day, she called my kitten "une crôtte" - she said the closest thing she could translate that to was "a poo". So yes, it's a "dropping of animal", but more effectively, in the eyes of little tykes - "poo". Please tell me your little frenchlings know the word poo! I'm sure that would be a fun word for them to spread around france! :)
Posted by: Allison | Thursday, December 18, 2008 at 09:27 AM
I was teaching the word "Saperlipopette" to my friend today, walking back fifth street Pittsburgh towards University after a copious lunch. We had a blast making fun of these old fashioned words, all these creative ways to express actually the same "merde".
I grew up in Europe, speaking French and German equally (yes I do have two "Muttersprachen"). Coming to the US the first time when I was only seventeen, as a naive and shy girl, I was surprised how cussing was met with strongest disapproval.
As stated in your very lovely story, we grew up in a society where words like "merde", "putain", "connard" are extensively used and tolerated. Shit, merde, Scheisse... it all has the same literal meaning, this is what happens inevitably after eating, at least if you're healthy ;-). However, here in the US, society "bans" these words. People tend to use "shoot" or "gosh" instead of the original words. In Europe, swear words are overly used and therefore these swear words are weakened. Your "shit" is not equivalent to our "merde"/"Scheisse", even tough it has the same literal meaning. Camouflaged swear words give a lot of power of the original words, but don't let it fool you; in the end, it all really depends on how the person saying it, means it.
I don't think there is a right way, we're just different. I do not like the excessive use of swear words in Europe, because it makes people less creative (we don't want "Newspeak"). But I also don't like the shaming that goes with the usage of these words (in general) in the American society. It is fine to have different opinions, different ways of living. Please, don't feel offended if Europeans cuss in front of you, because they probably do not mean it as you understand it and they probably don't know better. Explain to your children that they should not cuss for no good reason and teach them your meaning of words.
Thank you for this nice little article that made me reflect on my own experiences. It is hard for parents not to be able to fully understand all the languages your kids may speak and can be frustrating for your kids sometimes. However, later in life, your kids will benefit immensely from knowing more than one language, they will benefit from an enlarged vocabulary, they will be able to easily see subtle nuances in meaning and understand through connections between languages. But more importantly, they will be able to connect and identify with more and different people in ways it may not be possible otherwise. I truly believe that learning more than one language is a first step towards a better world.
Posted by: Astrid | Wednesday, August 23, 2017 at 11:32 PM