Monday, April 16, 2012

An Introduction to Spanish Cursing

The Spanish love to curse. Here, children as young as four, five, six are saying words that, in English, would make anyone blush and would warrant a rebuke, if not a spanking. Ass, shit, fuck, and even the C-word are ubiquitous, and nowhere near as offensive as in English. Grannies on the street say the C-word when they drop their shopping bags. My eight-year-old students say shit when they make a spelling mistake. Even the most boring, quiet class snaps to attention when the conversation turns to how to curse in English. It's actually pretty interesting to think about how swears have evolved in each language, and how different words are used to convey the same meaning. For example, to call someone a bitch, they don't use the word for female dog as much as they use the word for female fox (zorra). To say "son of a bitch" they say "son of a whore".

Pronunciation is also key here: one of the hardest distinctions for Spanish speakers to make is between dark and light vowels in English. Spanish has the same five vowels as English, but each one has only one sound that it always makes. None of this wind/wind or live/live confusion. I can't count the number of people who have confided to me that they're afraid to talk about going to the beach because they're afraid they're going to say bitch instead. My sophomores last year giggled uncontrollably when I handed out "worksheets" -- that small but oh-so-important difference in vowel sounds made it sound to them like I was saying "workshits". Ha ha, "shit" is soooo funny when you are fifteen.

Spanish curses can be quite creative, and when translated they're pretty funny. And so begins a new series: Spanish Swear of the Day. (Although let's be honest, daily here is a very high expectation for me and it will more likely be bi-weekly or even weekly or even monthly if we are very, very honest.) 

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