Warning: contains coarse language

I knew it! You read “coarse” and you are curious about this article. So, pardon my French and keep reading it.

From the back cover: After centuries of war we Europeans are trying to get along together, but we keep treading on each other’s toes. Tread on an English toe and you might get a “bloody hell”, on an Italian’s and you will hear “Cazzo!” (prick!), a Spaniard’s and you will get “Hostia!” (Sacred host!). and while a German wll bluntly shout “Scheisse!” (shit!) a startled Portogues might say “Puta que pariu!” (The whore that bore you!).

Your Mother’s Tongue. A book of European Invective by Stephen Burgen is a a great, fun and useful books for language lovers. This British Journalist analyses several European languages trying to create a link among them. Readers will learn “that what is invective in one country is sweet talk in another”. The author makes a clear distinction among bad language, cursing and swearing. Every language has its way to express itself, even using not-so-nice words. According to him this aspect of the language is way more interesting than the language of love, which is impoverished: I like you, like you a lot, love you, am in love with you. That’s all.

Yes bad language is bad but it contains the history, culture and tradition of that language.

For example, the word figa (cunt) in Italian is never an insult and is in general complimentary. If it turns into its masculine version, figo, it means cool. Or a true Catalan. When presented with some truly astonishing information will offer a dismissive Me la porta fluxa  I pendulant, which means my dick is dropping, that is to say, big deal.

The book shows that our cultural roots really start to appear when we are surprise. French people  are happy to shout Merde!(shit) or Putain(whore!) or E ta soeur!(and your sister!). But the pragmatic Germans would say Du spinnst wohl!(you must be crazy!) and the even-more-serious Danes will exclaim Vildt fedt!(wild fat!). We Italians, who are tied to our catholic roots, will say Madonna!. But the best is Portuguese language: Vai t’a porn um porco! (go fuck a pig!).


The book also shows some examples in Yiddish, is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews, which was  originated during the 9th century in Central Europe, and Romani, better known as the Gipsy language, which is any of several languages of the Romani people belonging to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. About the latter, it is mentioned an interesting study of east European Gypsies which explains why the Gypsies have no religious book of their own. Because…well, you should buy the book.

Please do not underestimate the importance of this book. Yes, it is definitively fun but it underlines useful information to understand better words and expressions which are difficult if you do not know the story behind. As Italians say, language and culture vanno a braccetto (go hand in hand)


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