Swearing in Other Languages

This is going to be a tough post to write because I don’t like to swear and seldom do it. I’ve always thought that swearing was wrong. It is vulgar and is only used when people were not smart enough to use other words. Well, at least that’s what my parents taught me. We were not allowed to swear and we never heard our parents doing that either. The closest I heard my parents ever come to swearing was to say “sugar!”. So we seldom swore. When someone else did, we would cringe. Didn’t they have any manners?

Do Swiss Swear?

When I came to Switzerland I noticed that many Swiss swear. It seemed a lot more normal to them. I learned many interesting Swiss words but probably just the tip of the swear-word iceberg. The word in German that gets used the most is “scheisse” [sh** in English]. My sister-in-law swore in front of her young children the same way my mother did. She would say “Schildkrote” [turtle].

Once one of her preschool children was singing a children’s song in high German. She couldn’t speak or completely understand it at the time. I asked her if she knew what one word meant. She just shyly looked at me and smiled.

To understand why she did that, you have to know Swiss German is similar to high German. Quite often the words are the same with a different pronunciation. The same word pronounced in German with an “E” will be pronounced using an “I” in Swiss, and vice versa. It so happened that the children’s song had the German word “schiessen” [to shoot] in it. In Swiss, the word pronounced the same way is swearing. It was sweet that she didn’t feel comfortable saying the word and her reaction was priceless.

Swearing in a Foreign Language

I realized that swearing in another language takes away the stigma associated with the word. Somehow it’s not like you are really swearing, there is no upbringing connected to it. I learned that I must be careful the hard way. Once Ben and I were at a department store. I was looking at something that I thought was poorly made. I made a comment using a swear word to Ben speaking in a normal voice, not in a whisper. A lady was standing in the same aisle with her daughter. She gave me a look to kill, turned around and stormed out of the aisle dragging her daughter with her. Oops.

School Kids

Like I said, swearing in another language isn’t nearly as bad as swearing in your mother tongue. I learnt my lesson in that department store, another person in school. At one point Ben was teaching a class of rowdy youths. It was a small but tough class. The regular teacher had doctor’s orders to have at least one day a week off. That way his ulcer might have a chance to heal. That’s how bad the class was. Swearing was something that they did a lot of and thought they were good at.

The first day Ben entered the classroom one of the students yelled from the back of the room “A** H***!” (See, I can’t say the words, let alone write them!) You have to be some kind of quick thinker to get the upper hand of someone who greets you like that. Ben is. He answered without skipping a beat “Thank you for introducing yourself, now sit down and shut up.” The shame of the other students laughing at him kept him quiet for awhile. Don’t get me wrong, Ben is an excellent teacher. He doesn’t react this way under normal teaching conditions but this wasn’t normal.

Another time when he came in the classroom after a break someone had written in English on the blackboard: “F*** the Bonauer.” Ben turned that into an English lesson. He corrected the poor grammar and translated the “F” word into German.  In the end he said if they planned to write things on the blackboard in another language they should get the grammar right. They should also know what they are saying. Was that really what they wanted to do?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: