Caution: This book review contains off-color language, sexist excess and blasphemy. A reader might blush. Hell, a reader might think.
Last week in its House of Lords, by a vote of 148 yea to 87 nay, Britain abolished its blasphemy law. Said Baroness Kay Andrews introducing the amendment, “It is crystal clear that the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are unworkable in today’s society.”
May all nations and religious bigots take note. I make not the slightest apology for the feisty words quoted from this delightful new book or for my opinion.
Curse & Berate in 69+ Languages
R. V. Branham, editor-in-chief
The Splendor of Our Malice
A New Compendium of Curses
book review by Bill Casselman
Here’s a new world-wide collection of curses, insults and baaaaaaad words. Few books make me curl up in the reading chair by the window and cackle in delight at how nasty and yet how creative insults can be. I plutz every time I open this treasury of vituperation and happen upon another phrase of blasphemous excess.
My favorite from the entire 200-page list of shocking words and bad taste?
I am an atheist and the next time I’m in Iceland, I now know how to say this in Icelandic: Ríddu Jesúsbarninu í jötu útstillingunni.
In English? “Fuck Baby Jesus right in his little cradle!”
If that shocks you, instead of making you chortle with saliva-spritzing glee that the cross-clutchers don’t get everything their way through all of history, then perhaps this book is too powerful for you and will too easily encourage your timidity.
Here is another gem from this book. I learned this Finnish insult: Äitisi nai poroja!
In English? “Your mother fucks reindeer!”
Mind you, I don’t recommend that you utter such a line in the middle of a Lapp dance.
From this sterling volume, I discovered that the Icelandic word for clit is snígur.
I don’t much like Danes. All those Mohammed-bashing cartoons. And, when you go into a Danish elevator, there is button in every elevator marked “Fart” and you have to press it to make the elevator work. So I was exceedingly pleased to learn this insult in Danish:
Du kan kneppe dig selv I røven med en lego-klods!
In English? “You can go fuck yourself up the asshole with a Lego brick!”
I acquired the ability to say to a nasty Italian stewardess: Vai farse un ditalino, brinca. In English? “Go finger-fuck yourself, you cunt.”
Of course, I can’t ever use it. If I did, I’d be taken off the Alitalia plane under cover of night and smothered to death under vast gelatinous substrates of stale lasagna, illegally maintained at acre-wide locations near airports where foreigners land in Italy. And just when the perturbed visitor wishes to complain about such treatment, the Italian government changes.
Curse & Berate in 69+ Languages is divided into two parts, bad words and bad phrases. Some of the categories are: Ass-kisser, Bastard, Blow Job, Bitch, Cocksucker, Dick Face, Retard and Slut. Gosh, that's almost my entire Grade Seven class. We were an Opportunity Class for Late Starters. Dick Face was 27.
Each page states such a word at its top left and then gives translations or equivalents in 69 or more languages on that page. This makes for hours and hours of joyous browsing and learning how other languages treat the quite healthy impulse or indeed the necessity to insult a fellow wayfarer on this path of tears.
Curse & Berate in 69+ Languages coddles obscenity, nurses it lovingly on the nipples of odium and then presents obscenity, all dainty in its fresh bassinet, for the reader’s kitchy-coo of delight and approval. It got mine.
Satan cast out of heaven, for bad-mouthing the Almighty — from an engraving by Gustave Doré to illustrate Milton's Paradise Lost
Sources of Curse Words
From which metaphorical wells do humans draw up the buckets of profanity needed for each day’s drubbing of other human beings? The sources appear to be similar the world over: our anatomical bits, sex, defecation and urination, mental capacity of others and religious convictions fill the fetid bucket to the brim.
A Modest Failing
One picayune quibble I do have. One of the languages I know well, Latin, has a large number of clumsy literal translations of insults in this book. The curses are not the idiomatic Latin spoken by ancient Romans. They are insults from English and other languages translated by some bozo with a Latin dictionary. He has a Latin dictionary, all right. It’s just that he has never read a line of Caesar or Cicero or Plautus or Ovid.
This book says the Latin for son-of-a-bitch! is canis filius. It is NOT! Get real, Quintus. Canis filius means ‘male offspring of a female dog.’ No Roman EVER insulted an intransigent Gallic doofus with that phrase. At the back of this book is an invitation to send in more insults in various languages. Someone conversant with the authentic ancient Roman vocabulary of opprobrious utterance ought to do just that. Perhaps I will.
The Test of the Book
Now, I’m going to test this book as a repository of soul-withering putdowns. I want deeply to insult a certain linguist and I’m going to use this new book to help find juicy chop lines. But first I have to give you a modest amount of background.
There is no scientific analysis in this book on why we swear. You can find that in many a lingo-peddler’s sack. Stephen Pinker, one of the current linguistic gurus, has some deep thoughts about the relationship between language and cursing in several of his recent tomes. So, years ago, did British polymath Ashley Montague in his 1967 The Anatomy of Swearing. A 42-year-old volume far apter, far more relevant, far more cogent than Pinker’s ramblings.
I don’t like Steven Pinker. His notions offered to the public are the yammering prattle of a show-off professor. Pinker is one of those academic fence-straddling psychologist-linguist-sociologists who pisses on everybody else’s area of linguistic endeavour and expertise. If you are not studying the psychometrics of language acquisition in Outer Mongolian deaf dwarves, and instead have devoted your life to, say, Bantu phonology or Slavic etymology, well, you’re on the wrong track, pal. Only pusherke Steve is doing the linguistic right thing. Yeah, right, the whole word world is wrong and the Little Pinkie, alone of all mortals, treds the path of enlightenment.
Pinker loves Noam Chomsky's work. Should a reader, like me, have had the bad taste to study and then think Noam Chomsky’s “deep structure” and “generational grammar” are hypothetical constructs of positively hilarious inconsequence and total non-applicability to human language patterns, well, you will be drummed out of the Department of Language Study and left in the college parking lot to parse French sentences for dull undergraduates.
Wouldn't it be convenient if my demurrers were all sour grapes, the cankered and pustulant oozings of a bitter loser? But, too bad, I have never been drummed out of any college language department. I just don't like Steven Pinker or his work.
But it is true that, if you ever wear to class that t-shirt that reads “Chomsky is a leftwing Fuckwit,” you will be terminated. Never mind that, twenty or thirty years after Chomsky plucked these fraudulent notions out of the clouds one summer afternoon, never mind that not one iota of proof of any of Chomsky’s theories has ever been anatomically demonstrated. No jot or tittle of Chomskian affirmation has ever dribbled out of a neurology lab as a tissue sample in a Petri dish. Nothing Chomsky ever supposed has appeared on an oscilloscope or jumped up in the middle of a neurosurgical excision and screamed, “I’m here! Deep structure exists!” Not once. Never. It’s all bunk. Chomsky’s blitherings about language constitute one of the longest-running pseudointellectual scams in American Academe.
In certain American and Canadian universities exist Language departments where, if you don’t worship Chomsky, you don’t keep your job. Whole generations of language teachers, stuffed with vapid Chomskian piffle, now shuffle through our high schools and colleges wondering why so much language study lacks meaningful resonance. Well, I can tell them. Because it’s unproven, tediously irrelevant horseshit!
Pinker’s a poop and so is Chomsky.
So, fuck Stephen Pinker! I’ve wanted to say that for years.
Fuck Steven Pinker and his boring books that act as more potent soporifics than sodium pentothal.
Fuck Pinker’s twisty halo of hair.
Let’s see now. From the book under review today, here’s a good one to hurl at Pinker.
It’s Norwegian: Sutt lut og dø, tós! In English? ”Suck lye and die, bitch!”
Oh dear! Can such loathing belong in the laudatory review of a book of curses? Yes!
Here’s something else Steven Pinker can do. It’s Finnish: Vedä vittu päähän ja pakene Jeesuskyrpä.
In English: Draw a cunt on your forehead and run very quickly at Christ’s dick!
What an ingenious curse! I love the Finns! Those protracted winter nights breed insanities as yet unplumbed by sun-dazed southerners.
I enjoyed this funny, funny book. I recommend it to all who wish to suck deeply from the swamp of blasphemy or nibble nimbly on the sweetmeats of ill will.
Curse & Berate in 69+ Languages
R. V. Branham, editor-in-chief
Published in March 2008 by Soft Skull Press
An imprint of Counterpoint LLC
2117 Fourth Street
Berkeley California USA
(The International Standard Book Number is a method of identifying a published book with a unique reference number for ordering.)
$ 13.95 USD
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© 2008 William Gordon Casselman
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