Your mother, your rat, your infidel house, your God, etc.

Andrew Brown points us to an illuminating article by Bernard Nežmah on swearing in Serbian. Though the article is five years old, I daresay its theme is timeless.

According to Nežmah’s piece — published in Central Europe Review or, as we must now call it, Transitions Online — the Serbian language is blessed with a dazzling, perhaps unsurpassed richness of vulgarisms. Even English, no slouch at that sort of thing, pales in comparison: such are the subtleties of the Serbian variants on the F-word that Serbian-English dictionaries (the more comprehensive editions, one imagines) are reduced to explaining in an aside whether a given word for ‘fuck’ is jocularly offensive, just plain offensive, really really offensive, so offensive it should be used only in the event of war, etc.

A tip of the jaunty afoe fedora to Andrew (who surprises us by revealing he used to speak Serbo-Croat in addition to English, Swedish, Caenorhabditic and whatever else he has up his sleeve).

6 thoughts on “Your mother, your rat, your infidel house, your God, etc.

  1. My father had a story of rough partisan manners in the early Sixties Tito government which is relevant here — at some diplomatic reception, with the gentlemen wearing their decorations and the ladies the gladdest rags, the minster for something or other got druink and stationed himself at the foot of the grand staircase where he greeted every descending ball gown with a joyous shout of “Cunt!”

  2. Serbo-Croatian swear words are part of the shared Slavic heritage. Some of them (like the primary f- and c-words) have nearly identical cognates even in Russian, others are limited to southern and western Slavs. Eastern and Western Slavs share some pertinent lexical items that apparently aren’t used in the Balkans. The strangest case I know is that of Ukrainian, which is said not to possess any swear words at all. Apparently, at least some Ukrainians believe that when then swear, they’re actually speaking Russian. I’m frankly sceptical myself, not least because some of those words have Polish but not Russian cognates. As I recall, InsultMonger.com is a handy source for these matters.

    The most striking feature of Serbo-Croating swearing for me as a Russian speaker is its literalistic bent. In Russian, three basic swear roots are customarily combined with regular prefixes and suffixes to form several hundred words, some having specific meanings (be amazed, steal, etc) and others conveying general manner of action or, one might say, ontological category, so that intended meaning can be deduced from context. This makes it possible to have elaborate conversations about everyday matters without using any non-swear content words at all. That’s not a party trick, either. It’s just the way many people talk. But to use those roots to mean what they’re supposed to mean… some of our Slavic brothers need to wash out their mouths with soap.

  3. pizda, I guess. ALthough it isn’t given in that article, if I recall correctly “materina” eg just meaning “of (your) mother”. I was surprised to learn that the word is used.

    Living in Russophone Odes(s)a, I was informed on several occasions that the rudest word one could use wasn’t any of the normal russian ones (although they were thrown about with some enthuiasasm for sure, to say the least), but “Pots”, which presumably derives from the Yiddish, “putz”, but, in contemporary Odesan usage, is very very much stronger. True enough that if you google the word in CYrillic script most of the sites you will find originate from the city, so it’s something that obviously hasn’t spread widely geographically. But the literalistic bent of Serbian cursing amazes me too..

  4. Sorry – I meant to type “I was surprised to learn that the word is used as a direct insult in Slovene”; as it isn’t, as a rule, in Russian. (Erm…I learnt that from watching the film “Trainspotting” with Slovene subtitles…)

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