Thursday, July 20, 2006

What the @#$%!

Warning: @#$%! language ahead!

When my sis and I were little kids, like in scores of other households, swear words were a complete taboo. Although at that time, we were still in the infantile stage as far as our swear word vocabulary was concerned. We had never even heard of the f-word or the s-word or the a**h*** word and their variants. Instead we used words like idiot, goose, fool, ninny and idjit (the last two were borrowed from some Enid Blyton novel - they have roughly the same meaning as fool and idiot) as insults. When we were really upset, we used to use bloody-fool and bastard.

Now, while the former set of words were still considered to be in the realm of decency, my parents did not like us using the last two words. Using them resulted in a terrible scolding or a sharp slap on the back from mom. This, of course, made it into a useful blackmail tool. Whenever one of us inadvertently, between ourselves, during a fight, used these words, the other would gleefully pounce upon it and say "Ha, I am going to tell mummy!" And thus would begin the pleading and the bargaining for silence!

The funny part in this story is not that we did not know the meaning of bastard then. Yes, we did not know the meaning. But even more interesting was the fact that we did not even know the spelling of the word. Hence we both spelt it as "basket" based on what we thought the villains said in the Tamil movies (bastard used to be a very favorite bad word for villains those days). I even used to wonder why "basket" had such an bad reputation when used as a swear word and not when in normal usage! Ah, the innocence of childhood!

Anyways, as I grew, my swear vocabulary also grew. As in, I at least knew the meanings of the common swear-words. Somehow I still couldn't bring myself to use most of them myself. Yup - I even stayed away from the s*** word! Even now I remember what one of my English teachers in school said. "Why dont you translate 'bull-shit' into Tamil and use it? If you think it sounds bad in Tamil, why do you think it is cool to use it in English?" Hmm, something to ponder about!

And then it was time to enter college. Of course, colleges have their own unique lingo which adds much color to any language. I used to find some of the insults very funny without them being offensive. My hostel friends, especially S, came up with their own specialities "Soplaangi" and "Gulbeku" are two insults which I use with great relish till date :-)!

When I set off to the US, my English teacher's words were still ringing in my ears. To my shock, as soon as I landed here, I realized that the word "shit" was something which people used for describing anything and everything. "Shit man! I forgot to read the journal paper." "Oh shit, its my cooking turn today!" "She really said that? No shit!" and so on! It was not long before the s-word became a very well-used part of my everyday vocabulary.

And then of course, there was the great f-word. In India, among my circle of friends, you could see the looks of horror on everyone's faces if this word came out from anyone's mouth. Whereas, in Davis, among other people, it was one of roomie R's favorite words! I remember our friend V once brought down a heavy book on her head to stop her from using it! I think the she stopped using the word only as long as the ringing lasted in her head :-)! In any case, pretty soon, I no longer cringed upon hearing the word. But surprisingly enough, it did not enter my list of "usable" words. Till date, the only time I ever use the f-word is - in my head - when I am driving and another driver makes me mad! The a** word and its variants I use when I am really, really angry - but otherwise those are off-limits too!

Using swear words is a way to vent off steam. A much better way than hurting someone or causing property damage. Still, somehow that childhood training is so ingrained in my head that I cannot use filthy language without getting a very yucky feeling! Same with reading any book or article which contains too much foul language. Like one of the characters in the Flavors movie (before the character is encouraged to drink and lose all his wordly inhibitions), the number of times I repeat the swear words from my limited allowed-swear-word vocabulary rather than their intensity is an indication of how frustrated I am!

BTW, here is the disclaimer: Let not all the above declarations lull you into a false sense of security that I am Ms. Goody-two-shoes or something, because I am NOT. Or maybe you can get lulled - at your own risk ;-) X->!


Ram said...


Been lurking, reading your posts. I admire the candor in your posts. I think we all go through a phase of trying out swear words, and then eventually discarding them from our active vocabulary.

As with many things, they are potent only if used sparingly...or perhaps not at all.

Archana Bahuguna said...

Hilarious! specially the complaining and bargaining, emotional blackmail thing! Pretty much similar here again. :-)

I remember when in childhood we really wanted to give gali we would use minor alterations to the big words like "ulloo ka gadha" instead of the you know which word. And yes, mom and dad would have a hanging sword on our heads if they ever heard anything (that too would be like once in 15 years or something and then never heard again). But yeah, never got to real swearing.

The s*** word however came pretty easy on my tongue eons ago, it being very commonly used in daily Delhi life (first time we uttered Mom did frown but by then we were grown ups :-). But F*** n A******, not yet.

Prasanna said...

LOL! Basket! I too use to wonder what was wrong with the word...

I remember using the word "sexy" (ofcourse without knowing what it means) and getting a slap from mom...

Floridora said...

I hope you never reach the stage that my father in law did. He was a big reader, several books a week, and he was a generous man, when finished with a book he would give it to someone he thought would enjoy it. Only a single problem for the recipients. He read books with a black, felt-tip pen in his hand. He inked out all words he felt were "improper". Very disconcerting.

Saranya Kishore said...

LOL! :--) Nice one Arch!!
>>Using swear words is a way to vent off steam.
Very true!! Mostly while driving. ;--)
I dont use these words with other people, probably just in my head... and to K. hehe.

And LOL! @ Soplangi and Gulbeku. Gulbeku is new to me.
'Stupid' and 'Looose' I used a lot in college, avlothan.

dinesh said...

LOL. Funny post this. "Goose" as an exteremly angry word ? Cracks me up...I remember all the little incidents from childhood as well. My parents still think that I don't have the ability to swear. "Avan vaai lerndhu oru thappu vaarthai varaadhu" is theif firm belief. That statement was true some 15 years ago. I never bother to correct them though :)

Prabhu said...

I have seen people use swear words to surprisingly hilarious effects.

It is like,you dont like using swear words, but if it comes from X's mouth, it just is funny :)

Hope u r still not using words like goose at ur frends, Ivvlo periya uruvam - goose nu thittinaa sirippu thaan varum :)

Ginkgo said...

yeh...remember saying B***** to my friend for the first time when in school and he went bonkers and dint talk for the whole day..

Took a lot of cajoling and promise tht I wont use it again, before he talked to me :-)

The most I use nowadayz is Shoot, not bad considering how easy it was to say s*** all the time..:)

see there has to be make me read everything at one go :P

Thanu said...

I also only swear while driving.. ajkal driving bahut kam hai so swearing bi kam hain.

kuttichuvaru said...

enna thaan ithana swear words irunthaalum, namma thamizh ketta vaarthai-kku oru thani feel thaan!! in college life, it pretty much becomes a suffix to each sentence!! man, I miss those days!!

Archana said...

Ram - thank you :-)! Thats true, swear words lose their effect if used too often!

Archana - :-D - I think most of us went through that stage with siblings! Real swearing takes a lot of practise I think :-)!

Prasanna - a slap for "sexy" - LOL! But yeah, even we never used to use that word at home!

Floridora - LOL :-D! Thats too hilarious! I hope I don't ever reach that stage!!

Saranya - yeah, my friend used to be an expert at coming up with such cute insult words! I think "gulbeku" is totally her invention - not sure! We used to use "loose" a lot too :-)!

Dinesh - for some reason, goose used to be an insult! Our younger cousins took after us and even now my youngest cousins use "goose" to scold each other :-)! Your story of your "clean image" reminds me of Satyaraj in that Nadigan movie and the show he puts :-P!

Prabhu - thats true! That's true I have burst out laughing at the most inappropriate moments because some insult/swear word the other person used was simply too funny (for me). Goose is not used for outsiders! My sis and I still use it as a very mild scolding word :-)!

Ginkgo - glad to know this post met your reading standards ;-)! I know a friend who uses shoot for shit and fish for the f-word!

Thanu - I think swearing during driving is sth which no one can help!

Archana said...

Kuttichuvaru - I don't use too many Tamil swear words either! But yeah, when I want to rant, no other language can express frustration like Tamil does :-D.

Shilpa said...

Hey nice one Arch...wat was the inspiration ? Did u swear at someone while driving to work today hehehe...

I was never allowed to use bad language at home either and so till date I find it impossible to say certain words ( except in my mind )

Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes --- u ?

Archana said...

Shilpa - nopes, not done too much of swearing-while-driving of late (touchwood)! Seri, seri, romba sirikaathey - hmph X-(!

Priyamvada_K said...

First time here, from Thennavan's blog. That was such a cute post, and so true.

Can so relate to the part about "bastard" and the scolding that would bring.

On an unrelated note, P.G.Wodehouse, in one of his novels, used this swear word in a roundabout way:

(about some character lost in the city and undergoing travails)...."and to top it all, some child of unmarried parents had stolen his wallet".

For a minute one does a double take. Then comprehension dawns.


Archana said...

Priya - welcome aboard :-)! Thank you!I know which book you are talking about - Biffen's millions - just read it recently :-D! PGW's way with words is simply unbeatable!

Known Stranger said...

never had i read with so much patience of any ones blog. you just mesmise me.

i remember when i started using a reall swear word. it was while i was in 3rd first word i learnt was bastard. then while in school oh my good ness. i dont know i never used a word except one. mundakkallapa. i have no idea what does it mean till now.

Dont ask me while i was in college - not a single word was left unused. And when i started reading osho books during college days ( ok thatz apart - while i was in college i read a lot on saints and god man life stories" osho is a pecuilar god man who gave a big lecture on the verstality of the word FUCK. i could never forget it. He used the words in all possible noun, proverb, adjective, verb, adverb and what not....

the funniest part is - i was though one of the studious stundent of college , also a guy dare to go to any filthy language with no shame in public. - but while i was out of college one day reading a book _ no idea what book it had lot of this word " sonofabitch. " it was written through out the book liek sonfabitch,

after reading a couple of times - i asked my friend ( college mate) what does in a different pronounciation what is sonfa bitch?

he started laughing alound and didnt say me anything but spread the whole news - vaishnav doesnt know sonofabitch..

was very embrassment to me before my friends to be not knowing it was son of a bitch.


good nostaliga.. thanks buddy bringing back my old good memories