Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Bilingual bad language [WARNING: CONTAINS SWEARING – Avert your eyes/ears, Mother!]

There are many advantages to living the life bilingual, but possibly the most delicious one has to do with behaving badly.

Having been brought up in a nice, respectable family in the nice, respectable wilds of deepest Surrey, I’m not much of a potty mouth. 

I’m no angel, of course. The occasional “Shit!”, “Fuck!” or "Bugger!" blurts out, but I usually follow-up by looking round to make sure the Mother Ship isn't listening. As we were growing up, Mum had a zero tolerance policy on swearing, except for "Bugger" which for some reason no-one really understands, she uses frequently and with great gusto and simply doesn't consider it bad language at all, despite repeatedly having the dictionary definition  shoved under her nose. I’m still smarting from the memory of having my mouth washed out with a bar of Lifebuoy soap after sticking two fingers up at her in a fit of pre-teen pique. But to her credit, I grew up surrounded by books and so entered adulthood armed with a vocabulary that lets me express EXACTLY what I feel without resorting to ‘naughty’ words.

But the truth is, there are times when you want to – no, you NEED to – just let rip and turn the air blue.

Enter the joys of speaking Greek.

It’s a great language for letting rip (if you don’t believe me, just pay a visit to the nearest Greek tax office). 

It's a terrific language for obscenity. The Hellenic dictionary of foul language is filled with words that are meaty and fibrous, they fill your mouth (oo-er Missus!) and the satisfy that need within you to tell that *****   ******   ******   who just cut in front of you just what you of think of him – and if you’re in the UK, there’s a good chance he won’t have the foggiest what you just said.

It’s an earthy, colourful tongue filled with heartfelt oaths and insults to help you spill your guts and vent your spleen when you really need to. You can shout out an explosive expletive of Γαμώ τη πουτάνα μου!” (Translation, to be said in your most measured BBC received pronunciation: Fuck my prostitute), Τι στο σκατα?” (What the shit?), Αι σιχτίρ!” (Go to hell - I believe dating back the days when Greece was occupied by the Ottomans) and other delicious γαμοσταυρίδια (assorted obscenities) without making anyone bat an eyelid. 

Back in Blighty, though swearing is pretty mainstream these days, many everyday Greek oaths would be frowned on for their extreme lack of Politically Correctness. Here, they're par for the course - and it’s probably a lot healthier than the British habit of swallowing our bile and letting it fester inside.

It also comes virtually guilt-free for an English import like me. I know it's swearing, but having come to the language as an adult and not an impressionable child, it doesn't really feel like I'm being bad.  

Since slotting my oh-so-British self into Greek society more than two decades ago, I've gained the ability to swear graphically without inflicting an iota’s worth of damage to my ‘good girl’ halo from the land of my birth.

And by assimilating my bilingual vocabulary of bad language I have created something of hybrid, which keeps my Greek Other Half entertained. He still chuckles at the memory of me flying round the house in the early days of our marriage, desperately trying to create a pretense of tidiness for my mother-in-law’s surprise visit, and roaring a frustrated “Oh, bloody, fucking γαμώτο!” as a wardrobe door that refused to stay closed against the pile of scrunched-up clothes stuffed into it.

Greek is great for releasing such frustrations. I’m so glad to have its panoply of obscenities at my disposal. I believe I’m a healthier woman for it (or maybe I just need to be, to deal with some of the practicalities of daily life here?).

But there’s one word that my Greek will never replace. It’s one only a true Brit (or possibly an Aussie) can say convincingly. It’s simple, direct, and conveys utter contempt – especially when delivered in a total dead-pan response.

It is, of course, “Bollocks”.

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