What is the Russian word for shit

A comparative theory of cursing

It doesn't often happen that in a scientific non-fiction book - and consequently also in its review - expressions such as shit, piss, cunt, ass and fucking appear so heavily as they are here. And although the offense of these terms is no longer felt as strongly as it was a few decades ago, one can roughly imagine the fun that the distinguished linguist Hans-Martin Gauger had after his retirement while intensively plowing the obscene word fields.

Apart from this transgression pleasure, the linguistics of the vulgar language also contains a lot of practically useful knowledge, if it comes across as comparative as in this case. From French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, the spiritual homeland of the Romanist Gauger, it goes into English, Turkish and up to the Slavic languages; and in German, interesting perspectives also open up when comparing regions.

Let's start with the basic word of German cursing: shit. On RTL II there are now entire television programs that consist almost exclusively of the constant repetition of this word. In view of this accumulation (!) In everyday life, it has largely lost its brown and pulpy character and has become odorless, so to speak. Indeed, it has a considerable range of meanings; it ranges from horror to astonishment, from fear to anger; it is used reactive or provocative, but in either case, shit denotes something negative.

As for the etymology of shit, we are surprised to learn that shit and parting go together. The two words are, etymologically, the same word. But the surprise subsides after a brief consideration, because already when we leave we are in obvious proximity, which is why I am bothered by the talk of a 'retiring president' or 'minister': one should say 'the outgoing president' or 'minister'.

Gauger now directs our attention to the correspondence in other idioms. In English, the equally universal "fuck" comes to mind. There is almost everything that is shit in German. Only - and this is the basic thesis of the book - the English word refers to sexual intercourse, the German to digestion. This difference - sexual there, excrement here - is the starting point of Gauger's comparative theory of cursing.

It's (...) about the predominance of such expressions. It is by no means the case that in German there are no expressions for sexual matters in such use or that in the other languages ​​mentioned there are not expressions for excremental matters that are also used in the same way. So in German we encounter a very strong dominance of excrement and in the other languages ​​(apart from Swedish) a more or less strong dominance of sexual, whereby the expressions for excrement are more prominent in French than in the other languages ​​- interestingly enough this for French especially in comparison with the other Romance languages. The comparison shows us that German has a special position here - there is something like a "special path".

A shitty special way, so to speak, which is also manifested in the linguistic use of the defecation opening: the asshole as the most popular German swear word can be translated in English with motherfucker or cocksucker or fucking cunt, all sexual terms, in French with con or conard (female: conasse), which, like cunt, means the female genitalia, and neither in French, nor in Italian or Spanish, one would understand the exclamation: "What an ass!" unlike a sign of enthusiasm for the bottom of a woman, which also makes it clear that the male perspective dominates in this entire linguistic area.

The latter is also evident from the fact that the names of the male sexual organs, in contrast to the female, often not only serve to denigrate, but also have a positive connotation. The testicles, for example, in vulgar English "the balls", stand for courage, just like in German the eggs someone has. In Spanish it is the "cojones", which as an exclamation indicate a happy surprise or as a request to contribute to the success of something: "echar cojones a la cosa" - literally: to throw in testicles - simply means to be courageous.

In French, on the other hand, "les couilles" and everything related to it do not have this positive connotation: "Ne me casse pas les couilles!" means: "Don't piss me off!" A "couillon" is stupid or stupid, and a "couillonade" is nothing more than nonsense. And there lies a great difficulty for Gauger's theory suggestion: languages ​​are not systematic. There are always exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions - up to the third and fourth term. Gauger himself cites many exceptions; some not, even though they are important. The English word "shit", for example, turns into something excellent despite its wide range of negative meanings in connection with the article: something that is the "shit" can only be recommended.

French does not stretch that far, although "merde" plays so many roles there - so many that even as a tourist you can hardly avoid the word "Cambronnes", "le mot de Cambronne", as it is poshly called.

Pierre Vicomte de Cambronne lived from 1770 to 1842. He had taken part in the campaigns of the revolutionary period and the empire; Napoleon made him general in 1813, late in the year. He was wounded at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. Then he commanded the guard regiment on foot for the Imperial Hunters. Victor Hugo, a poet therefore, which is why one must be careful, reports that when he was asked to surrender (...), all one heard from Cambronne was "Merde!"

Which is not just an exclamation of disappointment, but also of rejection. Just like in the formulation: "Alors, tu viens, oui ou merde?" "Shit" stands for the negative of the question. "Merde" can just as well express astonishment and admiration, and it becomes quite contradictory with the verb "emmerder": that means to annoy in all conjugation forms except in the first person singular; then and only then does it mean something completely different, namely: "Monsieur, je vous emmerde" - "You can tell me, I don't give a shit about you."

This emphasis on excrement in French is of course in a certain contradiction to Gauger's thesis of a special way of German in this regard. So he gave his theory building a side wing.

Where does this special position of France come from, the proximity on this point to Germany and to the German 'Has the question ever been asked' The finding, which now really comes to mind, is unequivocal. Here one can already remember that France and most certainly (there one can show it concretely and scientifically) the French language very strongly, much more strongly than any other Romance country or any other Romance language, have been shaped by Teutons. Among these are the “Franks”, which invaded northern Gaul from the fourth century onwards and settled it in decreasing density towards the south as far as the Loire. After all, the Franks also gave the country their name, and so France is the only Romance-speaking country with a Germanic name: "Francia", 'Franconia Country', 'Land der Franconia' (an actually unjust name, because the Franks were in Gaul the minority).

One wonders whether that is not a bit of a stretch to explain a phenomenon that as such seems quite dubious. Because Gauger's distinction between linguistic cultures with a sexual focus and those with a predilection for faeces has a catch: it is charged with moral evaluations from the stock of German or Central European moral history. Accordingly, the act of love is seen as something beautiful, bright, friendly, while defecation is seen as something unpleasant and dirty. But isn't the toilet also a secret pleasure place? Hasn't pissing been one of the erotic practices since time immemorial? And shouldn't there be a trace of these things in the linguistic underground of the vulgar?

Perhaps the difficulties that Gauger has in sorting his material - difficulties that he admits very well and plays around with his mostly funny, sometimes trying-hard-looking conversational tone - are simply related to the fact that the sexual and the excrement cannot be separated in a meaningful way : they are, like 'front' or 'back', 'pee' or 'poop', genital or anal intercourse, penetration or blow job, just segments of a single large area heated and excited by feelings of shame. It is the feelings of shame that give the vulgar vocabulary that special shine, and of course every language is set up a little differently in this obscene area.

But how does a scientist who is otherwise so strictly committed to collecting and observing come up with such ostentatious conclusions?

As far as our subject matter is concerned, it must at least be allowed to reject the negative evaluations that German has experienced here. Because what we find in German is ultimately of upright, solid, straightforward, I almost said (but it goes too far), German honesty. This is how we experience ourselves a little: we don't consider ourselves fine, rather rough, but straightforward and honest. We use something evidently negative to denote the negative and do this almost exclusively: we denote, in plain English, 'shit' with shit. We avoid drawing something positive in itself, here the sexual, into the negative by turning it into a metaphor for the negative.

Putain !, one would like to call out; how did Gauger, who usually writes so mischievously, lose the phenomenological coolness that largely characterizes his book? Fortunately, his theses on the linguistic character image of peoples are in no way detrimental to the practical value of this work. That is because it is completely different and is illustrated by a pretty anecdote, which is piously hidden in a footnote:

In his beautiful and funny memories, the theater critic Georg Hensel reports on his numerous visits to Altea on the east coast of Spain. Then he made friends with a certain Paco: (Quote) "Paco knew Germany, he defined it with the sentence: 'A lot of potatoes and spinach, nothing wine, nothing olive'. When we managed to astonish him, he said: 'I poop in the sea', it wasn't a threat, it was an expression of his admiration. "

"Me cago en la mar" cannot be translated that way. Firstly, it is a euphemistic modification of "Me cago en tu madre", which literally means 'I shit on your mother', secondly, however, it cannot be understood literally, because the mother is merely adding meaningless reinforcement to the fecal expression, which itself is only is an exclamation of astonishment, defense, or acted defense, i.e. almost approval.

In any case, it shows here that one is lost without precise knowledge of the specific meanings. Rhyming together usually goes wrong, especially since there are a lot of hermeneutic tilt figures in the vulgar vocabulary, which, depending on the context and emphasis, suddenly stand for the opposite of what is normally referred to.

Even those who have a good command of a foreign language usually find it difficult in this zone. The general dictionaries are inadequate, the roughest is largely left out of the classroom, and if you have unfamiliar sources of information, you won't get anywhere in the country either. So you slide into funny misunderstandings like the one mentioned here.

The misunderstanding extends not only to individual terms, but also to the linguistic milieus to which they belong: the words have a charisma, an aura, a perfume that are much more difficult to grasp than the purely lexical. This is where Gauger's strength lies: he thematizes the social contexts behind the respective language usage in a sympathetically unsystematic way - he talks about them. Example: the use of so-called "tacos" in Spanish. "Taco" originally means dowel, peg or tenon (a sexually primed word), but it also denotes a pile of leaves, a bite of food and, last but not least, a verbal abusiveness.

There is or was until recently a specific male language in Spain, which was characterized by such ritualized tacos, mostly sexual swear words. And what was surprising for us was that this was not only found in the lower class, but also that highly educated men, when they were among themselves, i.e. when there was no woman around, used such tacos as a matter of course. Specifically, for example, professor colleagues after their work at the bar in the bar (of course there is also a typical cultural difference between Spanish and German professors: technical discussions are not continued at the bar or are only continued very cautiously). As a stranger with such a taco or dowel discourse one inevitably had the impression that normal self-affirming masculinity had to be shown in this way. But this would be a deception, because this speech happened with great and, so to speak, objective matter-of-course. It was just there. This 'man's language' has also dwindled in the last few decades (or only remnants remained) because women, a form of emancipation, incorporated these tacos into their speech, which creates the demarcation (now we are relaxed, also precisely because we are only among ourselves) became obsolete. I don't know any parallel in German.

At most, Russian offers something comparable, namely the vulgar language called "mat", where the word "mat", curiously, refers to the mother. In other words, a native language of cursing, which was previously reserved for men, but this has changed significantly since the end of the Soviet era, because the social upheavals that the country has experienced since then are also reflected in the area of ​​morality.

When women learn the men's language, it is of course different from learning a foreign language. But in both cases there is the precarious phenomenon that one and the same terms, depending on who is using them, appear differently colored, as if their meaning were not anchored in them at all, but only occasionally added through the mouth of the (or the) speaker . Gauger rightly points out

... that as a foreign speaker, what you have to invoice is assessed differently by those who speak the language as their mother tongue, which you may perceive as unfair - but that's the way it is. So the same is not the same there. It is also more difficult for someone who comes from outside to decide whether an expression is just about possible in a certain situation.

The subtle decision of what is currently still possible, or - to put it in one of Gauger's favorite formulations - where one can go too far, forms the background of this book, which is characterized by an academic Tourette's syndrome. It is a truism that sexuality and language generally do not go well together. The fact that the word vagina is always wrongly emphasized in German reveals how screwed up our talk about this matter in general is. Gauger quotes the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan as saying:

In so far as the subject speaks of sexuality, it stutters.

This is of course due to the shame barriers that surround the area, as Lacan knew only too well: after all, he was the owner of Gustave Courbet's now world-famous painting "L'Origine du monde"; he kept it hidden behind a curtain in his holiday home and only showed it to selected friends.

According to Gauger, the stammering comes from another difficulty:

In sexual matters there is something that cannot really be communicated - as if the language was on strike here, or because it cannot 'strike', it cannot really keep up. But this, you have to be clear, also happens to her with other things where shame or the like cannot come into play at all: for example when trying to reproduce taste sensations (...).

The linguist is just reluctant to philosophize at this point about how things can be said, especially those of the soul, but you can tell that he is already itching. And that is one of the great advantages of this book: it always goes a bit beyond its actual horizon.

If one were aware of everything that is involved in speaking and writing and in understanding, speaking and writing and also understanding what is spoken and written would come to a standstill. We are only latently aware of a lot in language. Actually, it applies to the whole grammar. Here we know, or better: we ‹can› do something of which we are not aware.

Hans-Martin Gauger: The damp and the dirty.
Small linguistics of the vulgar language.
C. H. Beck Verlag, 283 pages, ISBN 978-3-406-62989-1