domingo, 28 de diciembre de 2008

Mexican swearing

Mexicans will typically tell you that they like to curse. I really don't know if they are worse than gringos, but they are more creative about it and have a more diverse cursing vocabulary. But the best part about Mexican cursing traditions for the foreigner is that most of the time the words themselves are never even pronounced. This makes it very funny—and a lot of fun—but extremely difficult for him or her to master swearing. The foreigner who can master the upper levels of cursing is a rarity.

English swear words have been handed down to us from the earliest Anglo-Saxon days. They are used in a literal way and also for cursing. In Spanish these will usually be two or more different words. In Spanish, one must use one word for the literal meaning and another for cursing. English words will thus have equivalents in Spanish, but they will be two or more words, depending on the context. This would be hard enough to understand and even harder to produce appropriately for the foreigner but these words don't even have to be pronounced to be understood precisely and accurately. The Mexican knows how to determine the sub text of an utterance with absolute precision in these cases. From this point of view, the Mexican is a natural minimalist, like Hemingway. On the other hand, since the text that is actually pronounced will be an idiom, the whole experience has a baroque effect on the listener. It involves him or her in an experience that momentarily overwhelms quotidian cursing. It's an interesting synthesis of minimalism with the baroque. The reason for this is that the Mexican aesthetic is naturally baroque so they will translate even the most anti baroque styleminimalisminto the language of the baroque. To the foreigner, this will be vulgar and bloated. It takes some getting-used to.

A common example is what we would call a "piece of shit." No Spanish-speaker would ever say pedazo de mierda and if he or she ever heard it, it would be confusing. The correct expression is una chingada. The meanings of chingar have been explored by Ocavio Paz in the essay "scaras Mexicanas" (Mexican Masks), which is part of his book Laberinto de la Soledad (Labyrinth of Solitude). Anyone who wants to understand this must start with this essay. Chingar literally means something like "rape." But it's never even used in this sense. It has lost whatever literal meaning it once had and now only retains its metaphorical ones, which are suitable for cursing. So, for example, to say that something is worthless, you might say that it is una chingada.

The above would be accepted all over Mexico as an appropriate use of the word. The problem with cursing is that situations where it's appropriate are very limited. One is restricted to more formal registers by custom. One usually can't say that something's a piece of shit. In Mexico, one can use the proscribed expression because he or she doesn't actually pronounce it. He or she could say that it's "good for two things," (Sirve para dos cosas) which means that it's a piece of shit. This works through rhyming: Sirve para dos cosas: nada y una chingada. Therefore, one can use the proscribed word in any contextwork, school, at home, whereverand maintain deniability. Nobody can accuse you of anything because the word was pronounced only in the listener's mind. You have only said that something's "good for two things" and thus have established a strange form of complicity with the listener which will cover you everywhere.

More expressions

Cuchillito de palo (wooden knife). This would be translated as "ball breaking" (giving someone a hard time) because the punch line is not pronounced: the wooden knife no corta pero como chinga (it doesn't cut anything, but it really breaks your balls).

¡Esa de rojo! (That woman in red) The final clause is Me la cojo (I wouldn't mind fucking her, i.e., some sexy woman you're ogling). There are different rhyming expressions suitable for ogling, which refer to a whole range of sex acts, using all the basic colors of the Microsoft pallet.

Año de Hidalgo (The year of Hidalgo; Hidalgo was a hero of Mexican independence) It means something like "lame duck"—a politician on the way out—except that one would at least have to insert an explitive to give it the same connotation. The final clause is chinga su madre quien deja algo (anyone who leaves anything behind is fucked).

The hero of Mexican independence is also how we say "Bottoms up!" in Mexico: one says, "Hidalgo," meaning
chinga su madre quien deja algo [de tequila] in his or her glass.

Ley de Herodes Herodes is Herod, the Biblical king of Palestine. It means that they've got you by the balls. It works by rhyming: o te chingas o te jodes (you're fucked anyway). Thus one can say that we're all fucked by just saying, Nos tocó la ley de Herodes and the listener supplies the bad language in his or her own mind.

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