4 Sep 2007

Ti to binein???

Let's all agree that people who blush easily make very bad travel partners. If you want to know a culture for real, you need to get your hands dirty. You need to daringly travel the forbidden streets and explore aspects of life that you might not experience in the safety of your own back yard. Culture doesn't just encapsulate everything you like or respect, but everything and everyone in it, including people and things that you may not like. Yep, even that bum sitting in a doorway in New Delhi, you know, the one you stepped over to get to a sale at a local shop... he too is part of culture. I think I've mentioned before that travel is always the same whether you're speaking about travel in space or travel in time. History too is not for the squeamish and if you find it a dry subject, it's not anyone's fault but your own. Stop yawning and start thinking creatively.

I recently came across this forum thread from the livejournal website discussing all matters classical. Sure, it's not highbrow content, but it gave me a chuckle and I hope it lightens up your day. As we can see, naughty students are asking naughty questions about history such as "How would you say 'Bitch, please!' in Classical Latin?" Don't get fooled into thinking that this is a vacuous question because strangely enough, by asking silly off-track questions every once in a while, you end up learning something unexpected about an ancient culture, such as what the typical, real expressions for insults from long ago happened to be, or what were the attitudes that lie behind these ancient expressions. There's always a gritty, plebeian backside to any human culture and it's up to the avid historian to search it out to get a fuller perspective of an ancient society. Otherwise, you're just that annoying materialist that goes abroad to shop at the same snooty stores you can find in your own country. Eat some local food; get some diarrhea; feel better.

This reminds me of my French immersion classes of yore. Many of the teachers were very uptight about "les anglicismes". Perhaps born out of an unsaid, inner anglophobia, most of my teachers, talented as they were, seemed to feel that it was their priority to sanitize our French from the satanic forces of English corruption. Us students picked up on their subtle insecurities, of course, and found every way to irritate our teachers by deliberately creating bastardized French-English hybrid phrases that didn't really make sense in either language. The more absurd the phrase, the more we were content with our collective genius. Things like "Ça suce grand temps" ("That sucks big time"), "Tu me conduit les noix" ("You're driving me nuts"), or "Ça c'est comment le biscuit s'émiette" ("That's the way the cookie crumbles") were all wonderful ways to foil Bilingual Big Brother and his FrenchSoc educational system. We killed ourselves laughing and the stuffy teachers could only frown in disapproval at our grassroots, linguistic revolution.

Frankly, I don't know what the teachers were complaining about anyway. What they didn't realize was that despite hiding all of the living French from us (such as French slangs, French swear words, French sayings, etc.) in order to enforce some artificial, carcass-like dialect that only government officials might speak, we were only doing what was natural - infusing humanity into our language and making it our own. Language, whether ancient or modern, is a living entity. There's no sanitizing it; there's no need to. And there's always an opportunity to learn something in the most absurd ideas and questions.


  1. So you didn't answer, how would you translate "Bitch, please" into Latin? I would assume it would be dog Latin as I know of no such insult even in the depths of those Plebeian whorehouses.

  2. According to Lewis & Short whose dictionary is searchable on the Perseus website, canis is used in a derogatory manner to mean 'a shameless, vile person'. So this seems to do in a pinch to translate 'bitch'.

  3. Actually, it was looking for translations and etymologies of dirty words in dictionaries that got my into linguistics! I was disappointed how few French-English dictionaries included curse words. I'd've thought they would be useful if you wanted to know what people might be yelling at me or saying behind my back if I went somewhere.
    Heck, I still enjoy looking up foreign profanities every once in a while. Heck, I just found out the Hittite verb for "fuck" is "wen-"! I'll bet they would've found the Roman goddess of love's name funny!

  4. Alright I read the link, and while I fully well see it as bitch=female dog in heat=dog, and I can even understand the dog reference being offensive, I would never have translated it that way. A friend and I discussed it and their suggestions are:
    dejame puta?
    troia, scappa!

    Of course those sound much more crass, but I think that those would also be much closer to the vulgarity of using those phrases. Granted the Romans didn't think the same things vulgar that the modern Western world do. I think it gets more to the idea of the vulgar, if not the act.

    This is honestly one of the few times I've ever gotten to use 'naughty' Latin. Thank you for an interesting discussion with a good friend on a subject we both enjoy, but a phrase we never would have thought to translate.

    Also, have you looked into Swearsaurus? It is an amusement when you desire such varied things as "Screw you and the horse you rode in on" to "You have the face of a man with severe constipation" and everything in between. What fun is language if you can't use it to be naughty some times?