Monday, April 16, 2007

Don't swear in other peoples' languages

A busy major street in Helsinki with a window display of novelty door mats.

One of those novelty door mats

Learning obscene words in other languages is one of the most amusing things you can do when you are about 12. I know plenty in Finnish but I would hesitate in using them as until you are really very, very accomplished in speaking another language I don't think you necessarily know just how rude, or not, you are being. I have this sense from Finns who from time to time swear in English and come over as lot more offensive than they probably intended. I've got nothing against some well placed profanity - sometime when you want to make yourself totally f***in' clear, it's the only way to go - but I don't swear in front of children, people I don't know, little puppy dogs etc. and I definitely wouldn't go putting up signs using rather crude words in a shop window display for all the world to see (and explain to their inquisitive children).

Many Finns seem to think that swearing in English in public doesn't really count. Perhaps to non-native speakers it doesn't. I can't say I'm really offended but I was quite surprised.


ed said...

Nice pic, but why the stars? As one styleguide I know says:

"The editor's guidelines are straightforward:

First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.

Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.

Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.

Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a copout, or as Charlotte Brontë elegantly put it:

'The practice of hinting by single letters those expletives with which profane and violent people are wont to garnish their discourse, strikes me as a proceeding which, however well meant, is weak and futile. I cannot tell what good it does - what feeling it spares - what horror it conceals.'"

Bob Hughes said...

From Mike Quinion's World Wide Words:

"In 1948, the publishers of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead forced him to bowdlerise it as fug, leading to the (surely apocryphal) story that Dorothy Parker remarked on meeting him, "So you’re the young man who can’t spell fuck?"

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

Ed and Bob - piss off you smart-arses. ;-)

Keefus said...

A similar thing struck me in Norway earler this year. There were regular trailers on the radio for the late-night rap show - which had a succession of US rappers inviting "all you motherfuckers" to lissen in, nome sayin?

Very odd to hear, but hilarious.

Anthony said...

There is a make of candy called bull shit candy and for a while there were signs in the bus stops advertising it. I can understand that a shop owner selling his novelty door mats could be insensitive, but a confectionery manufacturer who has presumably done some market research is another matter. But then again, Finns who I spoke to didn't think that there was anything odd about it.

Do you listen to Radio Helsinki? There's a lot of swearing there too and quite explicit songs during the day.

Dave C said...

Toby, my mrs would like you to get one of those 'Queen of Fucking Everything' doormats for her to put outside our front door (she reckons it'll keep the religious door-knockers away.) She'll pay for postage and everything of course.