Not so much brain as ear-wax

Currently cuss-down and buse-up are of a very low standard. We need new and more imaginative swear words. We need to lift the level of vituperation. The cursing you have heard while the garbage in this potentially most beautiful of capital cities plumbs disreputable new lows and the excuses given for the scandal also plumbs new depths of absurdity – the cursing you have heard is very ordinary and boringly repetitive.

The nouns are varied – scandal, shame, misery, murderation, nonsense, disgrace, confusion, shambles, chaos, mess – but the adjectives attached to the nouns never vary very much. Indeed 90% of the time a single, ancient, Anglo-Saxon expletive, which I see has been allowed to appear in the latest edition of Webster’s dictionary, serves to define whatever sort of mess, chaos, scandal, or disgrace is being described. This is not good enough. Surely we can invent subtler and more descriptive language.

In this search for better swearing, we may be well advised to follow carefully the investigations of Professor Edgar Gregerson of City University, New York. Professor Gregerson worked for years on his seminal book on insults of the world titled Your Grandfather’s Mouth which is, apparently, the worst possible thing you can say to someone in Sumatra. Professor Gregerson at last count had compiled catalogues of insults from 157 languages. As far as I know he has not yet conducted his research in Guyana. But if and when he comes here we should be ready with some choice epithets of our own.

ian on sundayLet us learn from others. For instance, if you call a Japanese a horseradish you must be ready to fend off a karate chop since calling someone a horseradish is about the worst rudeness there is in Japanese. In Mandarin it is exceptionally offensive to call someone a stupid melon. And when the Menomini Indians in North America really see red they spit out a phrase which, freely translated, means “You have disgustingly dirty armpits.”

Can we not come up with our own imaginative insults? One of the TV stations could perhaps run a contest for the most telling and offensive insult to describe those responsible for the various muddles we seem to get into. Such a contest would attract thousands of entries which we could then pass on to Professor Gregerson. Once upon a time – no longer one fervently hopes – GPL on its own would have attracted a whole set of world-class entries. However, there should be no lack of replacement sources for our imaginative abuse.

It is the same with political invective. We have been hearing the same, old, boring cuss-words thrown at each other by the politicians for decades. We need to inform our political venom with more wit and let humour give greater point to political attack.

I like the story of the great poet Dante. He was having a bad time at the court of his princely patron. A conceited idiot at the court was being treated much better than Dante and one day this man asked the poet: “How is it that I, who am so ignorant, should be so rich and favoured while you, who are so learned and wise, should be a beggar?” Quick as a flash Dante gave the fool the perfect reply: “The reason is that you have found a lord that resembles you and when I find one who resembles me I shall no doubt be as rich as you.”

There is a poem by the Chinese poet Su Tung Fo (1036-1101 ad) which I love and which nicely skewers those in power, ‘On the Birth of His Son.’

Families, when a child is born

Want it to be intelligent.

I, through intelligence,

Having wrecked my whole life,

Only hope the baby will prove

Ignorant and stupid.

Then he will crown a tranquil life

By becoming a Cabinet Minister.

 And hear this magnificent insult come down to us through the mists of time – it is the marvellous taunt delivered thousands of years ago by Thersites against King Agamemnon: “An honest fellow enough, and one that loves quails, but he has not so much brain as ear-wax!”

To match the present hour we need a higher standard of vituperation, a whole new dimension of swear words and insults. Let Professor Gregerson’s catalogue be our guide. When next you feel frustrated and fed up scream out not your usual common curse but shout instead something like “Stupid melon!’ or “Your Grandfather’s mouth!” or “Horseradishes!” or “Dirty armpits” It will do you a power of good. And perhaps somewhere, in some official’s head, a little of the wax will loosen and let in a little sense.

More in Features, Sunday


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