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13 July 2013

Another rule of language etiquette: swear if you really have to!

Ein malenki shitstorm...
I was amused to read recently that the German “Anglicism of the Year" in 2012 (the most popular word taken from English last year) was “shitstorm”. A German linguist explained that the word conveyed “a new kind of protest, different in kind and degree from what could be expected in the past.”
     That was cool enough. But then I read that no less a personage than Angela Merkel had used it in connection with the current financial crisis, and I was put in mind of Comrade Zhirinovsky and his attempt to ban words of foreign origin from the Russian language (see post 14 January 2013). How would he react to Шитсторм? Might he protest so loudly that respectable German ladies of a certain age would be tempted to describe it as a schitshtorm?
     Then there is Mr Hoji Takahashi, the 71-year old Japanese television viewer who wants to rid his own language of words like “terebi” (TV), “konpuraiansu” (compliance) and “taoru” (towel). He seems to have a somewhat politer approach than Mr Zhirinovsky, so no shitustolmu in Tokyo.
     But what do we make of the very prim Russian friend of mine who hates swearing in any form? Once, when discussing the Soviet education system with her, in Russian, she said to me, “Тогда было много рабфаков.”  She was saying that there were many “rabochi fakulteti”, or workers educational institutes, which were important and numerous in the industrializing 1930s. They became known by the abbreviated name of rabfak which, in the genitive plural after mnogo, is rabfakoff.
     The reader will easily imagine how shocked I was to hear a very proper lady saying fakoff without apparent shame. Her only excuse was that she was speaking Russian. Had I not known her so well, there might have been a little, local shitstorm. If she had complained at that, I could have said I was speaking German.


  1. Khm, didn't you tell me Ian that swearwords sound tacky in a foreigner? ;)

  2. Yes I did! But it is different when they are taken into another language. If Angela Merkel used "shitstorm" when speaking English it would sound awful, but I feel differently about it in German. Perhaps I am alone in that. But there it is.

    Think about English-speaking people who use the French word, "merde". They tend to use it as a way saying "shit" POLITELY! (which is bizarre if you think about it)

    Anyway, nice to see someone is paying close attention. Thank you. Ian

  3. Hi, :)
    Lots of Russins use 'merde' as well but just to come across as sophisticated and also in a sort of ironical way. I do swear quite a bit in English, but English swearwords don't sound strong or 'saucy' enough - that's my personal opinion for sure.
    However, living in the Midlands at the moment I am getting the feeling the word 'bloody' is just obligatory in every bloody sentence :)

  4. Hi, Just started reading your blog. Very smart and witty. Ta
    If you've got amused by 'rabfak' look into 'самшит' .
    I heard of a Soviet Russia story once, not too sure if its real or a con but it was of a tourist guide who forgot word 'Buxus' and used Russian 'Someshit' instead. You're welcome. :)

    1. Thank you. Very amusing. Anyone got any other laughworthy examples?