Like A Trooper

Language teachers tend to shy away from the fact that probably the hardest part of perfecting any foreign tongue is knowing how to eff and blind in it. For example, in Catalan, it's not enough to know that cony refers to what the comedian Sarah Silverman likes to call lady parts; because you also need to know how to slip this word into your conversation correctly, either as an expression of bafflement: què cony et passa? ('What the lady parts is wrong with you?') or in order to stress your anger: estic fart de tu, cony! ('I'm fed up with you; lady parts!'). Once you've mastered that, you can progress to the derivative terms conyàs ('a serious problem') and de conya ('perfect'). When we get on to collons ('balls') things get more complex. In a heartening instance of sexual equality, collons can be used exactly like cony, to express either bafflement or anger. The derivative collonut ('wonderful') should not be confused with acollonit ('terrified'). De collons indicates success: és un artista de collons ('He's a fantastic artist') but dels collons stresses negative attributes: és un pesat dels collons ('he's extremely boring'). And so forth: the online Catalan comedy portal 'Acudit' gives 38 different uses for collons alone. English, of course, can turn the air blue just as flexibly. In his campus novel 'I Am Charlotte Simmons', Tom Wolfe points out that the word 'shit' can be an adjective ('shit-hot') or an abstract noun ('get your shit together') or a verb indicating deception ('you're shitting me') and so on, with a total of 29 different applications (not including the original meaning of 'excrement') Much the same could be said of the F-word and the C-word. The problem is that for years now, it's become a habit for native speakers to lay these swear words on with an unnecessary large trowel. The other day, for instance, in Barcelona's Museu del Disseny, a man in the graphic design section yelled to his girlfriend (who was standing right next to him): 'No shit, that's a motherfucking rip-off of a Michael Beirut poster!'. When she demurred, he bellowed yet another earload of fornication and faecal matter at her. It's as if such Anglo-American tourists are all trying to play permanent bit parts in 'Reservoir Dogs', trotting out  four-letter words at the drop of a hat to an extent that – precisely because they are not being directed by Tarantino – can just be downright irritating. In short, this kind of gratuitous cursing has become a conyàs full of collonades perpetrated by a bunch of torracollons. Enough is enough, cony!

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, març de 2015


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