Thursday, 24 September 2009
Living in a Bilingual World (The One About the Swear Words)
- You know what? In Cuba they would probably arrest you for having that bottle on display in a public place.
- Because to us 'cojonudo' is a swear word. It comes from 'cojones', which is as rude as it gets in our neck of the woods.
The man shrugged his shoulders, turned around and began to talk to another customer. After all the Santoña market was buzzing by now and he had a business to attend to. My linguistic grievance could take a bench and sit on it all day if it wanted to. He was not in the mood for pesky busybodies lecturing the locals on what was correct language and what was not.
It never ceases to amaze me the stark differences between the Spanish spoken in Spain and that used elsewhere in the Hispanic diaspora. It is not just words and phrases that make their norm distinct, but a whole cultural mindset that makes us outsiders feel more prudish occasionally than a heroine from a Mills & Boon novel.
During my recent holiday in Cantabria I was fascinated and shocked in equal measure by Castilian Spanish. The former occurred when talking to the locals and noticing the familiar 's' sound at the end of words that finished with 'd' as in 'verdad' (truth). They would say 'verdads', the 's' an almost imperceptible sound, but easy to hear. It reminded me of Irish English speakers who add a soft 'sh' sound to words ending in 't'. My consternation, on the other hand, was the result of coming across words that I was used to seeing in veeeery different contexts. Like the aforementioned 'cojonudos', which in this region of northern Spain referred to asparagus. More baffling for me was when I saw a stall in the same market advertising 'Chochitos Ricos' (Cuban female readers, you have no idea how much I have agonised over writing that sentence, please accept my most sincere apologies). Never mind the fact that the word 'rico' translates as 'yummy' or 'nice' into English, it was the other term I blushed over. Ironically, by then I was of a darker hue due to a couple of visits to one of the local beaches. Nevertheless, I still turned a bright red when I read that caption. The word 'chochito' (diminutive) or 'chocho' is a sexual colloquial term - although some people would call it slang - for female genitalia in Cuba and one of those vocables not to be used unless you and the femme en question are very intimate. Would Cuban women be less offended by the fact that this word was casting their privates in a positive light? Bigging them up, so to speak? Would the fact that 'chochito' (and it does sound like a term of endearment, doesn't it?) referred to a local confectionary delicacy lessen its impact?
Later on that day I had the chance to put these questions to the test. I happened to walk past a group of my fellow countryladies who were completely immersed in a discussion about how high the prices at the market still were. I was tempted to interrupt the flow of their conversation and ask them what they had to say about these linguistic peculiarities but on second thoughts I desisted because by then I'd already had enough of 'chochitos' and 'cojonudos'.
First photo taken from flickr.com, the other two images were taken by the blog author.
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music' to be published on Sunday 27th September at 10am