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WTF?! looks at swearing (part 2)


So, you want to swear in French, do you? Bad idea. Think about the last time you heard a less-than-fluent foreigner swear in your native language. It just doesn’t sound right. Either it sounds shocking or unintentionally comical. As if a small child were saying it. My theory is that, since linguistically, you essentially are a small child, you are held to a different standard. You don’t get your swearing privileges until you reach linguistic adolescence.

I ran into a pathetic thread on a language forum where some poor student asked the following:

Ok well I’m new here and well yeah. I was wondering if anyone knew any really bad sayings in french. Like I know “ferme ta guele” and “tu es pleine de merde” or go to hell in french…”va chez le bonhomme” I think, but I want to know more! It would really impress my teacher. So if anyone could help!!Please

Yikes! Where do I start? With the idea that swearing would impress the teacher? With the hilarious “va chez le bonhomme” (who says that? Dora the explorer?)?

Imagine you are that student. You’d be stuck looking elsewhere, and from what I’ve seen, you will usually end up with about 40% wrong content. There’s a travel guide, for example, where we get to hear “Julie’s 1o favorite swear words.” I don’t know who Julie is, or why she keeps a list of her favorite swear words but the pronunciation guide alone is worth a good laugh. There’s “Poo-TAHN”  (is that a woman of loose morals or some new spin on a Canadian French fry dish?), “CHI-ant” (Something that bugs you or a knock-off brand of Italian wine?), “ta-GOOL” (A way to tell someone to shut up or a new horror movie villain?).

There are more helpful slang lists, but they mix outdated and current content. Maybe you’ll get lucky or maybe you’ll sound like a cantankerous old man (“Them dern aliens ruined my golldarn rubbarb patch with their flyin’ machine, dagnabbit!”

If I haven’t convinced you to steer clear of swearing, then my advice is, stick with merde. It’s an amazingly versatile way to express annoyance or frustration. Depending on how you say it, it can either be mild or strong. It can be a short monosyllabic expletive or it can be drawn out into two syllables for emphasis. You can build up its impact through repetition and volume.

Or better yet, take a cue from the Fantastic Mr. Fox (or the Smurfs) and just use one word for everything.

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