Saturday, August 2, 2008

Talking Sh-t

My father was an engineer. He was an adherent of rigid methodologies and a quoter of pithy maxims. Consider, for example, one of his premier policies on childrearing: Don't say shit in front of the K-I-D-S.

In fact, he did say shit, and a whole lot of other curse words, in front of me and my s-i-b-l-i-n-g-s. My younger brother and I whiled away several (of the many) bored hours of our suburban teen years by compiling The List of Dad's Top Ten Phrases Using Shit or Ass. Given our father's outstanding vocabulary, we deemed any phrases using synonyms of shit or ass to also be fair game for inclusion.

We were, of course, being raised in New York, were cursing is kind of like drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day. Not everyone does it, but still it seems like it's physically necessary. New Yorkers use the word fuck as every conceivable (no pun intend) part of speech.

Fuck you, you fucking fuck, a New Yorker might say, in the midst of choking an adversary to death with the bare hands.

Or, alternately, the same phrase can be delivered with a warm handshake and loving pat on the back, to mean something like Congratulations on the promotion, to think you made partner at your age!

My mother, though she cursed as often as my father, drew the line on using the f-word in front of us k-i-d-s. Or, to be more accurate, she drew the line on finishing the f-word in front of us, typically catching herself partway into uttering the obscenity.

At which point she would pretend she was really just using some Yiddish word. That's the most f-arshimlt thing I've ever heard! or What kind of a f-achadeh idea is that?

Which is why about 80% of the Yiddish words I know start with F, and, in my mind at least, are all synonyms for fuck, no matter how innocuous their real definitions.

Yiddish was actually my mother's first language, and my parents used to speak it whenever they wanted to say something in front of us kids without us understanding what they were saying. Every so often, my mother would let us know what a key phrase meant, when it was to her advantage. When she wanted one of us to get lost, she'd say gay kackin afinyam, which we all knew meant go shit in the lake.

Never mind that the closest any of us came to a lake was our backyard swimming pool, where we were definitely NOT supposed to be shitting.

But mostly my Yiddish knowledge is fairly spotty, thanks to it being the equivalent of Navajo code-talking in my childhood home.

Neighbor Holly's father is also a big curser, one of his favorite exclamations when things are going well being Now we're sucking some cock.

A rather astounding choice for a sixty-four year-old straight man.

We have bowdlerized that one to Now we're sealing with caulk, which seems a little more appropriate to say in front of his not quite three-year-old granddaughter.

No comments: