August 1, 2017 by libroshombre
“Cussin’” arose the other day while discussing the differences between the terms “expletive” and explicative,” and this triggered a series of oath-related musings. Cussin’s an old euphemism for swearing. It’s an Americanism from 1775 meaning “troublesome person or animal,” according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, which further states “cussin” is “an alteration of curse.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “expletive” means “serving to fill out, introduced merely to fill space,” However, the American Heritage Dictionary defines “expletive” as “an exclamation or oath, especially one that is profane, vulgar, or obscene.” When it comes to our common language the British are often more high-faluting than us. Where our “cussin’” is an “alteration” of “cursing, the British prefer “execration,” which is “an attenuation of ‘curse’.”
“Explicate,” however, means “to make clear the meaning of,” a function that I suppose cussin’ sometimes achieves. It’s also related to “explicandum: the fact, thing, or expression to be explained,” “explicans: the explanatory part of an explination,” and “explicate: to unfold, unroll … to open out what is wrapped up.” Poking around in the dictionary also revealed “explay: to unfold, display,” “explendency: brightness,” and “explenish: to appease, satisfy.”
Naughty words can be mighty useful. “Strong Language: Swearing Makes You Stronger, Psychologists Confirm,” a recent article from TheGuardian.com, related how British scientists studied people aged 19 to 21 with cycling and hand-strength tests by having them chose a favorite curse word and also “a word they might use to describe a table, such as ‘wooden’ or ‘brown’.” They were asked to repeat the word – “in an even tone” – throughout each test, and, lo and behold, the cursers averaged an additional 24 watts of power cycling and 2.1 kg on the hand-strength test.
But “Why Do We Swear More Readily in French?” According to a ConnexionFrance.com article, a University of Glasgow study found that “we attach less importance to any language that is not our own.” Wilhelmiina Toivo, the study’s lead researcher, is originally from Finland, and she noticed how much freer seemed the English language used by fellow foreign students. “Many multilingual people have the impression of ‘feeling less’ in their second language, which does not carry the same ‘emotional weight’ as the mother tongue,” Toivo wrote. “By feeling less emotionally tied to the language that is spoken, one can more easily swear and/or relate details of one’s personal life.”
The Internet abounds with entertaining foreign cussin worthy of adding to one’s vocabulary. For instance, an online article by Matt Hershberger included a number of expressions that are unprintable in a family newspaper, but it also mentioned gems like “himmeldonnerwetter!,” a German term that literally translates as “heaven thunder weather!,” and “ullu ka patta,!,” a Hindu phrase that means “son of an owl!,” that fowl being considered lazy and stupid in India.
The Japanese have “kisama!” (“It just translates to ‘you!,’ but it’s a very rude way of saying ‘you.’ Well done, Japan.”) and “tofu no kado ni atama wo butsekete shine!,” or “hit your head on a corner of tofu and die!” My favorite was the Gaelic “go n-ithe an cat thu, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat!” which means “may the cat eat you, and may the devil eat the cat!”
Innocent English expressions can have unintended meanings in foreign lands. When I retired, I made personal calling cards that included that I am now a “rogue librarian.” On a trip to France I freely dispensed these cards until one of my hosts leaned forward and intently asked, “What does ‘rogue librarian’ mean?” I replied that I still answer questions, recommend and loan books, but now do it as an unpaid hobby. He relaxed a bit and explained that French libraries are called “bibliotheques,” while bookstores are “libraries” and “rogue,” which translates as “arrogant,” but is actually “a very bad man,” essentially I was advertising myself as a pornshop proprietor.
In my book a “very bad person” steals or mutilates library books, and deserve the ancient librarian’s curse: “If anyone take away this book, let him die the death; let him be fried in a pan; let the falling sickness and fever size him; let him be broken on the wheel, and hanged. Amen.”