Monthly Archives: April 2017

Cultural exchange on swearing

I love what a melting pot Cambridge is. Recently I was impressing a friend that I still remember the entire vocabulary of Hebrew I picked up from my fellow PhD students in 1990. I’ve no idea how to write the originals, but the English translations are toilet, big dick, and poached eggs. Not sure what sort of holiday in Israel that would give me.

A few days ago there was a Chinese girl behind me on the bus explaining there is no exact translation in Chinese for ‘fuck you’, although they do have ‘fuck your mother’.

The guy told her that was more extreme in English – didn’t they have something a bit milder?

“Well….there is also ‘fuck your sister’. Or ‘fuck your grandmother’. Is that any better?”

No, no, not really.

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Sins Against Sincerity

Unpacking boxes from my last move, I came across the play I wrote in a workshop at university. I didn’t reread the play itself (there’s a limit to my masochism), but I did read the final feedback from the prof: “You write cynicism well – but find it hard to show the idealist/romantic/sincere believer in feelings.”

She was probably right about my play, and I’ve received similar feedback on my poetry. But it struck me that this could almost be a general pronouncement by the Baby Boomers on all of Generation X and Y and Millennials. Sincerity was the sacred cow of the 60s revolution, to the extent that if you weren’t a sincere person you had to pretend to be. It was vitally important to be earnest.

One Sunday some years ago, I almost died. As I lay in casualty, bleeding internally, I pushed aside the oxygen mask to joke to my husband about the catastrophe that had landed me there. Such gallows humour probably seems pathological (and maybe it is). Luckily I married a man much like myself, so he took it well. He helped fill the hours while they prepped theatre and called a surgeon in from the golf course by reading to me from the latest published employment law judgment. I don’t think either of us would have preferred a joint exploration of our feelings at that time.

But Hollywood tells me I am wrong. Movies and novels and plays tell me over and over that problems and griefs need to be discussed openly and sincerely. Maybe humour is an unhealthy defensive reaction in a crisis, but what can I say? It comes naturally to me, and it gets me through. If that is a disorder, I’m not sure I want to be cured of it.

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