Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Swear Words You Learn


I share my room with a newly arrived Filipino who now works as a kitchen hand in one of the many restaurants in Madrid. You will find that Madrid is really a city of restaurants: it has restos at every street corner! The strange thing is, everyone of them seem to be doing brisk business. You would expect that with the number of restos, they would naturally kill each others’ business off. But no, everyone of them is doing brisk business as I earlier said. I guess this is a fitting commentary as to how much the Spaniards enjoy gastronomic delights. But I digress.

The Pinoy I room with has this quirky expression everytime he finds something strange, incredible, or annoying. Normally, I would say “Ano ba iyan?” in such situations. But this guy is different. He would say, “How dare?” (transcribed as Haw der [He pronounces der with a rounded r or with his tongue curled up the roof of his mouth]). Weird, sa loob loob ko.

Everytime he said this, I would have the urge to correct him, to say something like: “Baka ang gusto mong sabihin “How dare you?” Or “How dare he?, etc” But being the polite Filipino that I am, I would always contain myself and just let him be. There is no sense in wounding his ego. He is in Spain anyway where very few people speak English so it wouldn’t matter if he was saying things inappropriately, if not, incorrectly.

One time, I went to visit an Indoesian friend who is taking her Master’s in Castellon (near Barcelona). When I was seated on her desk, I spotted a piece of paper taped on her wall where useful Spanish phrases are written. One of the phrases that she thought of writing was the word “joder,” which curiously means no other than “to fuck.” O di ba? One will never learn this in Spanish class. Naturally, I noted this down because swear words are a useful part of one’s vocabulary; you will be aware when people are cursing at you and you can reply apropos.

A few days after I came back to Madrid, as I was conversing with my Pinoy buddy about something which I cannot remember anymore, he again blurted, “Haw der!” Suddenly, a spark of recognition came to me, which prompted me to ask him, “Saan mo ba nakuha iyang expression na iyan?.” He replied, “Sa resto. Ito iyong laging sinasabi ng mga camarero (waiter) at cucinero sa akin.” Hah! Just as I suspected. What I thought was the phrase “How dare?” was really nothing more than him trying to say “joder.” I asked him whether he knew what this expression meant. He replied sheepishly that he didn’t.

With my teacherly instincts I proceeded to explain “well, it’s really like saying ‘fuck’ or ‘fuck you.’” (Actually, it also means to annoy or to pester. When you say “que se joda” [yes, like the Pinoy expression] it means “to hell with him/her” while “que te jodas” means “go to hell!”) I also proceeded to correct his pronounciation by saying that joder is more properly said with a rolled r and not a rounded r and a ho not a haw—so instead of saying, haw der, it should be pronouned as ho-der. I also told him that he should opt to say jode and not joder. Now, my friend correctly says it everytime he finds something quirky.

I also have a suspicion that my buddy is the butt of his Spanish co-workers’ cruel swearing but I am loathe to ask him this lest I wound his ego. From my interviews with some seasoned migrants, they say that the Spanish, specially the uneducated (mostly those who work at restos), have the penchant for insulting newly arrived Filipino workers and having fun at their expense because these migerants hardly know Spanish swear words save for hijo de puta and tonta.

So far, I’ve heard him say mierda (shit), cabron (bastard), hijo de puta (son of a bitch), tonto (stupid), and pindejo (stupid) I ask him everytime I hear him say some new swear words whether he knows what these words mean. Expectedly, he didn’t. There was in fact this one time when we went to the park where I heard a Spanish man saying to his companion, “Estas maricona!” I ask my friend, “Naintindihan mo ba iyong sinabi nung lalaki?” Sabi niya, “Hind eh, pero sinasabihan ako nung mga kasama ko ng ganayan minsan.” I explained to him that the guy just called his friend a fag.

Now that I’ve explained to him the different swear words, it would be harder for his Spanish co-workers to play around with him—I hope. Well, I’m also hoping that he has started to answer them back when they call him those words.

From my research—yes, I’ve not only been researching for my thesis but also about other stuff as well—puneta, is really a swear word. My mother almost had me believe that puneta is not really a swear word because her lawyer friend said it wasn’t so she has the penchant for saying puneta when she is annoyed at something or someone. Well, I’m sure she will turn red like a tomato when I tell her what this word actually means. I can not really fault her or her lawyer friend for not knowing because the Spaniards never taught us their language. Puneta really means,”to annoy,” “to pester,” or “to masturbate.” When one says “que puneta!,” one is really saying, “hell!” (something like to hell with the situation). Or when one says, “Vete a hacer punetas,” this means “get lost” or “go to hell.”

We sometimes hear Filipinos, even the ones back home say “leche” when they are infuriated or upset. In Spanish, leche is the word for milk, but when said in a foul mood, leche comes to mean “hell.” The Spanish also call bastards (I’m not sure if this is still true to this day), hijos de leche. How leche came to have these sour connotations, that I would have to find out.

5 Comments:

Blogger Thor said...

Hey! great idea for a book --- The Etymology of Leche(!) and Other Curses for the Travelling Filipino so You Can Return the Favor. :)

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Blogger auraizme said...

"leche" y many Spanish speaking countries refers not to milk but more to sperm, the product of an eyaculation, because of its milky appearance.

The expression "¡qué leche!" or just "leche" is often used to mean "what (goddamn) luck!", referring to some other guy's good fortune or your own bad luck. It all depends on the situation.

"hijo de leche" refers to the person being a "bastard", referring to that person being the product of a casual sexual encounter. It is an obvious insult, like "hijo de puta" (Son of a bitch).

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