Emotional Intelligence · Mind The Gap!

Why Do We Swear In Dutch And Say "Pardon My French"?



Dutch gets some getting used to when all the English swear words are polite language...
A local pig breeder; literally translated, ‘fokbedrijf’ is a fuck company.

This is a short piece on the issue of swearing, especially in English. I apologize in advance for the use of – how can I phrase this? – coarse language … read on!

Getting Used To Dutch …

I live and work in the Netherlands, and I speak Dutch well. In learning the language, I came to realize that the swear words in English are all just everyday Dutch words. This can lead to accidents when the driver is English and the passenger says “Kijk aan haar kont”.

Kont (yup) is the seat of one’s pants, or bum. All she had noticed was that her jeans had worn pale on her backside. It takes some getting used to this kind of language, especially if you come from a refined family as I do. Even kunt (u kunt = you can) is a little too close for comfort. I can manage just fine when Dutch is switched on in my head and English switched off.

The F Word

As to the f word. Well: that again stems from the Dutch. My website, “The Cat’s Whiskers” is to be found on a link farm the owner of which used Google search to get sufficient numbers to qualify for a free daughter page. The link farm in question is “kattenfokkers.verzamelgids.nl” or somesuch. Whilst “kattenfokkers” may sound alarming to the English reader, it simply means cat breeders.

Here in the Netherlands, you see foks everywhere. There are even flying foks in the form of Fokker, the aircraft manufacturers. Really!

And Now For A Little History

My theory is that the Normans used it to belittle their Saxon underlings. “Go home, and fok your darling wife” for fok is, in Dutch, polite language. That it is not so polite in English cannot be attributed to me! That the English seem to have difficulties with bedtime activities is not my fault either. I have two children, and enjoyed getting them and bringing them up.

A side issue is something that Robert Graves mentioned in his excellent work “The White Goddess” (1). Whilst being hard going even for someone interested in language, it has some startling revelations for the patient. In this instance, it was that the country folk of Majorca (where Graves lived in later life) swore with a consistency and profundity that stunned even him. A professor of poetry he might have been, he had served in the trenches and could swear like the proverbial trooper. It all had to do with the worship of the Black Madonna – another form of the great goddess Isis.

Isis = reproduction = madonna. Scratch the surface. There is nothing wrong with regarding gods and goddesses as worthy of praise. As a through-and-through Christian, I know that in Creation, the Logos came first, and comes first. Certainly in my life, and certainly of most of the people of whom I hold a degree of respect.

(1) The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth Is a book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making by author and poet Robert Graves. The White Goddess represents an approach to the study of mythology from a decidedly creative and idiosyncratic perspective. You can find out more here at Wikipedia


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