This chapter approaches swearing and cursing practices from a more holistic perspective, and critically questions the narrow view on swearing as demarcated and extracted “swear words”. By exploring the many faces of swearing, this contribution aims at opening up new perspectives and intends to challenge the established understanding of “bad language” by presenting examples from different African contexts. The focus lies on labels and naming practices of the Self and the Other, on a bitter form of laughter, as well as on bodily substances that function as dangerous matter; all circling around swearing/ cursing as a form of Otherness, mimetic practice, abject substance, camp and generally, as an expression of power. Introducing to the study of swearing and cursing, this chapter includes speakers’ creativity, agency, the fluidity of language(s) and the importance of context and embodiment, aiming to open the floor for the multifaceted and transdisciplinary strands found in the different subsequent chapters.
In this chapter I explore the indigenous incorporation and critique of colonial outsiders through nicknaming. I draw on the history of colonial warfare in Timor-Leste, a former Portuguese colony, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to consider naming practices as a way through which the mimetic excesses of colonial agents could be simultaneously acknowledged, feared, criticized, and even cursed as a form of savagery. For this purpose I follow the cross-cultural history of the term arbiru. East Timorese people used this term as a nickname for a Portuguese colonial officer in the 1890s. Portuguese colonial accounts understood this usage as Timorese recognition of European supremacy and supernatural powers. Nevertheless, the colonial viewpoint failed to capture the veiled negative meanings that the Timorese name conveyed. In contrast, this chapter argues, the term arbiru entailed hidden indigenous criticism and cursing of the colonizers’ excessive, threatening, and transgressive actions. It was a linguistic gesture for naming the wild and wicked nature of colonial mimesis.
Diani Beach in Kenya is a space where speakers violate norms through language practices that do not include swear words but tend to challenge the notion of the beach as “paradise”, and its rules of politeness, respect and privacy. Language here is used in exchanges where the hosts’ presence conflicts with the social expectations of guests, in terms of how they expect to be approached, addressed, and left alone. This results in extreme emotional behaviour as a perlocutionary effect of offence (Culpeper 2011) and presents the beach as a space of transgression. This article will give an insight into the encounters between Europeans and Kenyan beach boys in a space of bizarre relations and interdependencies of real life and “holiday dreams”.
Mass tourism and its language often come together with souvenirs and special techniques for selling them. On the Spanish island of Mallorca, at the beach of El Arenal, tourists from Western Europe meet with immigrants from mostly West African countries. These encounters often resolve in oversexualized, offensive multilingual constructions of the Other that constitute the basis for ritualized insults. Herein, classical gender roles, racist stereotypes and social class are displayed, as well as being mixed up in unusual ways. The relicts of these characterizations are physical souvenirs, but also language phrases that are “taken home” by the tourist and can be found e.g. in music. A rotation between encounters, objects and virtual repetition takes place. According to the participants, the transgressive phrases and souvenirs induce verbal and semiotic games that are characterized by the multilingual actors in the setting. On the one hand, the language and items have become part of a traditional tourism experience and are a necessity for immigrants to survive. On the other hand, they feed the overall generalization of cultures and sexes. Migrants working in direct contact with tourists, especially, are often the target of abusive language. This seems to derive from the easygoing imposition of (sexual) identities practiced on the beach and street that might easily assume male over female dominance. Trying to include as many perspectives as possible, this contribution aims to present different swearing strategies and purposes deriving from sexism and prejudice which appear as a result of extensive on-site multinational tourism.
So far the description of teenagers’ linguistic habits has been restricted to Europe and the United States. This paper broadens the description by comparing the use of rude vocatives by teenage boys and girls in Latin-America (Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile) and Europe (London and Madrid) on the basis of four corpora of spontaneous conversation. The paper highlights that the teenagers use rude vocatives with no intention to insult but as intimacy-markers signalling social bonding. This is illustrated by extracts from the corpora, which also show that rude vocatives are more often used by the Spanish-speaking than by the English-speaking teenagers, and by the Latin-American teenagers in particular. Chilean huevón, for instance, is used so often that it is developing into a pragmatic marker, while the London teenagers use the neutral vocative tío/a for the same purpose. The rude vocatives are most often used by boys, above all the Spanish-speaking boys, with two notable exceptions: the girls’ boluda in Buenos Aires and gilipollas in London, which points to the ongoing linguistic levelling between the sexes, when it comes to the use of rude words. To end up, three words that have changed from extremely offensive vocatives to more or less accepted intensifiers are given special attention, notably motherfucker, cunt and coño.