Thursday, May 06, 2010

Big Bad Words - Older Children

What happens when you move to a country where another language is used and your children are enrolled in a local primary of secondary school? Chances are high they'll pick up a few swearwords as they become bilingual. It's part of fitting in and sounding 'right'. But do you actually know any French swearwords? How do you know if the neighbour's child is just being silly or really insulting you? Which words should you ban your children using?

My lack of knowledge was highlighted when my sister gave my youngest child a set of washable pens to doodle on the bathroom tiles while in the bath. My two older children and their two French cousins 'borrowed' the pens and wrote French swearwords on the bathroom wall. I was furious because I was unable to deceipher the messages. The cousins sniggered that their English aunt was so naïve, and my children saw a chance to misbehave and say rude things to each other or me without being caught. Their punisment was to give me a basic grounding in gros mots, (or Ten Things Not To Say In Front Of Your Parents Or Teachers). Here are the results. They are listed in order of seriousness and vulgarity.

Dégage! – Get out of my way!/Get lost! (often used between kids)
Ferme ta geule! – Shut up!/Shut your gob! (rude)
Chiant – a pain/annoying/boring (mildly insulting)
Emmerdeur - nuisance/annoying (mildly insulting)
Imbécile/Cretin/Idiot – idiot (can be insulting)
Con/conard – stupid (offensive)
Salope/pétasse/pouffiasse – bitch (offensive)
Pute/Putain - slut/tart (offensive)
Merde! - s**t (offensive)
Je m’en fous! – I d'ont give a f**k! (offensive)

There are also some words which have become a 'lighter' alternative to an offensive word, like the way we say 'sugar' or 'shoot', in place of a stronger curse.

Punaise! – literally a 'drawing pin' or 'bedbug' (to replace putain)
Puree! - literally 'mashed potatoe' (to replace putain)
Mince! – literally 'slim' (to replace merde)
Je m’en fiche! I don’t give a damm! (cheeky)

For parents of children growing up in France I would recommend listening carefully to your children, particulary when they are talking to their friends. If you are not sure about new words ask your child's teacher, or a French friend to tell you which words are unacceptable for your children.

See also:

Titeuf - a cartoon character based on young adolescent who knows several gros mots (see comic books/dvds, available in all good bookshops)
Useful dictionary website, which gives translations of colloquial French/English words and has an excellent forum for questions on language or swearing in context.

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