Sunday, 5 January 2014

How to curse in Dutch

If you have clicked on this post thinking you are about to learn how to swear dramatically in a foreign language (and we all know how fun that is), I'm afraid you are in for a disappointment. It would be very unladylike of me, and as my mother used to say, "We don't speak like that." (The royal "we"...)

However, I have discovered in The Netherlands, that the Dutch have a rather unique way of cursing. They have the usual run of the mill swearing of course, which I will not be sharing with you. (Learn the nice words first in a language - it will do more good in the long run!) I do see a difference in the terms, by the way. Cursing brings to mind witches and fairy stories, whereas swearing brings to mind oaths and heavy things dropping on toes. 

Dutch curses are unique in that they use old fashioned diseases (and some modern ones) that are literally translated to things like, "I hope you get typhoid." Er...pardon? I was sitting with my great aunt in her front room, which hasn't changed much since the 1930s, listening to her stories and drinking tea. This particular story was about children, not long after the War, who went around the street asking each neighbour for a penny for Sint Maarten. Some would hand them out, whereas other neighbours would send them on their way. When this happened the children would walk away saying, "Catch diseases," or something similar. I did a double take when I heard this, wondering if I had just mistranslated in my head. Then I remembered reading about this way of cursing people, and asked about it.

Sitting there and drinking tea, only to hear my old aunt reel off a string of old fashioned diseases in forms of curses was the most bizarre thing ever. She ended by saying with a grin, "Well, we weren't allowed to say things like that, of course."

I nodded rather weakly, thinking to myself, No, I should think not..." Imagine telling someone who has perhaps just run you down with his bicycle (extremely likely in this country) to go get cancer and die while he's about it!? Bloody hell! (Whoops, sorry, Mum!).

There's a whole list that include things like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, syphilis, smallpox, cancer, and even the plague! Perhaps the worse the disease, the more cross they are with you...? It's rather harsh on the face of things, but hearing it makes me want to laugh because it sounds so odd. Certainly more entertaining than some of our English "curses" (you can use your imagination here...).
We've been doing it all wrong - next time you are mowed down by an entire posse of 14 year old girls on bicycles, all texting and laughing, remember your 18th century diseases and epidemics!

Remember them, don't actually say them - we don't speak like that, after all...