The whore-queen of Polish maledicta

… or some diversity in profanity. Isn’t that a catchy title?

First let me explain. Some posts ago I promised to devote the very next post to Polish maledicta (that’s proper English for “bad words” if you didn’t know; also the title of my favourite scholarly journal). That promise wasn’t fulfilled then, which teaches you never to trust what strangers write on the Internet. However, it’s going to be fulfilled now, which teaches you to trust me, because I am a nice chap who delivers -sooner or later- on his promises.

Enough distractions. I begin my series on Polish vulgar/obscene/blasphemous/otherwise unappropriate vocabulary by paying tribute to all Poland’s favourite swear – the lovely word “kurwa” [coorr-vah if you like retarded approximations of foreign pronunciations]. So brace yourself for what I have to say (if you don’t want to read profanity, stop reading now)

1. Literal  meaning

“Kurwa” means literally “whore” (see, that’s why I could call that word “a whore-queen”!). Or actually it doesn’t. It means what “whore” would have meant if it was as vulgar and unacceptable-in-polite-company as “fuck” or “cunt”. Truly, if you compare Polish and English bad words, you’ll see that the supposedly equivalent words differ a lot in their potency.

But anyway, what I’m trying to say is that “kurwa” is the most vulgar of Polish terms for “a prostitute, a whore, a streetwalker, a hooker” and that English really lacks an equally strong term for members of that profession.

2. But it has some other uses.

However, apart from its main/original/a bit bland meaning (“whore”), the lovely “kurwa” (I’m tired of typing this all over again, henceforth “k-word”) is also used in a couple of interesting ways:

a) it serves to express strong emotions: pain, disgust, disbelief, amazement, irritation, anger… anything, really. It’s what you say when you drop something on your toe, or when you miss your bus to work, or when you learn that they promoted that idiot instead of you, or when you see something so awesome that you can’t really say anything else…

b) it’s a filler-word, it fills all the gaps in your wordflow. Just imagine someone saying “And I go there, whore and I am whore like whore where’s my money, whore” and that’s more or less what you hear from 15-year-olds in trams. Or a parent to a child “How many times have I whore told you not to whore eat anything you drop on the floor”. Just translate to Polish switching “whore” to the “k-word” and you’ve got what many people speak here.

So actually the uses a) and b) are the reason why the word “kurwa” is so omnipresent. It’s not that, say, the parent call their kid “a whore”. They don’t really do that, even if they do utter the word, what they do is just speak to the little one using the K-word in every other sentence, because that’s how they naturally speak, especially when they are angry or distressed.

3. The pragmatic difference between the two usages

Witness the following pair of sentences:

i. Zamknij się, kurwa! = shut yourself(imperative) whore (uninflected)
vs.
ii. Zamknij się, kurwo! = shut yourself(imperative) whore (address form)

What is the difference?

In i. the k-word is used uninflected, which points out that it’s an expletive, an intensifier, but not a noun, it serves just to convey speaker’s emotions and has no meaning of its own.
In ii. the k-word is inflected into so-called address form, which means it’s a noun, used in its original meaning to insult the addressee.

In real terms, i. expresses annoyance/ anger, it’s what you could say to a colleague whose babbling doesn’t allow you to concentrate. In contrast, ii. expresses aggression and willingness to harm. The (imperfect) English equivalents would be:
i. Shut the fuck up!
ii. Shut up, you fucking slut!

4. The social context

As I said earlier, a great lot of people from all backgrounds use the K-word. Teenagers in love, mothers to their children, MPs when they think the mic is off… you name it, you have it.

The frequency of usage (esp. usages a) and b)) makes “kurwa” a functional equivalent of English “fuck” and “fucking”. There are however some important subtleties… Both Polish and English words are not normally used on TV but can be heard in movies,  there’s however an interesting difference when it comes to satire and internet (and probably many other usage fields, but I’m going to talk about these two).
I don’t know of any Polish comedian/satire website which would use “kurwa” the way cracked.com uses “fuck” (that is very liberally) Also, while expressions such as “What the fuck?” are quite frequent on American fora, their Polish equivalents I could think of  (“Co jest, kurwa?” – ‘what is it whore’ / “Co jest do kurwy nędzy” – ‘what is it to the whore poverty’ / “O co kurwa chodzi?” – ‘What the whore is going on’) are all too rude to use without starting a flamewar.

5. The mother of  swears or witness the power of Polish morphology

One of the nicest things about Polish is that it gives its users a very efficient word-building machine. Bring your basic (“root”) word with you and it gives you means to derive tens if not hundreds of related words on the spot. And there are hundreds of words created from the one we’re talking about. A small half-random sample:

skurwysyn – “of-whore-son” the closest we have to “motherfucker”
skurwiel – as above, only derivation is opaque
kurwić – “to use the k-word a lot”
kurwić się – “to sell yourself” (on-going process) both literal and figurative senses
skurwić się – “to become a whore/ a sell-out / an immoral person” (completed process)
wkurwić – “to make someone very angry” as in:
lepiej mnie nie wkurwiaj – you better not piss me off / don’t fuck with me
wkurwiać – as above but the process is ongoing/happens repeatedly
…on mnie wtedy wkurwił… –  he pissed me off then (on one occassion)
vs.
…on mnie wtedy wkurwiał… – he’d piss me off back then (more than once)
wkurwi(a)ć się
– “to become angry, irritated or nervous”
wkurwiony – “angry, pissed off”
wykurwić – “to throw out” or “to hit something/someone”
wykurwić się –
“to trip and fall”
zakurwisty
– “being great in some respect”
kurewski – “whore-y; of whore; related to being a whore” “being bad”
przykurwić – “to hit hard”
kurewsko – “very, a lot, much” (intensifier)
zakurwiście – “great, excellent” (adverb)
kurwica – “state of extreme anger, agitation or nervousness”
kurwiszon/kurwiszcze/kurwidło – “whore” each time with a different derogatory sounding suffix attached

So, as you see, the k-word is really like a mother to a big family of swears…

6. And speaking of mothers…

… we turn to another interesting phenomenon. When used in the “hammer-on-finger-swear” sense the k-word is sometimes shouted out in expression “Kurwa mać!”

Now, this is interesting because “mać” is the old Polish word for “mother”. The one we use now, “matka” is really a diminuitive of “mać” (that is “matka” meant “little mother” at first). “Mać” itself is never used as a stand-alone word in modern Polish and some Poles don’t know what it means. The only contexts it is used (that I can think of) are in the expressions “kurwa mać” “kurwa twoja mać” (twoja = your) and “jebana/pierdolona mać” (fucked). That is, profanity is the last hideout of our old word for “mother”.

To illustrate this situation better, let’s make a parallel with English. Some people, I hear, already use the word “mother” as a short form for “motherfucker”. Suppose this catches on, and everybody refers to their mothers as “mom” or “mama” or “ma” only, because they associate “mother” with swearing. That’s sort of what we have here. Since ages.

7. The regional context or how to define Central Europe

One last thing I wanted to tell about the k-word is that it is very cosmopolitan. It’s not only us who have it and use it. Allowing for minimal variation in orthography, pronunciation and usage you can find it in (at least): Czech, Slovak, Lithuanian, Latvian, Yiddish, Hungarian, Serbo-Croat, Romanian, Albanian, Bulgarian and western dialects of Ukrainian (some info firsthand, some from online sources, mistakes may happen).

Now, come to think of it, in my part of the world we constantly argue about the geographical definitions of Central and Eastern Europe (we want to belong to the former so hard). Drawing boundaries of territories where the k-words flows from mouths would result in the Central Europe as we would like to see it – with us and everybody around, but Germans and Russians not invited.

So, I hereby submit my proposal for a new regional organisation/talk format: the Kurvopean Union.

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Comments

  • kasia89  On March 24, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Amazing that no more than half an hour ago I talked about it to my sister and dad… And they noted that, actually, we could even name this lovely “k-word” a kind of modulation in accent of our specific and beautiful language ;D In some way I can agree, but I prefer to stand for its function of “filler-word”, as you called it.

    The only one thing I can throw in is – referring to the point 2a) – you forgot to mention that it could also be used as a way of expressing positive emotions, like – just! – fun or others like that…

    • peterlin  On March 24, 2009 at 3:03 pm

      Point taken, thanks.

Trackbacks

  • By Význam slova „kurde“ « Jazyky on June 10, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    […] Ať chceme či ne, K-slova jsou polskou jazykovou realitou. Na téma toho opravdu sprostého K-slova více anglicky: The whore-queen of Polish maledicta […]

  • By Význam slova „kurde“ | Dudnes on January 23, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    […] Ať chceme či ne, K-slova jsou polskou jazykovou realitou. Na téma toho opravdu sprostého K-slova více anglicky: The whore-queen of Polish maledicta […]

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