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Post The Ubiquitous "Kurva": Eastern Europe's Default Curse Word
Created by John Eipper on 11/28/18 2:56 AM

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The Ubiquitous "Kurva": Eastern Europe's Default Curse Word (Istvan Simon, USA, 11/28/18 2:56 am)

John E speculated that kurva ("whore" in Hungarian) originated in Hungary. Not being an expert in etymology I thought this would be better answered by my friend Ed Jajko. I searched for the etymological origins of the word, and it seems that it is of Slavic origin. It is related to curve, so it would be interesting to figure out how it came to mean what it does.

It can be also used also as an adjective in Hungarian, in which case it means more or less the same as "damn," like in "Ez a kurva e'let" (this damn life). It is often used also in conjunction with "anya" (mother) in swearing, like in "a kurva anya'd," which I imagine needs no translation. Anya'd means "your mother."

This may be a result of my Hungarian cultural origins, but I am rarely offended by swearing or "colorful" language. Being fluent in at least 5 languages I find it actually interesting to compare the way people swear.

I was happy to hear that Patrick Mears (November 27th) is also very fond of Hasek's masterpiece. I thought that it was interesting that Catch 22 was inspired by Svejk.

One of the many funny episodes in Svejk is when Svejk is instructed to give all the officer corps the second volume of a book. The book is supposed to be used for sending coded messages by the officers. Svejk figured that it does not make sense to start with the second volume of a book, so he gave the officers the first volume instead. Naturally it did not work very well for the intended purpose.

JE comments: Latin America's "curva peligrosa" (dangerous "kurva") road signs never fail to give me pause...

Here's a sweeping hypothesis:  the more languages you know, the less you are offended by swearing.  My sample group thus far is one:  Istvan Simon.  But I'd add myself to the list, and Aldona too.  My mother, who is monolingual, has never cursed in her life.  (She's a faithful reader of WAIS, which is one reason we don't swear on the Forum--Hi Mom!)

Might there be something to the fact that people with more than one tongue realize that all languages are arbitrary signifiers, as Saussure taught us?  No need to get riled up about arbitrary signs.

Let me put my theory to the test.  Most WAISers know two or more languages.  Who amongst us is offended by "cussing"?

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  • Kurva and Blyad': Versatile Expletives (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 11/28/18 2:03 PM)

    Istvan Simon's conjecture is correct: kurva is indeed a Slavic word---the universal word for a "whore" in all of the Slavic languages.

    It is not, however, related to "curve," which is "kryva" in Russian and similar in the other Slavic languages. Kurva, rather, is a diminutive of "kura" or chicken.

    The etymologist Fasmer has a good discussion here: http://vasmer.narod.ru/p339.htm , also here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%BA%D1%83%D1%80%D0%B2%D0%B0 "From Old East Slavic курва (kurva, "prostitute, whore"), from Proto-Slavic *kury ("whore"), from *kurъ ("bird, hen; cock")."

    It is interesting to learn that Hungarian uses "kurva" as a universal vulgar operand. Russian has the same thing--the word "blyad'," which can play multiple grammatical roles.

    JE comments:  The first link doesn't seem to work on these shores:  "Web page blocked, according to company policy."  My first reaction was an expletive, but I'll post the link for others to try.

    Some Russians can insert blyad' into nearly every sentence.  It sounds harsher and far "cussier" to the ear, unlike kurva and its variants, which have an almost musical ring.

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    • Kurwa and Szmata: Venerable International Expletives (Edward Jajko, USA 11/29/18 9:30 AM)
      Rising to the bait offered by Istvan Simon, here are some comments on "kurwa" as well as vulgarisms in general.

      "Kurwa" is not related to "curve." I have found results different from Cameron Sawyer's hypothesis of November 28th; no "little chicken." "Kurwa" (and variants in other spellings in other languages of East and Central Europe) comes from Proto-Indoeuropean /keh-ros/ meaning "love." ("Curve" comes from /ker-wos/.)

      This information comes from Wiktionary (en.m.wiktionary.org). At the site for "kurwa," there is an etymology of the word and a brief but effective description of its use. There is also a long list of synonyms of two meanings of the word. Under its meaning as "slut," one of the Polish words listed is the absolutely hilarious "dupodajka." The same Wiktionary gives a wholly inadequate explanation of this word, which is a compound that I'll allow our editor to seek an explanation for at home. It is funny.

      Another of the extraordinary number of synonyms is "szmata." Those in WAIS who know Yiddish will recognize the borrowing שמאטע, i.e,. "shmate." The word means "rag" and refers to torn cloth used for cleaning, mopping up, etc., then by extension women's dresses (hence "the rag trade.") The word meaning "rag" also got the meaning of "slut, whore." Interestingly, there is an exact parallel in Arabic. The word شوموطة ("sharmutah") means "rag" but also has the slang meaning of "whore."

      With regard to German vulgarisms, referred to by a WAISer in a previous post, I'd like to point out the dictionary of some years ago, Sex im Volksmund: die sexuelle Umgangssprache des deutschen Volkes by Ernest Borneman. I have a copy somewhere. It's amazing how often one might be inadvertently--or purposefully--sexually obscene in speech in German. Words for sausages seem to play a prominent role.

      More about personal encounters with vulgarisms later.

      JE comments:  I've heard szmata in both Yiddish and Polish contexts.  But dupodajka?  It isn't used at WAIS HQ, but the meaning is extremely colorful.  I'm going to go with "arse-nanny."  Ed, is that about right?  And many thanks for your WAIS Wednesday donation!  Rest assured that your zlotys will go far to keep the WAIS lux burning.

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      • 4000 Years of Shamat, Schmatta, Szmata (A. J. Cave, USA 11/30/18 10:39 AM)
        To follow up on Ed Jajko's post of November 29th, the word shamat (shamhat or shamatu) is Akkadian, and its use goes back to the Epic of Gilgamesh (roughly 2000 BCE). It is both a feminine name (meaning luscious, or voluptuous), and a professional marker (prostitute).

        In Gilgamesh, Shamat is "temple prostitute" who is sent by King Gilgamesh to civilize Enkidu and bring him to the city of Uruk. In Babylon, sex had a religious component and was considered a "me" (strong e, pronounced may), a Sumerian word meaning, cultural norm, a bundle of gifts from the great gods necessary for a civilized life.

        Shamat was called a "harintu", meaning a temple ‎[of Goddess Ishtar] sex worker, not as high as a priestess of Ishtar (Ishtaritu or entu), but obviously known by the king to be up to the task of traveling on foot into the wilderness and tame a wild man with questionable hygiene. A fabulous fearless female. Sort of x-rated Jane to Tarzan.

        JE comments:  Talk about a deep, deep etymology.  Words with origins in proper names are particularly intriguing.  Shamat has endured for four millennia (before even Hector was a pup).  Impressive.

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