Monday, September 15, 2014

Damn You, Esperanto!

More about Esperanto and cussing. In the early press items on Esperanto, there was this steady beat of criticism (less often, praise) that Esperanto lacked cuss words. In 1911, on their way to the Universala Kongreso, a group of Esperantists sought to set the record straight, although it does seem that there really weren't cuss words in Esperanto in 1911.

The following was reported in the Times Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia on September 15, 1911, as having occurred in New York. I have no idea why it isn’t in a New York paper. Maybe it was. Newspapers of the era would frequently reprint things from other papers, after all.
Just before they sailed for Warsaw, Poland, to attend the international congress in the interest of the new language, nearly two hundred Esperantists met at a New York hotel. They replied to two criticism of the tongue—that it lacks in wealth of terms for love-making and saying expressive things when occasion requires. The new lingo, however, is not deficient in these respects. To quote an Esperantist: “Imagine what a great thing it is to tell a girl you love her in terms more beautiful, more subtle than any poet of any nation ever before has used. Now, if I want to damn you in English, I say ‘d—n,’ and I can’t go any further,[1] but in Esperanto I say ‘kondamnita,’ and I brand you in the past. I say, ‘kondamnata,’[2] and I get you now, and I say ‘kondamnota,’ and I get you in the future. Can you beat it?” It seems not.
The words in question, kondamnita, kondamnata, and kondamnota really just mean “condemned, or found guilty” as past, present, and future participles. It’s “condemned,” “being condemned,” and “will be condemned.” Like you would condemn a prisoner, or even a house. So, they’re really not translating “damn you.” The word a contemporary Esperanto speaker would use is damni, which Plena Ilustrita Vortaro defines as “to condemn to the punishment of hell,”[3] The word is not in Kazimierz Bein's Vortaro de Esperanto of 1910.

If one had to choose, of course, you might prefer that a member of the clergy damns you to hell than a judge condemning you prison. It’s like the old joke about the judge and the minister.
A judge and a minister were trying to figure out which of the two was more powerful.

“I am,” said the minister, “since I can say ‘damn you,’ while you can only say “hang you.””

“That is so,” said the judge, “when you say a man is to be damned, he may be damned. When I say a man is to hanged, they hang him.”

  1. Not, it would seem, in a family paper.  ↩
  2. In the source article, this is printed "kondamnato,” with the others ending in -a. I brought it in line with the others, since the adjective makes the most sense. A condemned person would’t be a kondamnato, but a kondamnatulo though a condemning would be kondamno.  ↩
  3. Not in those exact words of course, but that's what it says when you translate the Esperanto into English.  ↩

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