Saturday, September 20, 2014

Please Don’t Cuss, Esperantists

Let's keep it clean, Zamenhof
While many newspapers ran articles tweaking Esperanto for a lack of “cuss words,” one newspaper, the Hartford Republican of Hartford, Kansas, saw that as a feature, not a bug. As I noted before, it’s not entirely clear when obscene[1] and profane[2] words entered Esperanto. The writer Kálmán Kalocsay in his Sekretaj sonetoj certainly documented a number of obscene terms; I’m not certain if he also coined them. If he did, that would be about 1930. If Kalocsay didn’t coin these words, they might have circulated in conversation and private correspondence. Plena Ilustrita Vortaro does not offer dates for when a word entered Esperanto, and the Akademio de Esperanto only lists words that are official, which many of these terms are not.[3]

It’s certainly clear that Zamenhof had no particular hurry for coining words to translate words found objectionable in the natural languages. Nor has the Akademio de Esperanto has shown any particular hurry to acknowledge these words as official. I plugged a series of off-color words into the search box of the Akademio Vortaro, and found only one, furzi (to fart), which was official, and that only since 2007. I have a 1934 edition of Plena Vortaro de Esperanto, which does include furzi, though it contains none of the other terms I sought (the current edition of PIV certainly has them all).[4]

So, officially, Esperanto has few off-color words. In 1907, it still might have had none, certainly, none that were official. At that point in Esperanto’s history, the only official words were those that had been coined by Zamenhof. The Akademio made its first list of added words in 1909, which (according to Esperanto Wikipedia) added 805 roots to the language, of which we can assume that none were dirty. And that would have been fine for the Republican.
We hope those who are developing the new language, “Esperanto,” will leave out all “cuss” words. There is nothing so disgusting to the sensitive ear as to hear some boy, who thinks it adds to his manhood, or some old cuss, just “cussing” around on the streets, without any sense of propriety, much less thought of the sin of taking the name of God in vain.
Prissy in the extreme. I don’t know about “disgusting,” but nails on a chalkboard is worse on the sensitive ear. And I had assumed Kentucky in the early twentieth century would be a much more rough-and-ready place, but judging from the Republican, one needs to hold the teacup “just so,” lest the ladies be affrighted.

Once again, all indications are that when the Republican ran this item, there were no cuss words in Esperanto. It didn’t stay that way. And a good thing too. A language without cuss words? Forfiku! [5]

  1. Dealing with sex and bodily functions.  ↩
  2. Dealing with religious proprieties.  ↩
  3. It would defeat the whole purpose of slang if it were recognized by the official language body, wouldn’t it?  ↩
  4. The Akademio de Esperanto functions like the Académie Française, in that it sets the standard for usage. SAT, the publisher of PIV, works like a dictionary does and documents actual usage, and includes words that are used, though not rendered official by the Academy. Ironically, Bertilo Wennergren (a member of the Academy), pointed out that the 2002 PIV failed to include words that the Academy had made official years before.  ↩
  5. Forfiku “fuck off.”  ↩

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