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The History of my Swearing
By Amelia Hapsari

In North America (I started to use the term North America, because it’s more correct. America means the whole continent, where the U.S.A. was only a small part of it), I have a reputation to be a nice Indonesian girl. I don’t try to be one, but that’s what people think of me. So when someone hears me swear, he or she is shocked. Like Li Yan, my Chinese friend. She was shocked when I said, “Shit! I forgot my blanket!” She thought it was the bad influence of my Jamaican friend, Winsome, who is very fluent in inserting swearing word in every sentence elegantly. Today I received an e-mail from Rick Brown, someone who knows me for more than 6 years now. He was also surprised that I wrote, German students “got a freaking two-month vacation.”

My parents never swear in front of their children. My dad, though barely finishes junior high school, never swears. He must have sworn before when he grew up. He lived in a rough Chinatown of Semarang, where swearing is a part of the air people breathe. I bet he stopped swearing after his children were born. The only time in my life I witnessed him swearing was when I was not get accepted in the most prestigious Catholic high school in the province because I was not a Catholic. My mom, a soft-spoken lady from a hilly area of Central Java where the women were famous of being very gentle, obviously has never sworn in her life.

I think swearing is a creative use of language. In Javanese, the language that is spoken in Central and East Java, where I grew up, swear words are composed creatively by individuals in different ways. The literal meaning of the words is sometimes not dirty at all, but when they are put in the swearing context, they can be very mean.

Many animals can turn into swearing words if they are pronounced without any other words. For example, Goat! or Cricket! However, there are some animals that cannot be used for swear words. For example, if you say, “Panda!” or “Giraffe!” Javanese will laugh at you instead of getting angry. I don’t know why these animals are never used for swearing purposes. However, squirrel is one of the most insulting animal to be used in a swear word. “Bajingan!” which literally means “that squirrel” is normally translated into “Bastard!” Maybe because squirrels love to damage the crops that these agricultural Javanese grow.

Well, shit is always a swear word. But it can also be added by putting an animal in front of shit alone, such as “Cat shit!” For an American, it is hard to understand that “Dog!” is one of the dirtiest swearing word in Javanese (and also in Indonesian). Dog is regarded one of the dirtiest animals in Islam, so saying it by itself can be very insulting. But don’t worry to use it when saying, “I have a dog, or I love dogs.” It’s OK.

Other than using animals, Javanese use body parts plus the word “your” when they swear. For example, you may say, “Your eyes!” or “Your head!” when you are pissed at someone. Your anger doesn’t necessarily have to be caused by a bad eye or a bad thought from another person. You can also put “your” in front of any word referring to a family member, and it will be insulting. For example, “Your grandmother!” or “Your father!” or “Your mother!” is a common swear word. It does not take a motherfucker to insult a Javanese.

I imagine it must be hard to translate these swear words into English. Therefore, most of them will be translated either into fuck, damn, shit, or bastard. Interestingly, the swear word that has a direct translation to fuck is very uncommon. I can’t think of any on top of my head, except a Jakarta slank “ngentot” which is not widely used by Javanese.

The degree of insult varies from area to area. Sometimes words that are regarded a mild or friendly swear word can be very insulting when it is exported cross-culturally, even between Indonesians and Malaysians, who share the same language root; Malay. I remember that my sweet Malaysian roommate can’t take it easily when an Indonesian friend often says, “kurang ajar,” which literally means, “lack of education.” For Indonesians, the word is very mild to describe any events or persons that we don’t like. It is also used often in jokes. It does not have anything to do with being lack of education. However, for a Malaysian, the meaning is very strong. It means that their parents do not educate them well when someone says it in front of them; an unbearable insult to the whole family.

I started to swear when I was in junior high school. Part of it was an influence from a girlfriend, but part of it was a statement against being regarded as a weak girl. I grew up hating to be a girl, because of the limitation placed on an Indonesian girl. However, my swearing habit achieved its peak when I was in high school. Well, this was the Catholic high school that first did not admit me. It placed quota on how many girls they accepted (25%) and how many non-Catholic girls they accepted (4-5 students each year). However, after some girls refused the offer, some girls in waiting list was allowed to get in, including me.

Starting on the admission day, I secretly promised to myself to make the principle of the school to regret their decision not to accept me in the first place. I wanted to project myself as a tough, smart, daring, and determined girl. I did not want to dress up. I did not want to date anybody (well, I succeeded only for two years). I want to be as tough and hard as the guys. So I swear a lot. A lot. Swearing felt damn good.

You may have an imagination of a repressive almost-all boy Catholic school, but it was not like that. As an American, you may have a certain picture of a Catholic school, but every place has a different story. We were the only high school in the whole province who refused to wear the national uniform. Individuality was promoted and respected, an idea that was very radical in the authoritarian Indonesia before 1999. We were introduced to principles of free speech, where students also could voice their opinions. We were also taught to regard everybody as equal.

For Americans, what how we were educated seem to be normal, but for Indonesia before 1999, no other school would allow the students to engage in arguments with teachers. As we protested against our headmaster in an open forum in 1996, in 1997 people who were protesting against manipulative installation of the leader of PDI, one of the opposition party, were kidnapped and tortured by the government and the military. Unlike the image of a Catholic school that Americans have, our school was very radical and critical against the government indoctrination that guards the regime’s interest to limit opposition.

It’s critical perspective has inspired me. I learned to put every structure and system in the light of a critical mind. I began to develop a critical perspective on culture, religion, and government. And if now I can speak against the structure of the Catholic church, against Indonesian culture, or against Bush administration, part of the credit shall go to my educators in Loyola High School of Semarang, Indonesia.

Swearing reminds me of my enlighting experiences in the Jesuit high school. Excessive swearing brought everybody closer together. Swearing became something dear you could only say to someone close enough to you. So when people swore to me, I knew that I was already considered their pal. Swearing brought people from different class to the same level of discourse that enabled mutual trust to happen. We were not afraid to make fun of each other and to make fun of ourselves. So I swore with almost everybody, with the man who cleaned our school, with the women who sold food in our canteen, with our Jesuit priests, with our sharp-tongue biology teacher, with our funny English teacher, even with the ones that I had crush on. And they swore back to me.

When I first came to the United States, I missed my swearing friends the most. Swearing is a highly undesirable habit in the “mainstream” American culture, whatever mainstream means. What I miss from it is what is attached to it in a Javanese culture; honesty, trust, love, and equality. Except for my few black and Indian friends, swearing in North America does not produce the same warmth and bound. Honesty, trust, love, and equality thus are perceived differently here in the U.S. Although people smile and ask “How are you?” all the time, North Americans are taught to select whom to respect and whom to trust. Although people are generally very polite, North Americans are taught to present themselves as someone so capable and perfect despite what is true from them.

Now I cannot swear as much as before. And when I occasionally did, it surprised everybody. I guess my North American education will not be able to afford to produce a swearing graduate with a Master of Art in Communications.

(Amelia Hapsari is born in Semarang, Central Java, where Javanese is spoken. Java is one of 17,000 islands under Indonesia, where Indonesian language is spoken as both a lingua-franca and national language. The capital city of Indonesia is Jakarta, where people speak Indonesian in Jakarta dialect that is perceived as the coolest dialect in Indonesia because of the concentration of media production and political power. Malaysia is the neighboring country to Indonesia, where Malay is spoken. Indonesian is a politically constructed language that is derived from Malay as well as other languages such as Javanese, Dutch, English, German, Latin, Arabic, Chinese, and many others. Although growing up in a Javanese culture ,Amelia’s ethnicity is Chinese.)

Laura Joseph Art

Sex at the Box ’05
Shadowbox Cabaret
Easton Towne Center
Columbus, Ohio

* * * * *
by Rick Brown

This is the best Shadowbox Cabaret show I’ve ever attended. Granted, it’s almost 100 percent comedy material but the troupe’s home is in a mall on the opposite side of The Funny Bone Comedy Club. So maybe that’s appropriate. That said, I think what makes this particular production great is that almost everything is written by Shadowbox’s writing team. That obviously is a risk well taken.

Broken Key
by Rick Brown

2Co’s Got the Blues ‘05
2Co’s Cabaret
by Rick Brown

Blank Sight
by John Bennett

Litterae Scriptae Manet
Patrick O'Malley

My New Year's Resolution
by Ted Kane

At the end of every year, countless people in this and I'm sure nearly every country on Earth make a New Year's Resolution in one form or another, even if they don't use that exact terminology. The phrase "New Year's Resolution" can be taken as an oxymoron; the old year is what's being resolved, while the New Year is just beginning. Still, as the noted semanticist Robert Plant once said, "Sometimes words have two meanings," and I guess the construction makes sense if you look at it from the perspective of it being you resolving to do something different in the year ahead. That's not necessarily a bad idea; we all have things in our lives that we should work on.

The problem comes when people set unrealistic goals for themselves. I've long since given up on the idea that I'm going to change myself quickly or drastically. I try to be happy with myself as I am and where I do find shortcomings that I wish to address, I try to do so incrementally. I figure it has a better chance of sticking that way.

My January Mix
by Cory Tressler

You have to use a little bit of magic to make the perfect mix CD. It is an art form that is rarely perfected by anyone, yet it is tried by almost everyone. In the not to distant past the cassette tape was the only way for music enthusiasts to cut and paste their favorite tracks together in order to make a collage of sound that best represented where they were at during that exact moment. Today we have iPods, MP3 players, mini discs, and CD burners at our disposal making it incredibly easy to fit together the latest greatest songs into one eclectic masterpiece. This month I give you my soundtrack. Although not perfection, it does sound pretty damn good to me. Enjoy.

1. “The Pusher” – Nina Simone from the album entitled It Is Finished. I purchased a foreign bootleg double CD of Nina Simone’s records Emergency Ward, It Is Finished, and Black Gold on eBay from a kind Canadian and I’m very glad that I did. For whatever reason these albums are only available on vinyl here in the States, which is an injustice to every Simone fan. This live version of Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” is incredible. Performed with so much feeling and emotion. Rivals Neil Young’s Needle and the Damage Done as the song most likely to make you not want to do hard drugs. Not that anybody needs any more reasons than the obvious.

“Poetry a Language for the Chosen Few”
byDavid G. Hochman

The finesse of prose one can learn. One can learn by reading, by studying. Poetry, on the other hand, is like a foreign language; if you speak it, it is ever so self-evident. Unlike a foreign language, however, no matter what you do, there is no way to learn poetry’s mysteries; you either understand it or don’t and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. And it has little to do with education, for I have seen those hardly educated understand poems at will.

I say this because often I have been sent, or been referred to, poems by friends. Their enthusiasm is enchanting. I would look at the page, or screen, and, the lettering would be, invariably, like Greek. Worse, I would feel like a first-day student at an exam for advanced learners. The letters would swim in my head, symbols would drown. I could stare for centuries, and no good would come of it.

Welcome, then, to the world of poetry.

I am certainly not alone.

The great Czech writer Milan Kundera quotes the answer of another great Czech writer, Karel Capek, when asked why he—Capek--doesn’t write poetry: “Because I loathe talking about myself.” And yet, elsewhere, writes Kundera: “1857: the greatest year of the century. Les Fleurs du mal: lyric poetry discovers its rightful territory, its essence. Madame Bovary: for the first time, a novel is ready to take on the highest requirements of poetry (the determination to ‘seek beauty above all’; the importance of each particular word; the intense melody of the text; the imperative of originality applied to every detail). From 1857 on, the history of the novel will be that of the ‘novel become poetry.’ But to take on the requirements of poetry is quite another thing from lyricizing the novel (forgoing its essential irony, turning away from the outside world, transforming the novel into personal confession, weighing it down with ornament). The greatest of the ‘novelists become poets’ are violently anti-lyrical: Flaubert, Joyce, Kafka, Gombrowicz. Novel=antilyrical poetry.”

A Visit to Sarajevo
by Wes Boomgaarden

Last November I traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), following an invitation to consult with local librarians about preserving what remains of their libraries’ cultural heritage after the war.  (I am a librarian at Ohio State University, where I specialize in the preservation of library collections.)  This opportunity was sponsored by the Trust for Mutual Understanding, a New York foundation.  It was organized by the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), a not-for-profit organization from Andover, Massachusetts, which specializes in the conservation and preservation of library and archival collections, and in organizing groups of specialists to teach others about these subjects.  NEDCC’s representative and organizer for the effort – entitled “To Film or To Scan: Preserving Collections in a Digital World” -- was Mr. Steve Dalton.  Dr. Marilyn Deegan, Kings College, London, served with me as the second and third co-presenters in this workshop.  I would like to thank both the Trust and NEDCC for their support of this traveling three-person team.   I also thank the editor of Naked Sunfish for this chance to tell you about it here.

Sarajevo is a beautiful city, even in early November, and even with visible scars remaining from the terrible conflict just a decade ago.  Sarajevo seems to be filled with lovely people, and each has his own personal scars and stories to tell from that time.  The past hundred years of conflict in the Balkan region is a very serious and complex topic indeed, and one in which I don’t claim to be particularly well informed.  Certainly Sarajevo has been a pivotal place in recent history:  some historians mark the real beginning of the turbulent and bloody 20th century with the assassination of the Archduke in Sarajevo in 1914.  In contrast, most Americans probably recall images of a beautiful Sarajevo from the TV coverage of the Winter Olympics in 1984, but also have a vague recollection of “the troubles” there following that happier time.

As noted above, my personal mission in traveling to Sarajevo was to try to help a group of people dealing with real problems from the effects of time and war on library and archival materials.  Libraries and archives throughout the former Yugoslavia were damaged severely in the well-publicized conflict of the early 1990s.  A few have worked closely with western European and North American agencies to re-build Sarajevo.  Nevertheless, very serious problems remain for those who care for cultural property throughout the region.

Nu Combo

Flowing in this melodic groove
capable of so much more than expected
a soul orgy of musical notes and blending styles
I look down at my hands moving along the fret board
concentrating in upon the sound, the beat, the drummer’s rhythm
thinking, acting on the spur of the moment
driving the emotion to intensity
we all smile and look at each other for only a split second
knowing we will laugh ourselves to death from too much happiness

A. Jive Turske


Click Here



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What the Ficken?
by Rick Brown

I suppose it was the fifth grade…somewhere around then…that I first encountered the word “fuck”. Like most blue-collar parents…and perhaps most parents in general…my father and mother swore on occasion. But no one in his or her generation dared use the “f-word” except in the context of war. Soldiers have always said, “fuck”. They’re entitled to. Hearing the word and knowing what it meant or having an inkling of its versatility was lost on me. But hey…that used to be called innocence.

The f – word is all over the place now. And to be honest there are times I get sick of it. Yet I certainly oppose censoring the word because there are some people in this world…end they are few and far between…who have a real talent for using “fuck” (and all it’s variations) to make a point, enhance humor, or clear the air. I enjoy being around a person who has a knack with “fuck”. I once worked at a log splitter company (another tale in itself) with a guy named Mark. Mark was from Flint, Michigan. And if you’ve ever spent any time in Flint you know first hand that anyone who lives there…ever lived there…has every right to say, “fuck” whenever they want. It’s the severely depressed city that’s been home to filmmaker Michael Moore, writer Ben Hamper, and 60’s and 70’s unappreciated power trio Grand Funk (Fuck?) Railroad.

Mark, who outside of his rough vocabulary, was the sweetest guy you could ever know. Once I heard him swear I realized no one could equal his talent for utilizing arguably the most versatile word in the English language…or any language for that matter. If he was angry with someone…or disgusted…whatever…then Mark called them a “fuckknuckle”. This really cracked us up there at the screw type log splitter company!! It’s so original the word isn’t even listed in The F Word, by Jesse Scheidlower (1995 Random House), a 232-page book devoted exclusively to the word “fuck” and its derivatives. Nowhere appears “fuckknuckle” and believe me there are plenty listed I haven’t encountered. (And I’ve been around the fucking block a few times!)

Unicorn Log Splitters was a small shop with three younger guys (of which I include myself), the owner, and an older, retired guy who supposedly was the accountant. His name was Mr. McClintoch. I never saw Mr. McClintoch do much of anything except talk about drinking and in our brief careers there all of us drank with him at one time or another. Mark wasn’t impressed with the guy. He nicknamed him “Mr. McFucktoch”. I had to be real careful when addressing the old guy. “McFucktoch” stuck in your brain. And it’s easier to say than McClintoch too. Mark was so creative with the f – word I realized he was the King. The “Fuck” King if you will.

Then there’s Claus. He’s the husband of a very good German friend of mine. My wife, Yvonne, and I have visited him and his better half Heike a few times. The very first trip we took to Europe we went to Altbach, Germany and stayed with them. Claus kind of reminded me of a German Mark in a lot of ways. Even though Claus is in his 40’s he still loves heavy metal music…and I mean he LOVES it and loves it LOUD!! So did Mark. Claus may or may not swear like Mark. I can’t tell. My German is horrible. Non-existent really. But they both certainly share the same bravado.

As a gesture of our gratitude for hosting us, Yvonne and I planned to take Claus and Heike out to a nice restaurant on our last night in Europe. After I made myself ready I went into the living room to try to have some sort of combination conversation/pantomime with Claus over the din of heavy metal, It was then I noticed his t – shirt. The front looked something like this:

fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

I said, “Uh, Claus. Are you sure you want to wear that shirt to dinner?” He had no idea what I was getting at. “It says ‘fuck’ all over your shirt. Won’t that bother people?” I made my point to him. (His English isn’t much but he’s a translator compared with me.) Claus assured me that the American word “fuck” is used all the time…in fun mostly. It didn’t have the same vulgarity in Germany because it’s a foreign term.

“Ficken”, Claus explained to me, “You don’t want to say that!” Okay. Fuck good…fun even. Ficken…bad…except possibly in the United States.

A few months later…when it came time to buy Claus a Christmas gift I knew exactly what to get him…a Dead Kennedys “Too Drunk Too Fuck” t – shirt. I figured if anyone in Germany was familiar with these punkers and their underground “hit” it would be Claus. I packaged it up and sent it off with Heike’s gift.

Shortly after Christmas I gave Heike a call to make sure they received their holiday package and see how they liked their presents. Heike answered so I chatted with her a little while. Before I even got the chance to ask about Claus I heard her tell him in German that she was “speaking with Rick”. Okay, I understood “Rick” but I understood what was happening. Immediately…over the heavy metal music of course, I heard Claus shout joyously…in a way only he can do, “TOO DRUNK TO FUCK!!!! TOO DRUNK TOO FUCK!!! TOO DRUNK TO FUCK!!!”

“I guess Claus likes the shirt”, I said.

“Oh sure, sure. You should not be surprised.” Heike replied.

“I couldn’t find him one that read ficken” I joked back.

Heike laughed her wonderful German laugh and somehow I felt like we both knew…without saying…that Claus was something else…something else indeed. But there is one thing I do know for sure. That Claus…he ain’t no fuckknuckle!!

Broken Key
by Rick Brown

I hadn’t realized I did it until I got in the car and tried putting the key in the ignition. It didn’t go in smoothly. Taking a look at the key I saw it was broken…pretty much right in half. Stuff like this starts happening when your car is almost 14 years old. A ’91 Miata…silver. And dirty. I hardly ever wash the thing. I like to fancy myself the detective Paul Newman played in that old 60’s flick Harper. Except he drove an old Porsche. And I think it was primer gray. Okay…so it’s not the same thing. It’s close enough for me.

My Miata was already scheduled for a front brake job so I figured the dealer could fish the key out while it was there. The guy on the phone said if they couldn’t it was $400 for a new ignition. Wow. When I dropped it off a sign behind the desk read:

LABOR - $80 per HOUR

Wow again. I hoped for the best.

The next day at work I got the call. No dice on the broken key. But the manager told me a locksmith could probably get it out for a lot less than a new ignition. No shit. I’ve bought entire vehicles for less than $400.

But I procrastinated…as usual…since I could start the car with a broken key. And every time I did I thought, “Man…somebody could steal this car pretty easy!” Something new on my worry list. Even after I found a place that would fix it…it’d take “just a few minutes”, she said on the phone…I waited. On a putty gray Friday afternoon I knocked off work early and drove to the locksmith.

The place was in a rough neighborhood. An area where good people who deserve better still live because they can’t afford no place else…and it’s their home. The business had a sign that must have hung there since the Great Depression. There were bars on the windows and a notice that read “Guard Dog On Duty”. A dog works here…that’s what I thought. I ambled in where there was a small waiting area. Most of the room was behind a counter with what had to be thousands of keys on the walls. In and on the counter were key fobs, rings, chains…anything that might have something to do with locks.

I waited behind a stooped over, old black man. Waiting on him behind the counter was a middle aged, Appalachian woman…pale white with bleached blonde hair, wearing a sweatshirt and blue jeans. Rugged yet somehow feminine. “Now all’s ya gotta do Hon is get them pins oughta that lock, bring ‘em in here and we’ll fix ya right up! No need ta buy no new lock!” she was telling the old man. He thanked her, turned, smiled at me and went out the door.

“What can I do for ya?” she asked me.

“I broke my car key off…”

“You the guy who called a few days ago?” she asked sweetly with a swagger that made it sound like, “Where the hell you been?”

“That’s me.”

“Car out front?”

“It’s next to the building.”

“I’ll meet ya there.” She said grabbing some small tools and a can of WD40.

As I passed through the front door I heard her yell, “Frank! The dog’s made a mess!” I whipped around and saw a huge, black dog…seemingly friendly…at least while he was “off the clock”. This wasn’t just his job. It was his home.

The woman was already standing next to the Miata. The color of her bleached hair seemed all the more…um…bleached…like a piece of the sun against the gray afternoon. “This is one tiny car, Hon” she quipped. I let her in. She immediately utilized the WD40 and went to work with tiny tools the likes of which I’d never seen. After about 3 or 4 minutes I started to think she’d never get that piece of key out of there and I’d have to spend maybe $800 or more at the dealership. Suddenly she turned to me, smiled a pretty smile and chirped, “Almost got it!” Two minutes later we were heading back into the shop…me through the front door…her in the side.

“That was amazing.” I said at the counter.

Looking slightly embarrassed…sheepishly emboldened…she replied, “Yep! Sometimes it pays to know how to break into things!”

I…had no comment.

“That’s 5 bucks. You need a spare Hon?”

“Yeah…uh…yeah” I stammered, knowing full well I already had all the keys I needed.

Our Top 5 Picksby Ted Kaneby John Bennettby Cory Tressler by Patrick O'Malley by David HochmanTravel SectionRecipes and MoreLinks Worth a LookBack Issues

© 2001-2005 NakedSunfish, All Rights Reserved

Issue 1 - January 2002