We’ve discussed Spanish and Russian swearing, and had a brief go at Chinese; now, courtesy of Dinesh Rao, I direct your attention to a more detailed post on the latter over at From a Singapore Angle, wherein a Chinese article by Lin Siyun, “Inquiry into the Chinese and Foreign Philosophies of Swearing,” is discussed and in part translated. Some very interesting stuff:
When a person does something wrong, the usual way in other countries is to swear at the culprit himself; the Chinese way is not to abuse the culprit directly, but to swear at his mother and ancestors. Foreigners found this peculiar way of doing things very hard to understand: This person did wrong, what’s it to do with his mother or ancestors? Anglo-Americans will say “F— you”, but usually not “F— your mother”; the Japanese will say “You bakaro“, but normally not “Your ancestors bakaro.” (bakaro = 馬鹿野郎 or ばかやろう; roughly, “dumbass”.)
And when the Chinese swear, they seldom use terms that displays racial discrimination (unlike the case of the Anglo-Americans), and in any case, such terms are rare in the Chinese vocabulary. Take the often encountered waiguo guizi (外國鬼子; i.e., “foreign devil”): if we were to think it through, we’ll realize that it actually contains an element of “respect”. It seems that the Chinese would only call those foreigners who had been able to bully or invade them “devils”—such as meiguo guizi (美國鬼子; i.e., “American devil”) or riben guizi (日本鬼子; i.e., “Japanese devil”). China fought wars with India and Vietnam before, but they don’t usually say yindu guizi (印度鬼子; i.e., “Indian devil”) or yuenan guizi (越南鬼子; i.e., “Vietnamese devil”)—it is as if these are not good enough to be guizi.
I don’t agree with everything the author has to say about English swearing, but I’m glad to know about the distinction in deviltry.