I ran into a female friend and fellow rosarian (we grow roses as does her husband, a very tall architect) at the opening of Celia Duthie’s Touch Wood at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver on Thursday. My female rosarian friend occasionally reads my blog and she complained I had not written one for a while. I asked her, “Guess what my next blog is going to be about?” She looked at me with that question mark on her face and I answered, “It’s going to be about cunts.” She immediately grew angry and my explanation that the Spanish word for it, coño does not carry the insulting and aggressive connotation of its English equivalent did not hold any water with her. I dropped the subject being aware that the four letter word that begins with a c is one of the last of the words that still has shock value in our times. When my 15 year-old granddaughter shouts at her mother, my daughter, with that word it is amazing to see how my daughter keeps cool and does not react. That word is closely followed by another that I once fluttered (as a test) into my introduction in a nude photography class. One of my students, a male bouncer at a Whistler night club, stormed out never to return. He was offended by my use of the word scrotum. But we will leave that word for another day as we are now returning to a full-frontal exploration of the other word and its particular usage in Spanish.
Few insults can safely travel from one language to another. We all know that the word year in Spanish is año and that the middle letter, called an eñe has its special place in the Spanish alphabet right after the letter n. Using the letter n to write year in Spanish renders that to a word that my Spanish-born grandmother would call “that eye that cannot see”. She was full of these pleasant euphemisms for terrible words. The rear end in Spanish was that place where a beautiful woman’s back loses its name.” She sometimes called the posterior “the ugly face” or cara fea. Medical complications in the nether parts of a woman she called “problemas en los paises bajos” alluding to the lower countries or Flanders where the Spaniards squandered in a long war all their Mexican and Peruvian gold and silver.
In Spanish if you were to call a someone a year without the curlicue ñ the person would be confused and perhaps amused. Calling someone by that part of one’s posterior is simply not an insult.
The word damn in Spanish has no insulting translation. The most terrible and satisfying insult if you happen to hit a finger with a hammer is, “Me cago en Dios,” or I defecate on God. Spaniards at one time were very Roman Catholic so this was and is still the ultimate insult.
Thanks to Linnaeus comparing the sexual parts of a clam to a female of our species, clam as my grandmother would say “that which a woman has that a man does not,” means the same thing as the four letter word that begins with a c except that it is cunt-lite. It does not offend nor could you ever think of calling a woman, “You clam!” But in Argentina concha, that which a woman has that a man does not, is used frequently as the ultimate insult but always with the idea that you the man are going to defecate not on God but on your enemy’s sister’s clam. “La concha de tu hermana,” is the Argentine insult per excellence, followed by another almost equivalent to “damn!” which you use in amazement or wonder. The expression is “la concha de la lora,” or the parakeet’s you-know-what. Many strict anatomists would argue (rightly) that parakeets may not have such a device as all is combined in one orifice. I would not advise you in pointing this out when an Argentine utters that nasty epithet.
Let’s return to the Spanish coño which is almost exclusively used by Spaniards. It is used when one gets angry at one self never at another. Thus my explanation to my rosarian friend that coño was not exactly you-know-what may have gone over her head or she simply was angry for having used that four letter word in English.
Spanish writer Juan Manuel de Prada is one of a new generation of youngish Spanish writers (he is 43) who has written some wonderful novels. One is La Vida Invisible which I wrote about here and the other a novel of intrigue set in Venice called La Tempestad. But he ruffled a few literary critics’ feathers with a book of essays all about coños, called Coños. The chapters are short essays on the nether parts of his girlfriend, bathers, mummies (as in Egyptian ones) widows, prostitutes and so on. Each chapter’s first letter is a ribald one. I will translate one essay the one called Coños en la morgue. You can guess what that translates to. And it should not offend too much considering that our very own Barbara Gowdy wrote We So Seldom Look On Love and which inspired Lynn Stopkewich’s Kissed about a girl who grows up to be a woman who is unable to have satisfying sex except with dead males on an embalming table.
My cousin Sebastian passed his examinations, first try and became a pathologist. He was sent to a small city in the country where young ladies commit suicide with that brave fatalism that only women who have been rejected have. Just about every week the body of a young dead woman shows up at the morgue. An Ophelia without her Hamlet crowned by wreaths of madness and anxiety. Sebastian deals with those bodies with special care, he performs an autopsy that resembles more the work of a restorer who has been given the task of fixing the little blemishes of a famous painting. The coños of these dead women, so my cousin Sebastian tells me, return to their childhood, they fall back to what they were and in some instances they lose their pubic hair in an irrevocable baldness that makes them children again. I fear that my cousin Sebastian upon gazing on a line-up of recently dead coños (and just born), ends up perverting and claiming for himself the cold contact of many still-welcoming that hide beneath the sheets that protect them from the gaze of the indiscreet. In my cousin Sebastian’s morgue the walls are white tiles and the floor is much like a chess board. The light, is fluorescent, eternal daylight and phantasmagorical, like a nightmare. With that kind of atmosphere I would not be in the least surprised that any day now a sensationalist tabloid would reveal that Sebastian had emulated the illustrious necrophilia of Antiquity, Petrarch and Cadalso, and of many more. Perhaps some day as he caresses one of those young and suicidal coños, the young woman to whom it belongs, will revive in a start, with that seized look of the vampire, and then my cousin will suffer a fatal heart attack. There will be no substitute to perform the autopsy. That will be a pity as his mortal fright will prevent him from helping out in the metamorphosis of the revived coño which if that of a child’s will return to its habitual state of a fully adult one. It will recover its usual parting of lips and hair in a sort of inverted shave. What a spectacle my cousin Sebastian will miss!
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.