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Expletive explosion

chandigarh Updated: Dec 30, 2012 18:19 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
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Last week a friend of mine from Gurgaon had made an urgent call, asking for the translation of ‘ullu da patha’ in English. Though the first thought that had crossed my mind was to email him the telephone numbers of Punjab’s legislators, as a couple of them had proven their vocabulary for profanities only a few days ago, I dithered from doing so, since it, I felt, was too mild a profanity to bother them for.


However, this friend’s question set me thinking on the how and why of profanities and the levels of its entrenchment in the Punjabi psyche? So much so that nothing could stop two very eminent legislators from pressing the expletive accelerator in as sacrosanct an area as the Vidhan Sabha.

Albeit, the Punjabis’ ability to swear is not restricted to cause offence only. Unlike the scene in the Assembly, where abuses were profusely exchanged to express deep anger and hatred, Punjabis use profanities with equal vigour to divulge information, express deep happiness, surprise, anguish, pain, relief, uphold pride, condole, congratulate, communicate or just to enrich a conversation, blah, blah, blah.

For, how else do you explain a casual ‘MC’ or ‘BC’ to articulate as profound a thing as beauty or awesome food? “Try Pinki auntie’s Hyderabadi Biryani. BC, it is out of the world.” Or even a tragedy. I remember getting a call from a fellow journalist informing about a very tragic rail accident near Tanda, Hoshiarpur. “Bhaji, bada vadda train accident ho gaya BC.”

Research further, and the folks, you’d find, have widened the scope of the swear words and framed proverbs to communicate important matters like, ‘I’ve had enough’, ‘I am itching to do something’, ‘it’s your fault’, ‘he’s very lucky’ etc.

American humorist, Mark Twain, virtually sanctifying the use of expletives writes, “Under certain circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer”. How true. I can vouch for the meditative effect of profanities in my life. But having said this, unlike prayers, the expletive usage is not always meditative and can lead to serious side effects. Try using one with your spouse in the middle of a heated argument? No, I am not suggesting a prayer will help, but uttering a profanity can cause serious trouble.

Our very own Wikipedia suggests that analyses of recorded conversations reveal that roughly 80–90 spoken words each day – 0.5% to 0.7% of all words – are swear words. I wonder if there is any specific study on Punjabis of greater Punjab, but on second thoughts why do we need a study. Simply double the figure to reach the count. My namesake, the great Khushwant Singh has repeatedly observed the dominance of expletives in the Punjabi culture. According to him, other than agriculture the other biggest contribution of Punjab to India is the ‘gaalis’, which he very exuberantly had explained while receiving the Punjab Rattan in 2006. In other words Punjabis have helped build the profanity dictionary of the nation.

Bloggers, who have written some stuff on the origin and culture of Punjabi expletives, categorise them as mild, hot and super hot. The MCs and the BCs getting the top rate and the ‘ullu da patha’ kinds lowest in the pyramid. Some bloggers have further classified the abuses into four parts: 1) relations 2) body parts 3) animals and men and women. Since this is not the Assembly, I am restricted to explain this further. But then, when did a Punjabi need an explanation for such kind of stuff. The Unparliamentary Language department works the most efficiently in Punjab.

Punjabi by nature is a fortnightly column.The columnist is a Punjab-based author and journalist.