Friday, June 01, 2007

On Sex-related Taboo-words such as "Fuck": Part II

The attitude of Chinese towards sex or sex-related issues is, most of the time, aversive. As a result, not many people know how to write the proper Chinese characters for external genitalia, even though we may sometimes use them as profanities.

Usually, external genitalia are directly associated with the word 阴 (pronounced yin, literally, dark or invisible). We can form words to describe parts of the reproductive organs by adding the prefix 阴 to a more descriptive noun.

For instance, when we add 阴 to 道 (tract or conduit), we form the term 阴道, which is the vaginal tract. Other examples include 阴茎 (yin + stick = penis), 阴囊 (yin + bag = scrotum), 阴毛 (yin + hair = pubic hair), 阴唇 (yin + lips = labium), 阴蒂 (yin + stalk = clitoris), and so on. And collectively, the male and female external genitalia are called 男阴 and 女阴, respectively.

There is also another set of Chinese characters which can be used to denote the external genitalia. However, these characters are less well known in their written form. For examples, we have 膣 (vagina), 屄 (vulva), 卵屌 (penis), 卵脬 (scrotum), and so on.

If you pronounce these words in Mandarin, they sound absolutely unsuspicious. For instance, 膣屄 is pronounced zhibi, 卵屌 is pronounced luandiao, and 卵脬 is pronounced luanpao. However, for some unknown reasons, if you try to pronounce them in certain topolects, they may sound offensive. In Hokkien, these three words are pronounced jibai, lanjiao, and lanpa, respectively.

I was told not long ago by one of my female colleagues that she had her son reprimanded because he used the word jibai. Obviously in this case, she considered this word as a taboo-word which should be avoided because it is expletive.

Personally, I think we should not refrain ourselves from using and speaking these words as long as we are using them to refer to external genitalia. Nevertheless, we should not use them as adjective to modify a noun or to use them as exclamatory expressions to emphasize emotion, because doing so is grammatically not correct.

Furthermore, if you do not consider the Mandarin sound zhibi offensive, then by the same logic, you must not consider the Hokkien sound jibai disgusting. Because we should not consider Hokkien as a language of lower class. There is no such thing that Chinese topolects like Hokkien is inferior than the Mandarin language, and we should try to take away this memetic interlock.

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