Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pardon My Language:

I was thinking about something David Arroyo said regarding White Tiger.

I also hate that spanish curse words can be printed in a marvel comic because they "dont count" as real swear words. Puta and Puto are not said in casual conversation. I could never say cocksucker or motherfucker in a marvel comic unless its MAX.

Now, I've been enjoying White Tiger. It'll never be one of my favorite books, but I think it's reasonably fun and exciting. I like the main character enough to want to give the book some time to really wow me. But this complaint is something I agree whole-heartedly with.

Farther down in the comments, Ms. Pierce defends her use of Spanish curses:

We use those words--and the word bitch--precisely because they count. This is the street. These are criminals. And we hear these words every day in New York City.

This is a truly disappointing response. I respect Ms. Pierce a lot, especially as it's rare to see a creator in polite discourse with a critic. It's very nice that she's willing to respond seriously to these complaints.

However, this answer is not good enough.

This answer makes it look like she's not reading David's complaint at all. Or at least not thinking about it. Because David, who speaks Spanish fluently, doesn't equate "puta" and related words to "bitch", he equates them with "cocksucker".

Not all curses are equal, and the specific difference here is that "bitch" is something we will see said on television and in print in general young-adult oriented material. "Cocksucker" is not.

I don't doubt that Ms. Pierce has heard words like "puta" used on the street very often. I myself heard the word "cocksucker" on a near-daily basis. (My father would drive me to high school via I-75, and freeway traffic first thing in the morning tended to turn my Dad's Bruce Banner into a veritable verbal Hulk.) That does not make the word printable.

I also, pardon me for saying, doubt "bitch" was the worst English profanity Ms. Pierce has heard in her experience. But there is a reason the harder words aren't used in non-MAX type comics. This is a standard that should be applied to foreign languages as well as English.

I understand the temptation to use foreign curse words. To get away with saying things the censors/editors would NEVER allow in English. To pull a fast one on the bureaucrats. It's fun and adds color!

But it's stupid. Especially in the case of Spanish, which is, if you'll recall the second most prominent language in the United States. The same reasons that we feel "cocksucker" to be inappropriate for a comic book page should certainly apply to "puta" considering how much of the audience likely speaks both languages.

From the sound of Ms. Pierce's response, I don't think she is using the words maliciously. It sounds like she's making the common non-native speaker's mistake of underestimating the level of her profanity. Curses are the hardest part of a foreign language to learn, as teachers tend to avoid the subject at all. It's natural to hear a word in context and assume that it is the equivalent of "bitch" versus "cocksucker".

I'm not saying Ms. Pierce should avoid using Spanish curses altogether, however I would suggest that she consult with a few native speakers first (I suggest a few because no one ever completely agrees on a question of "how offensive is this?"). It's not a matter of censorship here, it's a matter of respect.

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  • At December 14, 2006 9:54 AM, Anonymous david brothers said…

    I pretty much wholeheartedly agree with you. I lived in Spain from 2000-2002 and graduated high school over there, so I've paid special attention to the language in comics. It's always come up kind of short, I think. I want to say that even Joe Q's NYX miniseries had some wacked out non-standard spelling, but that may be a regional thing? (That's the least of that series's problems, though. See also: the teacher's husband's name changes between issues.)

    This really sucks for me because I am a big dialogue guy. Bad dialogue in English or Spanish can kill a story for me, no matter how great the art is. In this case, ignorance actually is bliss :/

    This is tangential to your post, but there are a lot of differences between the different kinds of Spanish, too. I learned Castellano, the Spain Spanish. South American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Mexican Spanish all have different curses and "Vamos a joder" means two wildly different things in Castellano and, say, South America. Same with "pato." In Spain, a pato is a "duck." In the States, at least in general, it isn't. A little attention to that would do a lot of authors well and make the books a better read overall. Make it more real, if that makes sense.

    I think I know how non-Americans felt about Chris Claremont's X-Men now. It was all "Begorrah! Tovarisch! By the Goddess! Get in the boot, eh, bub! Unglaublich! By My Ancestors! Mon ami!" and so on. As a Georgian kid, seeing Rogue talking like she'd had a lobotomy was bad enough, shugah.

  • At December 14, 2006 11:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Which brings us to,how do you spell RESPECT,and say it,in ANY language,and have it actually MEAN something? Respectful,that is....

  • At December 14, 2006 11:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I see your point, and I sorta agree. But in (English) creative writing classes back in uni I sometimes have characters use Chinese or Malay obscenities (on the "cocksucker" level). Admittedly, I mainly wanted to see if I could get away with it (I did), but I can't say I felt about it the way Mr. Arroyo does. I don't really have a problem with the double standard here.

    Then again, I'm not Spanish, and Malay (and even Chinese to a certain extent) is a bit of a rarity in American publications, unlike Spanish. I can see how David might be annoyed at the overuse of Spanish cursewords by certain (white?) writers.

  • At December 14, 2006 12:03 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    This may be more common than you think. I collect Lt. Blueberry, which is a French western, and I have a number of the French language versions, in addition to the English translations. In reading the French versions, the swearing is ALWAYS in English!

  • At December 14, 2006 3:51 PM, Anonymous green with wheelpower said…

    Point of fact this is not restricted to Marvel or any company. Officer Montoya and Bane both swear in writen out spanish, the former even once on the animated series.

    Now I can speak spanish and especially French and Latin well enough to curse anthing from Zut! to the merovingians favorite curse in the Matrix Reloaded movie which I will not utter in open blogspace.

    Bottom line I appreciate it when apporpriate but much perfer the"--" or "@#$%" as these allow me to be as clean OR dirty in my mind as I want and believe this should apply to all language. In fact the highest form of curseing is that practiced by Serano, V, and Shakespeare; which are wicked w/out being uncouth even intelectual IMO.

  • At December 14, 2006 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well if you're pointing to the classics, Chaucer is pure filth. It's just that because it's written in Middle English, it's incredibly tough to translate.

    Anyway, while I understand your position it's not something that unduly bothers me - although I suspect it might be different if I had kids who were reading the book.

  • At December 14, 2006 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You know, it's funny. Here in El Salvador, the word "puta" is used a lot, and it means more than just "whore," Salvadorans also use it like "fuck" or "fucking" (adj.). And yes, it is a cuss word. Quesada should know better.

  • At December 14, 2006 9:59 PM, Blogger Denyer said…

    Chaucer is pure filth.

    Likewise Shakespeare, as the annotations in most editions lovingly detail.

    Because David, who speaks Spanish fluently, doesn't equate "puta" and related words to "bitch", he equates them with "cocksucker".

    Hmm... I've got a friend in the Southern states who teaches Spanish in a community that's fairly bilingual, and "bitch" is a prevalent meaning in circulation there. There are a good number of major Spanish dialects... possibly a similar situation to "twat" in different parts of the UK, which scales from "a contemptible person" to "cunt" as a noun, but isn't invective in the verb form.

    Curses are the hardest part of a foreign language to learn

    The experience may be a bit different over here in Europe, where there are often exchange students -- having someone of roughly the same age around to have a conversation with is much more conducive to learning a language as it's spoken rather than academic usage.

    there is a reason the harder words aren't used in non-MAX type comics

    Mmm. It's fine to have people die quite graphically in combat situations, or a lead character be burnt to the bone on regular occasions, but the notion that they might be moved to swear as they're going down in no small amount of pain is somehow unacceptable.

    Still, they tend to be male, so it doesn't matter if they do a Janet Jackson in the process.

    That does not make the word printable.

    "Warning: contains words that you use all the time, but you may be offended that we do too." --The Wildhearts

    I'm not really sure what the fuss is about (even our secondary school English curriculum had us reading 'Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha' by Roddy Doyle, which includes the line "And henceforth thou shalt be known as 'fuck'" if I'm remembering aright.)

    Would agree that it's preferable that kids gain a wider vocabulary before taking linguistic shortcuts some people find offensive for various reasons, though.

  • At December 15, 2006 2:28 AM, Blogger Chris Sims said…

    This post is like Pretty Fizzy Paradise meets Deadwood.

  • At December 15, 2006 11:20 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    But wouldn't it be grand if all the swear words and phrases were from Chaucer and Shakespeare? They were so much more...earthy!

    Hell, I love "zounds", which if I remember correctly is a contraction of "Christ's wounds".

  • At December 15, 2006 9:06 PM, Blogger Denyer said…

    They were so much more...earthy!

    And creative, and full of bluster. Things have been farmed out to generic intensifiers now...

    "zounds", which if I remember correctly is a contraction of "Christ's wounds".


  • At December 15, 2006 9:54 PM, Blogger Your Obedient Serpent said…

    When I was growing up in California, those two words were the two words of Spanish EVERYONE learned -- because they were the ones that would get you very dead, very fast.

    "Worse Than Fuck" is how it was usually phrased.


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