The Old Country language is colorful. By which I mean one can artfully swear up a storm and create nothing but admiration in connoisseurs. English off-color vocabulary to the Old Country language off-color vocabulary is as a radio-controlled toy car is to the real thing, or, let's say as your average two-year-old's vocabulary is to that of a literature professor. At Oxford. There are roots, of course, your standard set. But then, this being a grammatically elaborate language, there are prefixes, suffixes, and endings that allow for a much expanded core set with all the key parts of speech represented handily. And then you start with declension and conjugation, and things get really interesting. You can pile story (as in level) upon story of this stuff and tell rather elaborate stories (as in tales), and transmit your meaning perfectly. In fact, if you can't make up a seven story expression without breaking a sweat you are not even trying. If you can do thirteen, you have my respect.
What I am getting at is that JD used to be an accomplished artist of the Old Country language swear word. He has the appreciation, and the skill, and, back in the day, motivation to make the performances entertaining. But utilizing non-standard lexicon to enrich the entertainment value of your narrative is quite a bit different than swearing at people, and he was never much for that. His professional education, too, has developed and nurtured his ability to, when needed, creatively insult people without resorting to vocabulary for which the seven-second delay in live TV broadcast was invented.
Which is why, of course, the accusation made against him by our favorite secretary, that he called her an asshole, was, frankly, laughable. But there was something more, some worm turning in my brain, something that indicated that the particular word choice in the accusation was strictly unbelievable. The other day, Tuesday, to be exact, and yes, I am way behind on writing, and on reading for that matter, but JD had the temerity to leave the country for a long-scheduled business trip, and the logistics of drop off and pick up, and extracurriculars, and snow, oh, dear Lord, snow, well, they are nontrivial. So where was I? Oh, yes, the other day. Tuesday. As I stood in my kitchen making Monkey's school lunch for the next day, I finally figured it out.
When I tell you, you can laugh. And call me dense. It's ok-- my sister already did. My sister! The girl for whom for all intents and purposes English is the first language these days. To be fair, her Old Country language isn't half bad, but her English is much better. But she claims to have had this realization upon first hearing the accusation against JD. She could've told me and spared me a couple of days of uncomfortable worm activity in the cerebral cortex, is all I am saying. Do I have you on the edge of your seat yet? I do enjoy the suspense, you know. Anyway.
So, as my hands were performing the menial task of sandwich making, my mind wandered. Into realizing that I have almost never heard JD use the word asshole, and into considering why that is. Short hop to "the Old Country language doesn't have this particular expression" and an instant recall of the initial wonder as to why this would be considered such a serious insult in English that is a common experience of the immigrants from my corner of the world later, it hit me.
The Old Country language is gendered. And as such, swear words in it are gendered, for the most part, predictably. The slang terms for your standard body parts that are the roots of the basic swear vocabulary have the gender indicated by the sex of the person normally found in possession of one of those (although for complicated and amusing reasons that does not always hold when suffixes and endings are applied to create a derivative word in a different part of speech category), and you do not, do not, ever, I mean ever, use a male-gendered term to characterize a female or vice versa. With one exception-- in certain situations you can call a man a bitch.
You see where I am driving? Asshole is not a word in the Old Country language. But any speaker of the same, when asked what gender the English word is, will tell you that it is undoubtedly male. And you do not use male terms to insult females. You just don't. So even if JD was one of those foul-mouthed rude assholes (ha-ha, get it?) who have nothing better to do with their time than insult office staff, he would have chosen a different word. And, this last detail is entirely unnecessary, but I will tell you anyway, he spent a few formative years of his career in the US working as office staff, so he really wouldn't have done it.
This here was a two for one realization for me, by the way. I have finally figured out why, when IF blogosphere BFFs Tertia and Julie were lovingly calling each other assholes it always, always looked just a little odd to me. It's all in the grammar, baby.