Monday, August 10, 2009

Queer Fag

This is a tad unusual
A Polish court has banned a woman from publicly using derogatory terms like "queer" or "fag" to describe her young gay neighbour.
See, you read this and you expect what, two words, right? You expect to learn not one, but two terms of homophobic abuse in Polish. And you never know when you’ll need a synonym for that sort of thing. Instead you get this:
Prosecutors said Mr Giersz had endured an "avalanche of hatred" in the small town of Wolin, after his neighbour began calling him a "pedal" - which translates as "fag" or "queer" - in front of others.
So what I find odd is that the translator was unable to settle on the one.

The two have, at least as far as I see it, slightly different meanings and fairly different connotations. For a start, ‘queer’ can be applied to lesbians and a variety of alternative sexualities, whereas ‘fag’ is pretty much exclusive to gay men. Secondly, ‘fag’ makes me think of angry American rednecks, while ‘queer’ conjures up retired colonels and maiden aunts who can’t bring themselves to say ‘bugger’, as well as the running “I ain’t a queer or nothing” gag from Orgazmo. On the other hand, queer theorists, queercore and queer eye have all made serious attempts to reclaim the word, whereas I’ve only heard anyone refer to themselves or their own as ‘faggot’ with tongue firmly in cheek.

How does ‘pedal’ work in Polish? Who says it? Is it a working-class or upper-class insult? ‘Faggot’, like ‘fairy’, ‘queen’ and all that lot, is rooted in effeminacy, meaning either ‘old biddy’ or ‘little bird’ (Yiddish: פּײַגלע/feygele). Is ‘pedal’ too? Is it rooted in godlessness like ‘sodomite’, abnormality like ‘queer’ and ‘bender’, or is it purely descriptive like ‘bummer’? It also sounds like the French pédé, short for pédéraste, so could be similarly rooted in child molestation. Does the Polish gay rights movement tend towards reclaiming it, stamping it out, ignoring it or some other strategy? How would that affect its connotations? It looks like the BBC’s translator wasn’t much more certain, as they’ve plumped for two starkly different slurs. But then both of them are well known enough that most audiences will recognise and understand them. Whatever it is, swear-words and insults are often tricky things to translate, as they tend to have both a literal and metaphorical meaning, and strength, gender, register, all have to be taken into account.

What’s refreshingly simple though, is the woman’s excuse:
All the witnesses lied
Good luck with that appeal.

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