A word that some people use in the same way they use a comma or a dash. A word that some people keep a secret and only use for special occasions, e.g. a painful fall or a speeding, incapable and poor driver. A word that grandmothers and people from good families consider it an absolute disgrace to use. This word originating from an Italian word curva (bend) in Polish refers to a woman, who strays from the straight and narrow path, walking away from virtue and pleasing men in their worries, on lunch breaks, on business trips.
In the kingdom of invectives the word beginning with “K” is a king, rules at the court of insults with absolute power. It appears everywhere, among the crumbling houses of the Warsaw district of Praga, from Tricity (Trójmiasto) to Zakopane, from London to Chicago. It is absolutely not my intention to hurt sensitive people or defenders of morality. For this reason this famous word was replaced in this article with a letter „K” or a part of it: „urwa” (to produce an effect).
Why do we derive pleasure from using the “K” word? Possibly due to its exotic character because the “K” word sounds fascinating to my francophone ears. Its special melody, unique character, incredible power! By contrast, its French equivalent “putain” comes out lame like a cold, tasteless meal.
The “K” word is honest and unambiguous and the word “putain” is treacherous and hypocritical. Just like a wolf which wants to stay unnoticed among sheep, the word “putain”, if spoken in a gentle and pleasant way, could appear in a love poem.
Because of the way it is pronounced the “K” word expresses, above all, strong emotions, oscillating between anger and astonishment, joy and ecstasy.
It often happens that my French friends passing through Warsaw, if only for a few days, permanently adopt the “K” word. Everyone agrees that “K” should be a part of international languages such as Esperanto.
From a linguistic point of view the sound of the letter K is special as it appears virtually in every existing alphabet. It is easy to pronounce and to remember.
It might be one of the reasons why KODAK is so popular. The way you pronounce the “K” word gives exact information on a speaker’s mood. Correct me if I’m wrong but a long “K” preceded by “Oh” expresses surprise (positive), e.g. “Oh ...uuuurwa”!!! I can’t believe it, Tomek, is that you?”
However, if it is accompanied by “What’s going on?”, “What is this? or “Oh no!” it expresses a negative surprise or outrage, e.g. “What is this, ...urwa,?”
“What is going on, ...urwa? Leave me alone…” “Oh no ...urwa! I left my home keys in a hotel in Mexico!” Listing all functions of the “K” word would be tedious and pointless. All you need to remember is that the “K” word is like spices in the kitchen: it can spice up the language but also make it completely indigestible.
The “K” is not only a swear word, or a word that sounds easy – using it might solve the most complicated situations. I’m not only referring to a cult scene form an equally cult classic Seksmisja, where a main character in a moment of crisis shouts out the “K” word which turns out to be a password opening the prison door and thanks to which he and his companions are freed.
“K” can also turn out salutary in everyday situations. Below there is a true example to prove these words.
November 2004, Etiuda terminal in Warsaw.
I’m flying to Amsterdam; the flight is scheduled for 12.45. It’s 12:15 and as soon as I enter the airport check-in finishes. I had been living in Poland for only a few months prior to that situation so my language skills left a lot to be desired.
I come up to the check-in point but a young lady, smiling with embarrassment, sends me to her colleague who speaks better English. The man, who looks about thirty, looks like a person enjoying his life judging by his big stomach, but he turns out to be cold and unresponsive. I ask him if I can board the plane but his cool look is a bad sign. I soon realize that this member of staff doesn’t wish to help me and is not even listening to me. He implies, in polonised English, that it’s too late to board and that I shouldn’t have been late.
In an act of desperation I try out my famous “the cat from Shrek” look, but it doesn’t work.
Finally, desperate and annoyed, I say the only word which belongs to the Polish collective subconscious that has only recently become a part of me.
Clear “K”, then stretched “U”, voiced “R” and finally tender and at the same time disgraceful “WA”.
Suddenly, the member of staff freezes thunderstruck. Like a rubber man with a twisted neck, in slow motion, he picks up a receiver and hastily dials a number. His sentences are quick, with short breaks, as if the person he is talking to is his boss. I stand still and with no idea what is going to happen to me and my ticket to Amsterdam.
After 1-2 minutes of intense negotiations the man hangs up, smiles widely and informs me I can board the plane. I’m overwhelmed with joy, bouncing like a kid having a colic attack and thanking my saviour at the same time.
At that moment I fully understood the essence and power of the “K” word. I understood that one word can change a dark-skinned Frenchman into a fellow Polish man.
Be proud of “K”
I like to tell the airport story because it shows the significance of the word which is not only a swear word but also a proof of affiliation to everything under the banner “made in Poland” despite hypocrisy which is trying to obscure it.
Swearing comes easily when learning a language; it’s like an unconditional reflex.
If you try, you will soon learn that swearing is a good sign, fills local people with admiration and supports integration.
Of course, in Poland the “K” word is forbidden by most parents. However, they forget to add that adults have a right to forget themselves.
That is the paradox of swear words...
To sum up, I just want to add that language should be accepted in all its forms, should be served with different sauces but making sure not to spice it up to much.
Be proud of “K”!!! … Kurwa mać!!!
Translated by: Karolina Ginalska