From Guardian: “Croatia has enchanting words for genitalia?”

16 Jan

“Why doesn’t the UK?”

Because English-speaking peoples have a rich and ancient literary tradition that they draw on, honor and will hopefully continue to do so into a future far, far, away.  With Croats, you feel like: well, if you’re from Gospić you have to do something.***


I am friends with a Croatian couple who translate erotic fiction. This is eye-opening – not least my realisation that the UK doesn’t have nearly enough female-friendly euphemisms


šljiva plum Croatian

Some time at the end of the last century, I made a mistake. Friends of mine, a Croatian couple, asked me to find them a book called the The Art of Selling, and take it to them in Zagreb when I was next there. This was pre-internet and Amazon and all that caper, so it took some finding. Upon slapping it triumphantly on my friends’ kitchen table, I was told this wasn’t the book they were after; far from it. They had asked me for The Art of Sailing. Imagine their disappointment.

However, in a lifetime of unforced errors, this one was more or less alone in that it actually turned out for the best. My friends read The Art of Selling, liked it, saw a market for it, translated it into Croatian, sold lots of copies, and their publishing business was born. I saw them last week; these days they are engaged in the translation of erotic fiction into Croatian. This, as you can imagine, has its challenges. The word “manhood” is one. “What’s that all about?” my friend Zrinka asked me.

“No idea,” I shrugged. There is a Croatian word for manhood but in this context it sounds absurd. Also, she tells me there is no translation for having sex that is neither lewd nor technical-sounding, like the word “copulation”, which she is often forced to use. It’s nicely neutral, she says. I took this as a compliment to our language, but it probably says something less complimentary about our attitude to sex.

The words for orgasm are similar to ours, although they do have a charming archaic one in occasional use: sladostrašće, which is literally “sweet passion”. Nice. “It’s kind of like la petite mort,” said Zrinka. “You use that in English, don’t you?”

Do we? I’ve heard tell of it, but can’t say I’ve ever uttered it.

“Any trouble with other words for cock?” I asked, eager to be of assistance.

“No, we’re good for those. We have plenty.”

But this led us on to nice words for our reproductive organs. Willy, she reminded me, is pimpek (pronounced pimp-ek). Sweet. But ever since I begat daughters I have bemoaned the lack of a sweet word for girls’ bits. Willy is a lovely word: sweet, affectionate, harmless and a bit funny. It’s so bad, and telling, that we don’t have such a thing for girls? What’s our nice little word for vagina? There isn’t one really, is there? The one I hated most when my girls were little was “front bottom”, which is plainly awful. Who thought that one up? “Fanny” was eventually plumped for, in my girls’ case. It kind of did the job, although their grandparents winced. Asked for a better suggestion, they just shrugged helplessly and changed the subject.

My mum said to me that when she was a little girl in the 1940s in Zagreb, she called it her šljiva, which means “plum”. Hmm, more confusion if you ask me. Now they have a better word in Croatian. It is related to the boys’ pimpek: “pipica” (pronounced pip-i-tsa). Trust me, it’s an enchanting, affectionate diminutive.

We ought to have something similar. Honestly, I think it is rather sad and even unhealthy that we don’t have something similar. Or can we all just settle on fanny and be done with it?

This was kind of gross.  But if “pimpek” and “pimpica”: (“dickie” and “little dickie” and “sweet little dickie”) are the sum of your culture’s literary accomplishments — what are you going to do?  I now have no idea how I’m getting to get the image of a middle-aged Croatian couple writing porn out of my head.

[***Snaaaaaag, ok, bro, you caught me on the Auntie Mame paraphrase.]


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