Don’t tell anyone, but I love the word ‘jerk’. It’s one of my favourite terms of abuse in English. Mind you, I use it in the most loving way, because, oddly enough, I reserve it only for men I really like. (And sometimes for women, for lack of a female equivalent.) That’s how weird my mind is. If they get on my nerves and push my buttons too hard because they know me too well, I throw the J-word at them. I know they won’t mind. Some of them even consider it a term of honour. And rightly so, because that’s exactly how I mean it.
I like the liberating distance that foreign language speakers have towards terms of abuse and ‘bad’ words in that language. There’s no taboo on a word until you learn there is one. Until someone tells you ‘Don’t use that word in public’, it’s just a word. You can even like the sound of it, without paying much attention to the meaning.
I do cringe when foreign language speakers use swearwords in Dutch, though. When someone throws a ‘godverdomme’ at me just for the heck of it, I back off and cringe a little. I want to cover my ears and yell at them: ‘Not so loud!’ It’s like they’re throwing a bomb at me and saying: ‘Hey, ain’t this fun? Look at the colours and the sound effects!’ That’s the playful attitude only a foreign language speaker can have towards swearwords and ‘bad’ language.
And that, dear audience, is why I reserve the word ‘jerk’ for only my most favourite of men (and sometimes women). Friends and dear ones who I know can take it. If they push my buttons, I will push back. I will throw a bit of verbal firework at them. It’s just another way of saying: ‘Hey, I really like you, but don’t tell anyone.’
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