A lot of these sayings involve excrement. I will leave it to scholars to explain why this is so. Let me just say, in the same way Eskimos allegedly have 50 different words to describe 50 different types of snow, Armenians seem to have about 100 different sayings involving shit to describe 100 different situations in life.
I’m not going to bother with phonetic transliterations. Below are my own rough translations.
- Don’t stir too deep into the yogurt. One of many sayings from folk tales involving jester/teacher Nesradeen Hoja. Derives from scenario of buyer at market. Buyer is looking at a jar which appears to be full of yogurt. Perhaps it’s a trick. Maybe the seller has put yogurt on top of another substance which is less valuable and less edible and which may literally be, well, shit. Say this when someone asks a lot of questions about a situation which is probably not, at bottom, free from corruption or bad behavior.
- You came out of my butt, and now you’re teaching me to swim? How can you not love a culture that comes up with this one? This too is from Nesradeen Hoja. He was swimming in a lake. He realized he needed to poop. He was far out from shore, no one else was around. He figured, ‘What the hell?’ He pooped. A second later, he noticed the turd floating beside him. The time to use this saying is when your child starts telling you how to do something.
- They came, they shat, they left. This refers to houseguests who don’t bother to say thank you or bring a gift or even clean up after themselves.
Then there is the sub-genre of absurdly over-the-top endearments.
These are words Aleen shouts at our kids at bedtime, breakfast, or pretty much whenever else the spirit takes hold. I will attempt phonetic transliterations here because: a) the phrases are much shorter, and b) they give a flavor of what you would hear at say, 9 p.m., on any given night, if you were floating Peter Pan-like in the darkness outside our kids’ bedrooms and if it was a night when my hard-charging, breadwinner wife got home in time to say goodnight.
(I got an early tutorial in these shouted blandishments before we had kids. Aleen and I still lived in New York. Half the voice messages on our machine at the end of the day were her 96-year-old grandmother screaming out a long, quavering incantantation mixing together these sayings in about twenty different combinations.)
- Yavreeg! My liver!
- Hokees! My soul!
- Gyankus! My life!
- Tsakook! Little one!
- Ghoorbahn uh-lidem!! I want to die for you!
- Let me wash your feet, and drink the water! I’m not kidding. And when my wife says it, it’s saying a lot, since she’s a germaphobe. Worth noting, too, that she says it only to her kids, not to her husband.
Miscellaneous other sayings:
- Gesganeek. Half-woman. This is when your daughter is being precocious. Speaking, thinking, or behaving beyond her years.
- Charajeejee. Mishievous little imp. When the kid is being bad, but not that bad.
- His eyes have holes in them. He’s greedy. Whatever he sees/gets, it’s not enough.
- Were you able to pull your missing? This means, ‘Did you get enough time with your loved one in order to get rid of the loneliness and separation which had been gnawing at your soul?’ It’s a great saying, made even more so by the biblically awkward syntax. It gets right to the heart of the matter, which is that when you really, really miss someone, it’s like a dagger to the center of your being.
I have good news. I saved the best for last.
You say this last one when you find yourself way out in the boondocks. I’m not talking about suburbs. I’m talking the serious North 40, the Sticks, the absolute middle of nowhere.
- This is where Ali Fahkr goes to fuck the baby horses! I think the saying is actually in Arabic language or Turkish. A lot of the best Armenian profanity is borrowed from these two languages. Aleen’s grandmother used to scold her husband for cursing. He would answer that as long as he cursed in Turkish, God would count the blasphemy against Turks, not Armenians. Three things I like about this saying: 1. Baby horses? 2. The guy’s last name sounds like the act itself. 3. Hearing this expression always reminds me of the first time I heard my father-in-law say it. He is a retired doctor, highly educated, very well-mannered. He was patiently and laboriously explaining to me, “You see, Kit, this Ali Fahkr was embarrassed by his habit, and he did not want his neighbors to see what he was doing. He would travel great distances to …” Got it, Dr. K, got it. In fact, gonna USE it!
For the highly ambitious among you, I will try to come back at a later date with some phonetic transcriptions, so that you too can shout these out in Armenian.