A Linguistic Approach To Sex

When one learns a language, it is only natural to start with the basics and often slightly deviate from the Puritan way and see what sex looks like in the foreign language. People in their twenties go as far as first learning the bad words and then the good ones.

Naturally, sex is often a topic in the exchange among foreign students in a university away from home. “How do you curse in your language?” “How do you say sex?”, etc. In some languages, this is pretty straightforward – meaning many languages use the English word (for the act, not the gender that is). In others, the difference is huge.

In French, commonly perfected as a romantic language, sex is described as fair l’amour, coucher (Avec), possèder sex element and a dozen other not so pleasant expressions. Those three describe a pleasurable effort, taking one’s time and sort of tenderness. The same is observed in Spanish and Italian.

Slavic languages rarely tend to the romance of the speaker. However, terms are gravitating around the word “sex” or “making love” – правя любов (pravya lyubov, Bulgarian), заниматься любовью (zanimat’sya lyubov’yu, Russian), or водити љубав (voditi ljubav, Serbian). This is perhaps because of their cultural macho inclination and trying not to look…soft. But when I look at the word most commonly used, they speak of brusqueness, a sort of a lust handling that leaves one or both parties involved without a breath.

The Mandarin version consists of two words – 做爱 (Zuò’ài or “make love” in English). Short, easy to remember and sounding like something absolutely natural and very ordinary. In Japanese, it is pretty much the same with セックスする (sekkusu sure).

But where things get really different is German with the act being called Geschlechtsverkehr – essentially combining the words for gender and transport. It sounds like a tiresome matter to a foreign and unacquainted ear, something one is obliged to and has to do right (probably following a manual to the word). Of course, the English word is also existing in the German language, but you will never hear a doctor warning you with “Kein Sex!”, but rather always using “Kein Geschlechtsverkehr!” The latter sounds a bit scary, isn’t it?

One wonders where things went differently for Germans… Was it because of their love for complicated and long words, their conservative and private nature or something else?

In fact, the explanation for this difference in prima vista is that the word “Verkehr” also means an “act” in the sense of “drive, impulse, movement”. A sort of “an act between sexes” would be the literal translation. And however unusual Geschlechtsverkehr might sound to the foreign ear, it does follow a very formal and logical composite approach so characteristic to the German language.

How do you say “sex” or “to make love” in your mother tongue?

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