"When somebody gets my goat," says Reinhold Aman, "I become terrible," and when Reinhold Aman becomes terrible, everybody had better hide under the table.
For beneath the surface of this self-described "very-mild-mannered nice person" lies nothing less than "the world's leading expert on verbal aggression," the man who has forgotten more about cursing than the Russian Army ever knew.
"For 11 years I have been researching on my own, collecting material in more than 200 languages going back over 5,000 years, and in every academic discipline you could think of," Aman says with pride. And now comes the first tangible result of all that effort. "Maledicta," a scholarly journal emanating from the International Research Center for Verbal Aggression and devoted to "pejoration, derogation, scurrility, vituperation, threats, curses, blasphemy, scatology" and so on. You get the idea.
The just-issued Volume 1, Number 1, published and edited by Aman, features lists of curses in Spanish and Italian, an investigation of the origin of our strongest four-letter word, a peek at bad words in Macedonia, as well as serious-sounding articles life "Phonesthesis and Scatology: A Brief Resume of Phonesthetic Devices Occurring in Obscene English Expressions."
If should be obvious that Reinhold Aman is a man in love with swear words, someone who gets moony over a good curse, like the Ghanaian diatribe describing a rival's sexual organ as being "as bent as the gearshift of a Mercedes-Benz," the way other men swoon for poetry or fine wines.
A price has been paid for this passion, however, in 1974, Aman left his position as assistant professor of medieval German literature at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee because he got no support for his research, and has lived on his savings and his wife's part-time earnings ever since. But, he says stoutly, "I've devoted my life to Maledicta, come hell or high water."
Aman's interest in bad words dates back to 1965 when he was doing his Ph.D. research in Bavarian dialectology. "These words," he realized, "you hear them very much but you don't hear much about them, they've never been studied. Either you have these trashy magazines that deal with this stuff in a trashy war or else scholarly journals which refuse to accept the fact that all men from the lowest to the most educated are engaged in verbal aggression of some kind."
So Aman promptly founded his International Research Center, which boasts a membership card consisting of a 3,000-year-old Egyptian hieroglyphic curse as well as stationery emblazoned with curses in 24 languages, things like animosh ("that's Chippewa for 'yellow dog,' very bad in their language"), fiulaco "Esperanto for 'disgusting person'") and even sala ("that 's Hindi and very complicated. Literally it means 'brother-in-law, but when you say it you mean 'Your sister is a hussy, she has no morals. I slept with her, therefore I'm your brother-in-law.' Very complicated, but very interesting.").
Having toiled so long in the vineyards of blasphemy, Aman has varying theories about the subject. English, he says, is a very bad language to curse in, 'blah and colorless because our society doesn't go for it, you've got to be Mr. Nice Guy," and while Yiddish, Russian, German and Arabic are contenders for the best swear tongues, Aman gives the nod to Hungarian: "Oh, they're so bad, you wouldn't believe it."
Aman also theorizes that cursing is "beneficial to the user.By getting rid of emotional steam you are getting your body and mind, which are upset, into a state of equilibrium. People who don't show emotions inflict on themselves many, many sicknesses. So get it out and save your body and mind from becoming sick. One of my quotes is, 'A swearword a day keeps the doctor away.'"
Now that the first issue of Maledicta is out, Aman will no longer have to deal with people who "don't believe we really exist, who think this whole thing is a put-on. Now we've got the proof in black and white." Future issues of the journal (subscriptions are $10 mailed to 331 Greenfield Ave., Waukesha, Wis. 53186) are already in the works, including articles on Zaporozhian Cossack Insults, Israeli Soccer Cheers & Jeers and that sure crowd-pleaser, Endearing German Cow Names.
Still, as befits a man with evil on his mind, Aman is not content. "You think you've got problems," he says, "I get hate mail from Baptists cursing me to go into the deepest hell." And to top it all off, he has a wife and a 14-year-old daughter and "neither one curses. They are very meek and mild-mannered people. Obnoxiously decent, you might say. Offensively inoffensive."