Warning: This question contains words in both Japanese and English that some might not want to read.
Also: My apologies that this question is lengthy. However, I wanted to take care to express it properly.
When I asked about words that are not permitted on television, I was trying to get at the concept of what makes a word "bad" in Japanese, because clearly the concept is different than in English. However, that question opened my eyes to the connected, but different issues of political correctness and zeitgeist. It was fascinating and helpful, but I'm still wondering about how Japanese handles curse words.
So I am going to come at the question a different way in hopes of getting a definitive answer on something I know plagues many learners of Japanese:
Does Japanese actually have swear words?
We all know the stereotype, which is that when you ask a Japanese person, "what are some curse words in Japanese?" they say, "oh, we don't have those." Then one learns of words which seem to be curse words, and the perception is built that the Japanese language does contain curse words, but a culture that wants to be seen as non-confrontational obscures those words from outsiders. Thus a whole bunch of stereotypes about Japan and Japanese people get reinforced, such as the fact that they withhold things from outsiders, or that they are too shy to speak openly about some things, or whatever else.
I thought `気違い【きちがい】 was one of those words, until I saw it in a book for kids. Now that I've seen the list of words unsuitable for broadcast, I now know that it's offense doesn't lie in its purpose, but its inappropriateness. It's probably best translated as "psycho", which, in English, is still used as an insult, it's acceptable in a wide variety of contexts, but a news anchor wouldn't say, "police caught the psycho late last night."
So one thing one will note about words not suitable for broadcast, is that all of them can, in fact, be on TV, but it's all about when and how.
Surprisingly to me, There are some words that are not on the list that I think might count as "dirty words", such as
I've seen these words translated as "motherfucker", "asshole", and "shit", respectively.
However, I've also seen them translated as "you" (although a stern "you"), "rascal", and "damn".
That flexibility is crazy to my mind, because in my culture, the purpose of a word like "motherfucker" is to convey an extreme of passions, or an extreme of comradery. You say it with intent to people you really want to know you are mad at, or people who already know you are such good friends that it's a joke. Either way, it conveys extremes.
Thus the real question, is if there is a concept of words that are on the other side of a line of general acceptability, like George Carlin's Seven Dirty Words.
My concern when I see
野郎 translated as "rascal" is that it's that maybe the word doesn't mean "rascal" at all, but something has been lost in the translation because the context didn't carry over.
Put another way, in English, I can call my friend an "asshole" in a joking way that I can get away with because we're friends. So when
野郎 is translated as "rascal", might that not simply be a case where the translator (in a general sense) was worried that the friendly context that made "asshole" acceptable wouldn't be conveyed?
With all that context in mind, I hope we can answer "Does Japanese actually have swear words?" definitively. I hope an answer can directly or indirectly cover address the following points:
Are there words that are always harsh and insulting, that do not range from "you" to "motherfucker"? Words that are decidedly curse words? (Note I am not asking for a list, I'm asking for an analysis of their place in the language)
Is sometimes translating
野郎to "rascal" actually a fair translation, or is it a kludge to try and make up for context that is hard to capture in words?
Does the Japanese answer "we don't have those" reflect the fact that Japanese really don't consider any words "bad"? Or does it reflect that they don't want to be involved by proxy in any contexts that call for those words?
Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that a word like
てめえis a curse word, and that it's default implication is bad, and that context can make it less threatening? In other words, it's not that its definition ranges from "motherfucker" to "you", it's that it means approximately "motherfucker", but given the right context it is made acceptable, just like "motherfucker" in English.
Please no overly technical linguistic terminology so that answers are understandable for everyone. Thanks!