February 15 - 21, 1996
Santa Rosa professor is the 'Noah Webster
of verbal aggression'
By David Templeton
"This is the first interview I've given in five years," smiles Dr. Reinhold
Aman, ushering me into his book-lined, box-filled Santa Rosa home. "I'm a private
person. I don't seek the spotlight." During our chat, he is soft-spoken and
grandfatherly, his voice barely more than a whisper. He chuckles often. "And
of course," he adds with a grin, "I've been in prison."
Now, there's a line that could either start a conversation or stop it cold. "I'm
not ashamed of it," he says. "I committed no crime. I was just trying to
get rid of a horrible judge and a slimebag lawyer, and I stepped on one too many
Dr. Aman is the one-time professor of medieval literature who became an editorial
force of nature with his eye-opening book series Maledicta: The International
Journal of Verbal Aggression. With subscribers in nearly every nation on the
planet, and with such fans as Stanley Kubrick and George Carlin to sing his praises,
Aman has carved out a singular reputation as the world's most scholarly dirty old
Once called the "Noah Webster of verbal aggression" by the Chicago Tribune,
Aman has long known the explosive nature of words. But even he was surprised when
his colorfully titled, self-published pamphlet Legal Scumbags of Wisconsin
was interpreted by a grand jury as constituting a physical threat against that aforementioned
judge, who had ruled unfavorably against him when Aman lived in Wisconsin. Aman was
threatened with 25 years in jail and ended up serving 22 months.
"So I went to jail for using language a little too effectively," he says,
laughing. "And now I can call myself a 'jolly good felon.' One thing the establishment
can't handle is honesty. They say, 'Tell the truth, and the truth will set you free.'
But in Hungary there is a much better saying. 'Tell the truth and they will smash
your head in!'"
Aman has spent the months since his release reorganizing his publishing business
and preparing for the release of Maledicta 11 (Santa Rosa: Maledicta Press
[P.O. Box 14123, Santa Rosa, CA 95402], 1996; $15) and the compendium volume Opus
Maledictorum: A Book of Bad Words (New York: Marlow & Co., 1996; $14.95).
Maledicta 11 is the long-awaited follow-up to Maledicta 10 (published
in 1990), and is being snapped up by long-deprived fans. Opening with Aman's scathingly
angry (and very funny) "Open Letter to Janet Reno," the mail-order book
contains dozens of short works on the etymology and social impact of everything from
bathroom graffiti and dirty jokes to racial slurs and blasphemies.
Opus Maledictorum is a mesmerizing sampling of essays previously published
in the journal. An excellent starting point for newcomers to the often-shocking world
of verbal aggression, the collection contains such vocabulary-building essays as
"Elementary Russian Obscenity," "A Taxonomy of the Provenance of Metaphorical
Terms of Abuse," "I Wanna Hot Dog for My Roll: Suggestive Song Titles,"
and "Tom, Dick and Hairy: Notes on Genital Pet Names."
Most of the contributors hold Ph.D.s and enjoy international academic respect in
their fields. Authors include Dr. Rasmus Fog, Lois Monteiro, filmmaker John Hughes,
and Aman himself, who writes with clear, scholarly efficiency while displaying a
fondness for puns and a sharp, salty sense of humor.
"Most of my work does not deal with obscenity as such, with sex and scatology
and all that," Aman explains, when asked what would drive a kindly old gentleman
to peruse dictionaries all day in the search for dirty words. "Obscenity is
less than 2 percent of what I do. I'm interested in verbal aggression. Anything negative.
Unfortunately, it's the vulgarity that gets all the attention. If I never have to
write about 'fuck,' 'shit,' and 'cocksucker' again, I'm happy. But I record it all
"White Anglo-Saxon Protestant mentality is very uptight when it comes to sex
and excrement, body parts and bodily functions. The American 'dirty dozen,' those
words that are supposedly so scandalous, are extremely boring. If you want colorful
insults, both the clean ones and the really nasty ones, you have to look to other
cultures. I've done research in about 220 languages, and I've heard just about everything
you can think of."
Some examples, perhaps?
"Well, in Thailand," he complies, "they might say, 'Talking to you
is like playing a violin to a water buffalo.' What a beautiful image. Some of the
best are Yiddish insults. They are very clever. 'May you inherit three ships of gold
and may it not be enough to pay your doctors' bills.'
"In Spain and the other Catholic countries, they use a lot of blasphemy, in
the same way we might use body parts. Sometimes the two cultures merge and you hear
something like 'By the 24 balls of the 12 apostles of Christ!' Other cultures might
use family members in their insults. One insult I heard from a Muslim Gypsy was,
'I fuck the soul of your dead mother!'" Aman grins. "That one combines
everything, doesn't it? I get goosebumps!"
He goes on to discuss the novelty of animal affronts, listing such insulting comparisons
as 'snake,' 'rat, and 'barracuda.' "That last one is a good insult for a lawyer,"
"All of these words are very powerful," he continues. "I read a story
in the newspaper recently. There was a guy who was robbing a bank in San Francisco.
Now if he had just walked up to the teller and said, 'Give me all the money,' she
would have given it to him and he would have taken off. But he said, 'Give me all
the fuckin' money!' and this elderly bank teller was so upset that he had used that
word . . . she took the till and hit him over the head with it. The cops came and
took him away.
"This is something I know firsthand," he laughs. "I used a few words
like that, and look what happened to me."
Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual
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