So a lovely friend of mine this morning did call me with a question: “A ra re “masepa a dikoko” kgotsa ra re “boloko jwa dikoko”?” I hear the expression “boloko jwa dikoko” was used on the Radio Botswana news the previous day. The fact that the question arises at all is a demonstration of how far we have heeled away from our language. The city lights and its greasy burgers have cocooned us from how our people speak their language around the country. Coupled with political correctness we may end up speaking a language that is unrecognisable to its owners. However, the question was posed appropriately: “A ra re…” The questioned sought to ascertain how we speak; not how we should speak or what is considered correct or right by language purists. A couple of months ago I wrote the article “Masepa is not an insult or a swear word“. That article is here. The word masepa translates to faeces and is used in Setswana to refer to chicken, human or dog excrement. So we do say: masepa a dikoko, masepa a ntša a dujwa a sa le metsi. Sometimes an elder’s reprimand would be: O tlaa ja masepa a balekane ba gago. Batho Molema has earlier in the year contended that a line from a contemporary song was absurd. The said line is: o tlaa ja boloko jwa bankane ba gago. Molema was incensed. He objected that there the idiomatic expression go ja boloko jwa balekane ba gago does not exist in the Setswana language. He was right. He posed the questions: A motho o na le boloko? A le itse boloko? Bommaetsho ba kgapha ka boloko, ba kgabisa matlo ka jone. Why did the artist avoid using the appropriate generic word: masepa? The answer is fairly predictable. The artist considered the word masepa a profanity. Why would that be the case when the same artist doesn’t consider the English word faeces a profanity? We know that excrement from various animals is termed differently in Setswana. Masepa a podi ke dithokolo, Masepa a tonki le pitse ke bopere, Masepa a motho one ke masepa e seng boloko. Boloko is a cow’s excrement; when dry we call it sebi. A few years back I took my son Lobopo on a drive into the wild. I picked dry cow dung (sebi) and turned it upside down for him to see. He bolted: “No daddy o tshwere poo poo ya kgomo!”
So in Setswana we don’t say mantle a dikoko or makaka a dikoko, we simply say masepa a dikoko. This is in part because the word masepa is not intrinsically offensive such that it needs a euphemism. This is not to deny that in Setswana we can insult or curse someone by saying “O masepa!” or “Masepa a gago!” However the reason why this is an insult is precisely because there is a linkage between faeces and an individual; the thought of one covered in faeces is a most ugly sight and most offensive.