In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and associated horrible events, the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, has told Muslims who don’t like the city’s chilled pluralism and might consider taking violent offence at the contents of a newspaper to “rot toch op”, which has been translated in the British media — with varying numbers of asterisks — as “fuck off”. I don’t speak Dutch; some contacts have suggested that in reality Aboutaleb’s words might be translated as a rather milder “go to hell” or even just “go away”, but he’s still earned plaudits for his straight-talking approach to the enemies of freedom. Of course, Mr Aboutaleb is of Moroccan extraction, so he can probably use more direct language than some other civic leaders could get away with, without being accused of racism or Islamophobia. (I’m thinking of Boris Johnson, his Turkish ancestry notwithstanding.)
But the discussion did get me thinking about what an odd beast our favourite expletive construction really is. If we accept that “fuck” means to copulate, how exactly does one “fuck off”? It creates images of someone copulating so forcefully that he or she is propelled bodily from the bed or other surface, rather in the manner of Viz’s Johnny Fartpants being sent skywards by the power of his own bottom burps. The American “fuck yourself” is more satisfying as an insult, casting the recipient as a sort of carnal oureboros, pleasuring and consuming himself at once, the ultimate in squalid self-indulgence. But then the “off” does reinforce that your ultimate goal is for the person in question to leave your presence entirely, which I guess was Mr Aboutaleb’s main point. Maybe in celebration of this excellent fellow we should recalibrate our default swear mode to “rot toch op”. And unless we’re telling a Dutch person where to go, only we know how rude we’re being.