Badass Doesn’t Translate Well

I have a dirty mouth. This is generally not an issue. In fact on many occasions, it’s a real blessing.

In my opinion there are few instances in which “fuck” does not serve as a helpful adjective, verb or noun. And as an instructor of undergrads, I can safely say that there is no more powerful pedagogical tool than a well placed “fuck,” particularly when you’re talking about Jesus. It’s interruptive, shocking, & somehow makes the material feel more accessible.

Where a sailor’s vocabulary can be a boon in the classroom, it has proven less effective in networking. And by “networking” here what I mean is talking to a very specific set of old, generally white, generally religious, men. You see while my students and colleagues have become pretty desensitized to my vocabulary, others in the “academy” are less thrilled. For example, calling Saint Thecla a “boss ass bitch” is apparently considered inappropriate in some circles (those of you who have read Thecla will surely agree with my assessment though; and if you haven’t read about her then what are you even doing with your life??).

At a conference dinner this past weekend, I had the chance to wax poetic about a real life heroine. A certain female professor came up in conversation and I (a little wine soaked, I admit) gave her the most all encompassing compliment I could think of — a badass. Now I’ve only been referred to as a badass on a few occasions, but each time still makes me swell with pride. A badass woman is a lady who takes no shit. She doesn’t apologize for her greatness. She works hard & inspires her students & other women to do the same. And when you are a woman in a predominantly male field, being a badass woman is particularly powerful. So, in my book, “badass” is the Queen of compliments. But not everyone shares my view.

The moment I uttered “the word” an amiable German professor looked initially confused and then horrified. He kindly explained that the term did not translate well into German. I don’t know exactly what it means in German, but it’s not hard to imagine. Yet my compliment was even more lost on another professor who’s native language is English. He got what I meant, but boy did he disagree with how I said it.

For this guy (and many others out there), there are some terms that don’t fit within the academic vocabulary — or at least the respectable one. On one level I understand this. But sometimes that academically respectful way of speaking fails to fully encompass the emotional nuances that are available to us in slang or common language. Sometimes you just gotta be real with students & colleagues. Sometimes “badass” is the cleanest way to describe the majesty & power of a fellow female academic. And sometimes, despite your shared native language, things just get lost in translation.

But when in doubt, just fucking go for it.

Even White Jesus knows the power of an interruptive middle finger.

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The Atheist Nun

A baby academic making her way in the world of Late Antiquity & beyond.

4 thoughts on “Badass Doesn’t Translate Well”

  1. Thank Jesus you wrote this! It’s my favorite word and encompasses so much with so little! You’re a bad ass bitch for writing it and an even badder bitch for owning it!



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