Like I wrote in an article about “a muffins,” it happens that words and concepts can get lost in translation when they become part of a new culture. Most of the time it can be a little annoying but I can chalk it up to the idiosyncrasies of culture.
But this one is infuriating. Yesterday, in a newsletter from Women’s Health Sverige, I saw this headline: Grönt – och gott! 5 sätt att pimpa din nyttiga drink!
Green – and great! 5 ways to pimp your health drink!
There is no single word that gets my fire crackling the way this one does – and if you haven’t guessed by now the word isn’t “green.”
Swedish journalists, listen up! Unless you look like this guy, just don’t use the word pimp in writing or speaking.
The 1% of you who can use the word “pimp” are those who understand where it comes from and know what it means.
The verb “att pimpa” was absorbed into the Swedish language when MTV started showing Pimp my Ride here in 2006. That year, Aftonbladet published an article about the show, and had to define the word “pimp” for Swedish readers. They defined it as another word meaning “att piffa upp” – to perk up, jazz up, fix up.
Aftonbladet neglected to mention that a pimp, in English, is someone who makes money by arranging sexual meetings with prostitutes. In Swedish – a “hallick.”
I don’t think most Swedes know this, and now the word pimp appears in the following kinds of contexts:
- Pimpa den gamla hederliga fläskfilén så blir den mycket roligare! (Pimp your tried-and-true pork file and make it more fun!) http://recept.se/content/ar-det-synd-om-flaskfilen
- Pimpa Pepparkakor (pimp your gingerbread cookies) http://www.jennysmatblogg.nu/2014/12/07/pimpa-pepparkakor/
- Världens mest exakta tidtagare: Superklockan Jila är nu ännu mer precis än förut. Efter att ha pimpat klockan ytterligare drar den sig bara med en sekund på 15 miljarder år. Eller ungefär lika länge som universum funnits. The world’s most accurate clock: The super-clock Jila is now more accurate than ever before. After additional pimping to the clock, it deviates only one second in 15 billion years.* http://www.svd.se/varldens-mest-exakta-tidtagare
The only reason MTV could call their show “Pimp my Ride” was because it was a reference to the pimpmobile – an ostentatiously decked-out car typically used by pimps and gang leaders in blaxsploitation films of the 1970s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pimpmobile#cite_note-jstor.org-1).
So, in fact, MTV was making a specific, and carefully considered cultural reference when they named their show. Plus, the host of the show was rapper Xzibit, with the theme song: “So you wanna be a player, but your wheels ain’t fly / You gotta hit us up, to get a pimp’t out ride.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/25/pimp-my-ride-cars_n_6663840.html
Not everyone is clueless
The word’s seepage into the Swedish language hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed, and I found a few great thoughts from Swedes who have taken issue with the word:
- Annina Rabe noticed, in 2012, that the wholesome dairy company Arla used the word “Pimp” on the back of the milk carton, an especially egregious choice particularly since the milk carton, in Swedish eating culture, typically stands on the table as a mealtime drink for kids, and it usually has entertaining or educational information on the back side for kids to read. Annina predicted that by the time any fashionable word appeared on the back of the milk carton, it was probably on its way out. http://www.svd.se/hallicken-vid-frukostbordet
Sadly, the latest from Women’s Health indicates that the word is still floating around out there, with writers oblivious to the word’s troubled past and dubious connotations.
*Note: My issue with this headline is of course the use of the word “pimp” which is entirely ridiculous in this context, but after further research it turns out that even the substance of the headline is wrong. The Jila clock will not lose or gain one second in 15 billion years, according to extremetech. http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/203943-new-atomic-clock-wont-lose-a-second-in-15-billion-years