For the love of curse words
(Warning: This article contains graphic language (curse words: Spanish curse words, Italian curse words, French curse words…you get the point). If you don’t like it, well…you know what to do.)
I don’t know about you, but I love curse words. They are a colorful, slightly scandalous addition to any language: English curse words, Spanish curse words, Italian curse words…I love them all. And being words, I find them beautiful in their own way. Curse words can be insulting if used aggressively, but I’ve learned that they can also be supportive, uplifting—and hilarious and ridiculous— depending on the usage. Curse words can even help form connections between people.
I work in a manual labor industry. I started off as a laborer and now manage projects. Men in my line of work have always cursed like sailors, but I started my career working with timber fallers and I can make an old sailor blush. Seriously. It’s a talent.
I still like to pepper my language with curse words, even in my “elevated” managerial position. And it seems to make me more relatable to my crews, often earning me some instant respect with new workers. My language is widely known and joked about in my company (one of the many reasons I appreciate working there). I work with a lot of Latino men in the field, and my ability to volley Spanish curse words with them has won me a lot of points over the years.
Spanish Curse Words: A Common Language.
Years ago, when I first began traveling to Ecuador, I spoke very little Spanish. Leftover remnants from my decades-old high school class turned out to be less than useful. I stayed in the country 6 months during that first trip, and I would say it took me about a month to gain the necessary vocabulary and confidence to have a basic conversation. It was okay progress, but it still felt awkward and unnatural. By the end of the second month, however, I was flipping shit back and forth with the locals like an old pro.
The primary stimulus for my conversational acceleration was, I kid you not, my education in street slang and Spanish curse words. My co-worker’s boyfriend was a young, hip, local surfer who greatly enjoyed teaching us how to properly use Ecuadorian slang and Spanish curse words. (A bunch of gringos who don’t speak good Spanish, telling people off in local-slang is sort of entertaining.) And I fell in love with Ecuadorian curse words. Seriously, some of the literal translations are ridiculous, and yet so awesome.
Of Course, My Favorite Curse Word in English is Fuck
It is so universal, so broadly understood, so versatile. It can function in almost any capacity: As a noun (Who gives a fuck?); an adjective (That’s fucking ridiculous.); a verb (She fucked me over.); an exclamation (Fuck!); even a greeting (How the f*uck are you?!). I understand on an intellectual level that some people find it offensive, but it really takes effort for me not to use the word fuck. It might be my favorite word, period.
There’s no denying that being able to effectively an believably throw down some curse words is beneficial to women in all area’s of their lives. In face science says swearing is good for us! (Seriously, we aren’t making this up). But we believe that it is extra useful for women to be able to say one specific phrase, especially when traveling around the world: Fuck off.
So, in the interest of spreading my love of curse words, I’ve compiled this list from around the world. You may find it handy if you happen to be traveling to one of these countries. Or, it might just be a fun party trick. Unfortunately, I don’t speak all of these languages, so I won’t even try to provide pronunciation tips. Sorry.
How to tell someone to “Fuck off!” in 20 countries.
What learning to curse in Ecuadorian Spanish taught me
Let’s start with Spanish cuss words. There are lots of amazing swear words in Spanish. You can literally tell someone to fuck off (jodete), but people tend to do it in more colorful ways. You might send someone to the dick (a la verga) if they’re being an asshole. You could call someone a son of a whore (ijo de puta) or maybe just a liar (lamparoso – literally the person who is lamp). My absolute favorite way to curse someone out in Ecuador, though, is to yell “Chucha de tu madre!” Because this literally translates as the vagina of your mother! And THAT is fucking hilarious. Especially when the person yelling it is a really angry man yelling at another really angry man.
It was much more fun for me to learn Spanish curse words than it was to memorize vocabulary, so it came a lot easier. And, since I curse so much in my normal speech, it seemed more natural as well. Pretty soon, I found I could actually interact with my Spanish-speaking friends more or less the same way I did with my friends at home thanks to the variety of swear words in spanish. It was a huge shift in my confidence and abilities, and I owe it all to curse words.
Cursing in Europe
Italy (Italian curse words): Vaffanculo – “go fuck yourself”.
According to The Iceberg Project, this may be the most offensive way to tell someone off in Italian. (I think that’s supposed to be some sort of warning, but to me it sounds like a challenge.
Portugal (Portuguese): Vai-te foder – “fuck off” or “go fuck yourself”.
I don’t know if it will really help you learn to pronounce it, but here is a video of the Minions singing it to the tune of “Barbara Ann”.
France (French): Va te faire foutre – literally, “go do yourself”.
According to urbandictionary.com, in order to properly tell someone off in this manner, you have to accompany the expletive with a Bras d’honneur. This gesture is not unique to France. I remember doing this as a kid, in lieu of flipping someone off. Anyway, I could try to explain it, but here’s a picture instead.
Germany (German): Fick dich – “fuck you”.
Though this literally translates as “fuck you”, it’s not necessarily an insult. It can have sexual connotations or be used as a noun to mean roughly “smartass”. According to one Urban Dictionary contributor, a harsher curse would be Verpiss dich.
England (English): Bugger Off or Sod Off – “fuck off”.
Do you ever think American English is sort of boring? I mean, sure, if I’m pissed off I can call someone an asshole. But, in England, I could call them a wanker, a tosser, a twat, or even a cunt. How colorful!
Brazil (Portuguese/ Portugal Swear Words): Vai pra puta que te pariu – literally “go to the whore that birthed you”.
Apparently, this is a pretty common way to tell people to fuck off in Brazil, often paired with filho da puta (“son of a bitch”). While also a serious insult, it is used broadly and for a variety of purposes.
Ecuador (Spanish): Ándate a la verga – “go to the dick”.
I gave more examples of Ecuadorian curses above, but this is the one I remember that most closely resembles the American “fuck off”. Often, the “Àndate” is left off, and the rest is said as more of an aside “a la verga”, with an accompanying hand gesture that involves tossing your fisted hand over your shoulder (similar to the Bras d’honneur).
Chile (More Swear Words in Spanish): Ándate a la chucha – “go to the vagina”.
(Kinky!) This one doesn’t need explanation. While it sounds like an attempt at some sort of punishment…I’d say one argue it sounds a bit more like a reward!
Argentina (Spanish): ¡Anda a cagar! – literally, “go take a shit”.
Are you starting to see a pattern here?
Peru (Spanish): Concha tu madre – “fuck your mother”.
This one is a pretty straightforward insult, and not unfamiliar to us Gringos. However, the typical response to such an insult in Peru is pure gold: Es la tuya en vinagre, ijo de la gran puta – literally, “It’s yours in vinegar, son of a whore”.
I love Spanish.
Colombia (Spanish): ¡Despégala pues! – “fuck off”.
This literally translates to something like “take off then” or “well unstick it”.
Cursing in Asia-Pacific, Oceania
Japan (Japanese): Baka koke – roughly “Fool prepare to fight”.
This might not sound like much of an insult, but in Japanese culture manners are everything. Rudeness of any sort is an insult. So, it is really the fool part that is bad. You could also say baka yaro (“fool let’s do it”) to similar effect.
*NOTE: I haven’t included the Japanese characters here, obviously, and there is no direct English translation. The words provided are a phonetic interpretation of the spoken word.
New Zealand (Maori): Tō tero! Tō raho! Tō tara/teke! – “Asshole! Dickhead! Cunt!”
According to Upokopakaru, these words are used more as funny insults rather than serious, though the translations sound harsh. The comebacks are priceless, even in translation: Hei mitimiti māu! – “For you to lick!” or Hei pōtae mō tō ihu! – “As a hat for your nose!” This sort of insulting banter reminds me of the “your mama’s so fat…” jokes that used to be so popular in the US.
Hawaii (Hawaiian): Hele pela! – “Beat it! Scat! Bug off!”
Okay, I had to look this one up online because my friend who is Hawaiian, and grew up there, says she hardly ever heard curse words spoken in Hawaiian, and couldn’t think of anything similar to the English “fuck off”. She remembers people getting pissed off and calling others names like Mahu (“gay”) or Lolo (“stupid”), but that cursing at someone isn’t really Hawaiian style. Her take on it is that perhaps because the language is such a representation of Hawaiian culture, used to preserve the story of the people, it is taught and used with more reverence than some other languages.
Cursing in Africa and the Middle East
Saudi Arabia (Arabic): Kes emmak – roughly “I curse your mother’s vagina”.
As you can see from the South American versions, this is a common insult in many countries. Because when it’s not enough to curse someone directly, you need to curse where they came from (literally), as well.
Jordan (Arabic): ‘Aib ‘alaik! – “Shame on you!”
According to my friend, Tom Fernley-Pearson, this is a very strong admonishment throughout the Arab-speaking world. As you can see, Arabic curses (like those in Asian countries) are more about rudeness than crudeness. Here are two others he shared with me: Ukhs ‘alaik! (said when someone does something disgusting) and Haram (a reproach for someone being cruel or doing something you disapprove of). Since, once again, we have to spell these out the best we can as a phonetic interpretation, here is a recording of Tom providing the correct pronunciation:
South Africa (Afrikaans): Fok of – “fuck off”.
According to my friend over there, the “fok” is pronounced like “fork” and the “of” is like “off”. So, fork off. I love that so much.
Cursing in North America
Canada (English): Excuse me, would you mind fucking your mother, if it’s not too much trouble? Thanks.
Canadians are so polite.
Canada (Quebec French): Va chier – literally “go shit” but basically used as “fuck off”.
An interesting note – they actually use the English word “fucké” in French-speaking Canada, but it is considered much milder there than when used in English. In fact, according to Wikipedia.org, in November of 2017, the CRTC (Canadian equivalent of the FCC) ruled that ‘fuck’ is not a swear word in French. (Yet another reason to move to Canada.)
A much stronger curse word in French-Canadian is to say tabernac, which literally means “tabernacle” in translation (the box where the Eucharist is kept in a Catholic church) but is used the same way as “fuck” is used in the US.
United States (American Sign Language):
You all know it and love it…and so do I.
What are your favorite curse words from around the world?