How to Swear at Friends and Insult Strangers In Different European Languages
The Serbians will threaten to fuck the first row of people at your funeral, while the Danish will call you an "ass banana".
Illustration by Timo ter Braak
No matter how many hours of your life you've spent on yoga and mindfulness, sometimes the only thing that'll make a rough situation better is an honest curse – bellowed out, straight from the heart to God's ears. When you stub your pinky toe, when genitals collide with zippers or when you're in traffic and other people seem to be too: swearing and cursing is the answer. If it's at all possible, you'll want to blame others for your misfortune, but a fist in the face of the enemy is never the answer. A well put violent insult can hurt much worse.
Cursing is ingrained in us all and it's what unites us as human beings. But the way we curse can wildly differ from one country to the next. We asked our European VICE offices about their rich traditions when it comes to cursing, swearing and insulting each other to the bone.
One of the most fascinating things about Italian cursing and swearing is that the vocabulary is so rich, you could almost have a meaningful conversation with someone by only using curse words. Italian bad words are generally used in place of interjections or entire exclamatory sentences, covering a wide range of emotions: 'cazzo' or 'minchia' (dick), 'merda' (shit), 'figa' (cunt) can express anything from disappointment, to surprise, to extreme satisfaction. If you aim to offend, however, the vast majority of curses target family members: 'figlio di puttana' (son of a bitch) or 'mortacci tua' (which curses the enemy's dead loved ones).
Cursing God, the Virgin Mary or the Lord is also a shared Italian experience, mainly by matching these names with any imaginable offensive word, name or kind of animal. Contrary to other forms of Italian swearing, these blasphemous swears are generally complex, articulate and wordy – the longer, the better.
The best curse in the Italian language, however, hails from central Italy and reads: 'Li mortacci tua, de tuo nonno, de tua madre e dei 3/4 daa palazzina tua', which translates into 'Fuck your dead relatives, and your grandfather's, and your mother's, and those of the three-quarters of your apartment block'.
- Alice Rossi
If Serbia is rich in something, that's swears. The renowned Serbian linguist Vuk Karadzic, who singlehandedly reformed the Serbian language and wrote the first dictionary and the first New Testament in this language, was also the first to recognise our swearing heritage by cataloguing all folky Serbian curse words.
The people closest to our hearts bear the brunt of our cursing: our family, and particularly our mothers. 'Jebem ti mater' or 'I fuck your mother' is the mother of all swears, with all others deriving from it. Generally, many of our curses revolve around vaginas: 'Pizda ti materina', for example, which translates to 'I fuck your mother's rotten pussy'. Variations on this theme include 'I'll fuck your bloody child in a pussy', and 'Let a dog fuck your mother's pussy'. If you'd want to insult someone's manhood, you could take a homophobic turn with 'You'll be disgusted with pussies and enjoy only dicks'. Just calling someone a 'Stinky boob' is also an option.
If you want to do it right, though, you'll curse someone's entire bloodline: you could go with 'I'll fuck everyone dead in your family, and your offspring and ancestors', with a more classy 'I'll fuck your blood, seed and tribe', or with 'I will fuck the first row at your funeral'.
More polite but also successful curses are 'I shit in your mouth' or 'I shit on your back'. The greatest mind-bending curse in our language, though, would be: "I fuck your dick in a pussy". Generations of experts have tried and failed to understand how this could be done.
- Magda Janjic
French swearwords these days are pretty lame compared to the ones we started using in the Middle Ages. From that time and up until about the 18th century, everyone from peasants to aristocrats would shout out words like 'Gourgandine' (which means prostitute), or 'Sacrebleu', which is hard to translate – it's old timey and more or less the French equivalent of 'zounds'. These were more exciting times, when French people would yell things like 'Jean-foutre' at each other, which means 'vile', but in a very untranslatable way.
French people today are less creative with their cursing: they just use homophobic slurs like 'PD', 'fiotte', 'tarlouze', or more basic things like 'connard' (douchebag), 'pute' (whore) or 'salope' (bitch). Luckily, French people do still use some expressions that are a bit more eloquent, like 'Va te faire mettre' – which would translate into something like 'go do yourself' and is generally used when you need someone to fuck off.
- Julie Le Baron
Swearing culture in Romania is built on three pillars: oral sex, mothers and Christ. The most common curse word in Romania is 'muie' which roughly translates to 'suck my penis'. We also use 'my dick' to emphasize stuff in normal conversations, like the Polish use 'kurva' or 'whore'.
The most creative mother curse in Romanian is 'Să mă fut în mă-ta', which translates to 'I want to fuck myself in your mother'. In light of this, it should come as a surprise to no one that according to Romanian PornHub statistics, 'mom' has been one of the most commonly searched phrases on the site for years.
The most controversial Romanian swears revolve around religion. Although 81 percent of Romanians consider themselves Christian-Orthodox, most people here use 'futu-ți Cristoșii și Dumnezeii mă-tii' which translates to 'I will fuck your mother's Gods and Christs'. That's not a typo, by the way, that's a plural form of Christ.
- Mihai Popescu
In contrast to most eastern and southern European countries, insulting one's mother isn't that big of a deal for the Dutch. We choose a more direct approach, by whishing an array of deadly diseases on the object of the curse. Over the years, curses and swears involving 'klere' (cholera), 'pest' (the plague), 'tyfus', 'tering' (tuberculosis) and 'pokke' (smallpox) have all been popular.
More recently 'kanker' (cancer) has become the swear word of choice in Dutch, although it also remains the most controversial, as cancer is more of a problem in today's world than, say, the plague is. It's a versatile curse, as it can be used when you realize you locked yourself out and your phone is still inside ('kanker!'), but it can also be combined with other words. A guy you don't like is a 'kankerlul' (cancer dick) and his female counterpart is a 'kankerhoer' (cancer whore).
These diseases can also be used to a superlative degree or even in a positive way. If it's extremely busy at the gym, you'd say it's 'teringdruk' (tuberculosis busy), and if you've had a great time with someone you could tell him or her it was 'kankergezellig' (cancer gezellig).
- Twan Stoffels
In Austria, when something truly pisses us off, we yell 'hure!', which translates to whore and is used in a similar way as 'fuck'.
An important category in Austrian swearing is the use of body parts. Sometimes we call people 'beidl' – which means scrotum, but is often used as synonymous to dick – and, like many great nations in the world, we call people asses or assholes.
Many Austrians would call someone they don't like a 'schwuchtel' or 'mongo' – slurs for gay and handicapped people, respectively. But these swears can be used for things as well, as Austrians feel things can be gay or handicapped, too. Obviously, Austrians are the worst, and need to be told to fuck off. Or, as Austrians would say: 'Geh scheißen!' (Go take a shit!)
- Markus Lust
All serious Danish curses involve getting eaten by scary things. Things like 'satanedme' (Satan eat me) and 'kraftedme' (cancer eat me). Say some guy bumps into you, causing you to drop your book of H.C. Andersen fairytales. To this you'd respond: "This is way too Satan eat me!"
Then there's a whole array of sad Danish excuses for curse words: translations of actual English curses, as featured in movie subtitles. These include gems like 'skidespræller' (shit wriggler) 'kors i røven' (a cross up the ass), and 'røvbanan' (ass banana), and are apparently the closest the Danish language gets to simple yet effective words like 'fuck', 'shit' and 'douchebag'.
This is real, and we need help. World, if you're listening: send us your far superior curse words. There are innocent Danish children in legitimate danger of thinking the actual Danish translation of Bruce Willis' iconic Die Hard line 'Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!' is 'Thanks and goodbye, brother shit!'. Please send help.
- Alfred Maddox
Greece and swearing just belong together. One of our most common words is 'malakas', which means 'wanker' but is mostly used instead of 'friend', 'bro' or 'dude'. A less friendly expression would be 'shit on your grave', which should not be used lightly, because Greeks can break out in fist fights over it.
Another common curse is 'better spend it on doctors', which you'd use if you want to buy something in a shop but it's too expensive. You'd turn to the shop owner, and basically tell him that when another customer buys your object of desire from him, he should spend the money on some doctors to cure him from his madness. "Na se pane tesseris" is another expression that can't be translated exactly, but it refers to the moment you're laying in a coffin, while four people carry you to your grave. So basically it means 'die'.
And, lastly, a phrase that experienced great popularity in the 1980s and 1990s in Greece is 'may your VCR catch fire'. If you don't understand the gravity of this curse, you have no idea how cool and expensive VCRs were back in those days.
- Pavlos Toubekis
Unlike most people would expect due to the harsh sound of our language, our swearing traditions are relatively boring and tame. Classic German swear words or compositions often sound like an awkward kid who tries to say something bad, but doesn't really know how to do it. Like 'Dumme Kuh" (stupid cow), for example, or 'Pissnelke' (a word for both a dandelion and a prudish, boring girl) or 'Flachzange' (which refers to a flat plier and to an idiot).
Compared to other countries, Germany is more focused on fecal matter and butts than on sexual acts. The first German word anyone outside of Germany learns is 'Scheiße' (shit), while Arschloch (asshole) is also rather popular.
That said – our best swear words have naturally found their way into our language through German rap music. Rappers have introduced Germany to the concept of fucking each other's mothers, with words like 'Hurensohn' (son of a whore) and 'Ich ficke deine Mutter' (I fuck your mother). They've also taken the German tradition of cutesy not-really-swears to a whole new ironical level by inventing insults like 'Du Lauch!' (you leek). Yes, the vegetable.
- Barbara Dabrowska
Spain has been a deeply religious country since the day Jesus was born. That's why our swears all revolve around spitting in the eye of God, Jesus, his mother Mary and their entire entourage. This great Spanish swearing tradition is slowly fading into political correctness, but you still can hear old guys on the street yell things like: 'Me cago en la puta madre de Jesús, en su padre y en toda su jodida corte celestial' (I shit in Jesus's whoring mother, in his father and their whole fucking celestial court). I remember my grandfather being so angry with someone one day that he said 'me cago en su corazón' (I shit in his heart), the memory of which gives me the chills to this day.
So basically if you really want to insult someone in Spanish, you need to shit on, in or near some kind of saint.
- Juanjo VIllalba