I was tempted to rate this article "X", but bad language
alone, no matter how extreme, never earns an "X" rating. Nonetheless,
be forewarned that some of the Spanish words and expressions you are
going to learn here might well be very offensive to non-Spanish ears!
One Saturday evening a few years ago I
was walking past the entrance of a local Catholic church close to where
I lived in Granada, Spain. Mass was just letting out, and a crowd of
people was exiting the church. I happened to pass by two somewhat
elderly ladies who were having a conversation. One of them had just
finished saying something to the other that had apparently surprised
her. At least, that's what I assume from her reaction, for she replied
"Joder!", literally, "Fuck!".
Now, I don't know what church you and
your family go to (if any), but I do know this: if you pass by a bunch
of people coming out of the Catholic church my mother goes to, you will
hear any little old ladies (or anyone else, for that matter) using such
language. Yet for the Spanish, it's simply no big deal.
Of course, they will tell you that in
such a context, "joder" does not really mean "joder": it's simply an
expression of surprise. Well "fuck" is most often also used in contexts
where the verb has nothing whatsoever to do with sex; it's just an
expression of surprise - yet we consider it a vulgar expression, no
doubt due to its basically sexual connotation.
But the frequent use of the word "joder"
is merely the tip of the obscene verbal iceberg. I remember well one of
my first visits to Spain, almost twenty-five years ago. It was a
beautiful spring day, and many people were having something to drink at
a sidewalk café I was passing. Two attractive girls caught
my attention especially. They were talking about I-don't-know-what,
when one of them (obviously surprised at something her friend had said)
replied "Coño!" (literally "cunt!"). Well, I knew the
literal meaning of that word, and was taken aback to hear it used in
such a context by a well-dressed, seemingly well-educated girl. Of
course, she could have said "Joder!", but then, why always use the same
"palabrota" ("dirty word"), when your language offers you such a wide
selection to choose from? After all, variety is the spice of life!
For the curious, it is worth noting that
"coño" doesn't have to be used as a solitary expression. For
instance, "¿Qué coño es esto?" (What
the cunt is this?) is equivalent to our "What the hell is this?"
"¿Dónde coño estabas?" (Where the cunt
were you?), is like saying "Where the devil/hell/fuck were you?" One of
the funniest of the "coño" group is this one:
"¿Dónde vive Paco?"
- "Vive en el quinto coño."
"Where does Paco live?" - "He lives in the fifth
cunt." (Meaning, "He lives far away.")
And in case you're wondering: I have
heard such terms used with great frequency here in Spain, though I have
never heard a Spanish feminist raise a complaint. As a matter of fact,
more often than not, "liberated" women here in Spain will talk like
If you're doing hard work outside in the
middle of summer, you'll probably sweat profusely... sweat like a dog,
perhaps, or like a pig, or whatever other animal comes to mind. Here in
Granada? In such a situation, you may hear someone complain that he -
or she - is "sudando como una polla" ("sweating like a cock").
Now, you should know that I am not
especially prudish. If I don't use vulgar language, it is because there
is no novelty to it, and it more often than not does nothing whatsoever
to add anything substantial to the idea expressed in the sentence.
Why say "There's a fucking spider in my
room!", when you can say "There's a hideous/horrible/ huge/ monstrous,
or-whatever spider in my room!". Unless, of course, there are two
spiders, and they are indeed engaged in some intimate act. I've always
said that the first person who ever uttered the insult "Fuck you!" may
well have been a genius: he/she was no doubt trying to both shock and
insult someone, and no doubt the desired effect was achieved. (Whether
he survived to use that insult again is something we'll never know).
However, when the one-billionth person uses those words for the
one-quadrillionth time, it is neither original, nor very effective. It
simply shows that that person is not able to come up with a better,
more creative, and more effective insult. And meanwhile, some
standers-by might be offended, as well. Reasons enough for me to use a
little forethought when choosing my words.
Of course, most Spaniards who "curse" are also not
very original, yet I must admit that their language offers them a
seemingly endless supply of off-color words and phrases with which they
can express themselves most obscenely and offensively; thus, they don't
have to repeat the same words so often, but rather, can simply choose
You want to express surprise? Besides
sexual terms such as "¡Joder!" or
"¡Coño!", there is some choice bathroom vocabulary
as well. Here are a few variations of "Me cago...." ("I shit...")
alone, all used to express great surprise:
"¡Me cago en la leche!" (I shit in the milk!)
"¡Me cago en la mar!" (I shit in the sea!)
"¡Me cago en la puta!" (I shit on the whore!) (not referring
to anyone in particular)
"¡Me cago en la hostia!" (I shit on the host!) - As in the
wafer used at mass, not the host of a party.
And if you think that's bad, then consider this one
"¡Me cago en Dios!" ( I refuse to translate this; it
shouldn't be necessary, anyway!)
Once a Spaniard was speaking to me (in English),
and he actually translated this last expression into English. I told
him that there are places in America where if you'd dare say such a
thing, someone might well beat you to a pulp! He said he'd remember
Even if a Spaniard doesn't want to
express surprise, displeasure, or hurl an insult, but rather wants to
say something positive, you might hear some shocking terms. For
example, a friend of yours went to a party last night, and you ask him
if he had a good time:
"¿Cómo ha sido la fiesta?" (How was the party?),
you ask. He replies:
"¡De putamadre!" (Hard to translate, but "putamadre" means
literally "whore-mother", and means "It was great!".)
He might say the same thing if you ask
him whether his new CD player/power tool/car, or whatever, works well:
"¡Funciona de putamadre!" ("It works like a whore-mother!",
roughly translated; it means: "It works great!".) Of course, we English
speakers fail to see any sense in this: What's so great about a
Of course, every language has its
obscenities. Yet I am still sometimes surprised at the fact that here,
even people who seem very decent, well-educated, polite, and so on,
will occasionally say something startling to my really-not-so-sensitive
ears. For example, once, a pupil of mine, a petite 19-year-old female
law student, who seemed to be a proper, decent person, was talking
about someone she didn't care for. If she had been speaking English,
she might have said: "I wish he'd get lost!", or something of the sort.
Instead, she used a common Spanish term that is used here to express
basically the same thing "¡Que se vaya a tomar por culo!" -
which means, more or less literally, "May he go get fucked in the ass!"
Naturally, if so many people use such
language, it soon becomes "acceptable", at least in most circles. I
have heard people use words like "joder" even in conversations with
priests, who didn't seem to mind at all. Other cultures, other customs.
When you come to Spain, you will no doubt hear these terms, and plenty
more. Yet though it is important to understand them, I suggest you not
use them yourself: look up some other words in your dictionary,
equivalent in meaning, but not vulgar. That way, you will be able to
expand your vocabulary even more, and won't have to worry about
possibly offending someone here. For although that "someone" may not be
too easy to find among Spaniards, one never knows: there are always
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