Language Learning, Article 9: Rated "R" - Obscenity in Spanish conversation. WARNING: This article contains graphic language!
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Rated "R" - Obscenity in Spanish conversation

 I was tempted to rate this article "X", but bad language alone, no matter how extreme, never seems to earn 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! And their literal English translations will no doubt sound even worse.

    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 not 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 verbal iceberg of obscenity. I remember well one of my first visits to Spain, almost thirty 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 this, too.

    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, or was immediately killed by the offended party 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 others.

    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, for there are utterances that can cause even skeptics to fear divine wrath; I'm sure you don't need a translation, 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 that for his upcoming trip to Texas...

    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 "whore-mother", anyway?

    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 exceptions!


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