Attention all cacologists: I am currently copyediting and supplying additional text for a book of international curses and insults, and while I have a goodly store myself, I would be glad of help if any of you happen to know such expressions in the following languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Old English, and Norwegian. Extra points if you can give me an idea of the general place of cursing and insults in the relevant cultural/literary context. (Juicy examples from other languages would also be welcome!) Direct offers of assistance to languagehat at gmail dot com, and thanks in advance. (But do you kiss your mother with that mouth?)


  1. matthewr says

    cacologist: ‘Bad speaking, bad choice of words; vicious pronunciation. (The mod. use takes bad grammatically, not ethically.)’

  2. “Fac pedicari te, Graecule!”

  3. My contributions aren’t particularly scathing and are from Mandarin Chinese (Taiwan). I don’t know their context, etc.
    “bèn dàn” 笨蛋 = fool / idiot; literally “stupid egg”. Often used by children for insults, and in an adult context it’s only a mild scolding.
    “sān bā” 三八 = silly, funny, maybe even a little flirtatious; literally “38”. I have no idea why it means what it does. It could be because both sān and bā have the same pronunciation as many other words which could form an insult.
    For example, Chinese don’t like the number 4 (sì 四) because it’s the the same sound as in “sì” 儩 (the end / to finish) and “dǎ sǐ” 打死 (kill).

  4. Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo.

  5. Addedendum: The “si” of 打死 is 3rd tone, whilst the “si” of 四 is 4th tone. In certain speech patterns, the 3rd tone becomes a mild 4th tone. Either way, the consonant-vowel combination are the same, with more or less different tones.

  6. I have to assume you know about this, but just in case:
    (That’s the Hungarian page, but it has direct links to loads of other tongues, including Latin.)

  7. David Marjanović says

    literally “38”

    Well, not “thirty-eight”, but “three eight”, which can mean “three times eight”*. But probably homonyms are to blame here.
    * “3 x 9 = 27” = 三九二十七 sānjiǔ èrshí qī = “three-nine twenty seven”.

  8. Can’t help you with the desired languages, but my father’s mother, who was a tough character, would tell people to ‘go shit in the sea’ (in Yiddish).

  9. Well for Latin, you can pull something out of Catullus, but it’ll need a bit of mining. Here is as good a beginning as any, I think.

  10. The European curses I’ve learned in the course of my life include he Dutch schmeerlap = “shitstain”, which I suspect is about the same as the Yiddish Schmidlap in Mad Magazine, and dvietsek = “sack of shit”, spelling uncertain, from Norwegian 50 years ago. Purely oral tradition, and maybe wrong.
    Scientifically, Catholic curses (something like maudit autel and something like maudit hostie from Quebec French) seem to tend toward blasphemy and the genital, whereas Protestant curse seem to tend toward scatology.
    But what do I know?

  11. I heard san-ba in Taiwan in 1983 and had the feeling it was a bit stronger than “flirtatious”, more like “cute, ditzy, and maybe easy”. No one would tell me, though.

  12. I should make it clear that I’m familiar with Swearasaurus and Catullus and pretty much all the obvious places to look; what I’m hoping for is stuff that you need to be pretty familiar with the culture/language to be aware of.

  13. Per Jørgensen says

    Faen i helvete as in faen, Satan, and helvete, Hell.
    Svarte faen, “black Satan.”
    Jævla and jævlig, literally “devilish,” roughly equivalent to English f***ing.
    That’s basic Norwegian swearing for you. Want more?

  14. Schmeerlap would now be smeerlap, since they legislate spelling changes every few decades in the Netherlands.

  15. Ω βδελυρε καναισχυντε και τολμηρε συ∙
    μιαρε και παμμιαρε και μιαρωτατε.
    Aristophanes, Batr. (from memory, may not be quite right)
    Apologies for lack of accents, breathings, the only Greek characters I’ve got are Microsoft symbols.

  16. I also do remember hearing old Catholic curses in Norwegian: “Yee-sus Ma-ter!” (phonetic).

  17. It may be very gullible of me to pass this on, but according to Slovene Dream,, “when a Slovene wants to vent their spleen, the strongest insults they have to hand are a bit dippy: “Tristo kosmatih medvedov” – Three hundred furry bears; “Naj te koklja brcne” – May you be kicked by a chicken; and “Krščen Matiček” – Holy Matthew, are typical. So Slovenes swear in Serbian: much more satisfying.”

  18. Per Jørgensen says

    John, I’ve not heard “Jesus Mater,” and it sounds as if it must have come from Latin mass. Since Norway has long been overwhelmingly Protestant, it must have been specific to the Catholic minority at the time or else have a history back to times when Catholic mass was still the norm. (BTW, are you sure it wasn’t “yee-su mater” without the possessive s?)
    References to God and Jesus are still common in Norwegian, but they’re now completely tame and safe by cursing standards, equivalent to English my God or Jesus.
    These are common but so domesticated I wouldn’t consider them curses or swear words:
    Herregud, literally “Lord God.” Tame!
    Gudhjelpemeg, literally “God help me.” Tame!
    Jesus you don’t hear very often as an exclamation. Tame and stuffy!
    Fillern, fy fillern, pokker, and søren are the more common darns and dangits of Norwegian. Ned Flanders tame!
    Since it looks as if you’re looking for curses specifically, rather than swearing in general, here are a few common Norwegian goodies:
    Rasshøl, asshole.
    Drittsekk, sack of shit.
    Forpulte, adj., f***ed.
    Hestkuk, northern regional to Nordland, troms, and Finnmark, horse penis.
    Merr, literally “mare,” b**ch.
    Pikk, (ahem) penis. Juvenile.
    Fitte, (ahem) vagina. Juvenile.
    This may mean something or it may not: In Norwegian, it seems we’re still referring to Satan for expletive purposes. We don’t yell out words for intercourse or feces when hammer lands on thumb. When it comes time to call people names, on the other hand, we turn to intercourse, feces, genitals, and the anus for reference. Go figure.

  19. I’m not sure that what I have to offer is at all helpful, but I’ll throw out something into the void anyway.
    The only Greek I’ve studied is biblical, so the closest I can come there is the classic Pauline exclamation “me genoito,” which really isn’t an expletive although I’ve heard that some have dared (quite appropriately imo) to translate it “Hell, no!”
    I do know that “kèt manman ou” is the Haitian Creole equivalent of “yo mama,” and the gravest of insults would be to call somebody a “volè” (thief) or “kochon” (pig).
    Well, if that’s the best I can do, then I’m feeling squeaky clean.

  20. I am for adding Arabic curses to the English language, the way they have been added to the French language. Awra is c*nt, bint is girl, but as with all things female…obviously derogatory. In French they say, “nique ta mère” which is f*ck yer mother. As an Infidel, I am only too happy to be considered “najis” (filthy) by the simmering sons of Allah.

  21. Thanks for that correction David. You are right. However, although the proper way to say numbers would be including the placeholder, e.g. er shi si / twenty-four, I’ve often heard in common speech the locals simply dropping them.
    Your example of 3 * 9 = 27 helps to explain why one friend, when I said she was san-ba, replied, that no, she was er shi si … 3 * 8 = 24. This is probably her way of distancing herself from any of the possible connotations arising from “John Emerson”-ic contexts (no offense John).
    ADDITION: 傻瓜 shǎ guā “foolish / idiot”.
    (傻 = “foolish”) + (瓜 = “claw / gourd / melon / squash)
    Again, this is usually a playful jibe equivating “nuts, crazy, silly, gone crackers, round the bend”. However, in other contexts it could obviously be more insulting.

  22. marie-lucie says

    I don’t consider curses degrading women a particularly welcome addition to the French language, and there are enough already in the English language without trying to add more. I expected more interesting and colorful, less stereotyped addtions from the allegedly curse-rich Arabic language.

  23. Marie-Lucie, may I ask why would you expect “less-stereotyped” additions from Arabic into French?
    Do you think tribal social structure and retrograde clerical fanaticism of Arabs can teach liberal civilized decadent France something they didn’t know before?

  24. marie-lucie says

    I probably went by another stereotype, but I was under the impression that there was a vast repertoire of imaginative insults in Arabic. The ones quoted by Jahuara were rather disappointing.

  25. marie-lucie says

    (sorry, I meant Jauhara).

  26. Ah, so you want the local flavor.
    Maybe the assembled wise men (naturally, ladies have no knowledge of these matters) can enlighten us on terms Arabs use in relation to this (seemingly popular) local pastime.

  27. Tatyana, that’s a popular pastime in parts of the US, too. Blue State sophisticates don’t understand us guys out here in the red states.

  28. marie-lucie says

    It seems to be popular in cattle-raising societies, period. In the societies in question the women are often strictly supervised, so some of the men turn to other females for “companionship”.
    Insults typically focus not only on actual but on exaggerated or imagined failings of the insulted person, or they express wishes for something drastic to happen to them. As an example of imaginative insult, here is one from a French taxi driver, addressing a little old man who was crossing the street too slowly: “Espèce de petit gigot de punaise!” (I leave it to others to translate into English – it has to do with the man’s legs being as tiny as a bedbug’s).

  29. Besides, “bint” is already common in UK English, isn’t it?

  30. I have only hazy memories of high-school classical Greek, and this story falls strictly into the whimsical-digression category, but… In my (all-boy, naturally) Jesuit school, first-year Greek scholars would invariably come upon the Biblical injunction “Kick not against the pricks” in chapter one of the textbook, and by mid-September be flinging at each other the word translated as “pricks.” The singular of that word, “kentron,” was eventually incarnated as a person, Ron Kent, who became a phantom student, and ran for student council president, held positions in extracurricular clubs, and signed all petitions at least three or four times.

  31. I wrote about this on my blog a couple of times, the latest being :
    “Note : For all the “K”s, insert the Arabic “Q” sound. (ق )
    One of the insults I use the most is “Ko-ed.” I was always told that it meant “fuck off,” but my husband told me that’s not really the literal meaning. It comes from “l’kowada” (آلقودة) which translates to “pimp.”
    So if you say “Ko-ed,” you’re kind of saying it in general, like we say “motherf-er” here. Kow-edi is the female form. If you say it, essentially you’re telling them to fuck off, but it doesn’t translate as directly as “Seer al’hamar” (Go away donkey). However, if you say, “Nta ko-ed” or “Ntia kow-edi” you’re saying that the addressee is a pimp (or a madam), and that’s even more rude, if possible.
    Ah, the richness of darija.”
    We also have “Andik zeb sghir,” or, “You have a little penis.” I vote for THAT being used in French and English.

  32. Interesting that nobody proposed (and offered examples) of the expletives in languages that author asked for in his post – Ancient Greek, Latin Norwegian – to be incorporated into English and French. Or any other languages – except Arabic.
    Are you guys preparing yourself for the new “Golden Age of Al Europa”? Already bending down for your future masters?
    Then you deserve all Arabic curses they have.

  33. Emerson: my deepest condolences to your she-goat mistress.

  34. marie-lucie says

    Tatyana, you forgot Old English among the languages requested by LH for his catalogue of curses (not for incorporation into modern English, let alone French).
    Re Latin and Greek, I suspect that most people who studied these languages in school and learned a few juicy expressions, like Luc, left them at the door of the school. There are not many people who know Old English, and I don’t remember too many Norwegians on this blog (of course I could be wrong, but there have not been suggestions from that quarter, unless they wrote directly to LH). It was an Arabic speaker who suggested that Arabic curses should be incorporated into English, as some of them (not very original according to his examples) have been apparently taken up in French (but by whom?).
    You seem to be suggesting that this readership is somehow avoiding Arabic: the truth is that not many Westerners have had the opportunity to learn the language, unless they have lived in an Arabic-speaking country. I don’t think that many French people are learning to speak Arabic, but some of the young people are learning a few words or translated expressions from the children of Arabic-speaking immigrants.
    In any case, suggesting that people should adopt certain words seems to me just as futile as suggesting that they should not adopt them. It is standing joke that the French Academy or other official body is powerless to stem the tide – almost a tsunami in some of the press! – of English words in France.

  35. marie-lucie says

    p.s. Tatyana, after seeing my post in place I think I may have misunderstood your first sentence. Perhaps you said that only Arabic had been suggested as a source of new curses? The rest of my post stands.

  36. We Americans really admire people from countries with no problems, Tat. We just wonder why you always come here to live. It’s always good to have someone around to explain how horrible others are, though.

  37. Emerson, you (or your Norwegian ancestors) came here to live, despite never being invited.
    I was.
    This is my country, I’m an American citizen.
    You, on the other hand, is on the same level as tribal cattle-f*ckers, by your own admission (volunteered) – why don’t you go live with them?

  38. michael farris says

    marie-lucie, I don’t know French but I glanced through a Street French book once that purported to instruct everyday colloquial french w/ some slang and I was suprised at how much had obviously been borrowed from Arabic (I had an ultimately unsuccessful go at Arabic some years earlier). It reminded me somwhat of Spanish borrowings in some kinds of USEnglish.
    tatyana, I’m sorry, but your post doesn’t make any sense. an off-handed remark or two about the possibility of borrowing some Arabic words is evidence that Europe (which is mostly non-English speaking) is being colonized by Arabs? You haven’t been reading LGF again, have you?
    on the general topic, I misunderstood(?) ‘cursing’ in the request as in … curses and was looking forward to finding out how to say “May all your lutefisk saponify!” in Norwegian.

  39. marie-lucie says

    you came here to live, despite never being invited
    Perhaps the early European settlers were not invited, but I understand that for many years the American governments were actively seeking immigrants – so Norwegians too were “invited”.
    When I mentioned “cattle-raising societies” earlier, I was not excluding those in the Americas (both North and South), although cattle-raisers might be only a subset of the population in those countries, as they are (on a much smaller scale) in Europe. By “cattle” I mean all sorts of hoofed animals, not just cows – so sheep, goats, donkeys, etc.

  40. Yes, Marie-Lucie, the latter is correct. Indeed, I noticed (on this thread) that only Arabic was suggested to be incorporated into modern English and French – w/o a single objection from native speakers. The rest of my post stands.

  41. marie-lucie says

    Michael, you are probably right, but I am too – it is obvious why “street French” would incorporate quite a bit of Arabic, whether actual words or translations of phrases, and you may have found more interesting examples than the ones that were mentioned here. There are some much older borrowings too, in slang originating from soldiers who had served or been stationed in North Africa, long before the war of independence. Books such as the one you mention, like dictionaries, usually give a much longer list than what the average person might be familiar with, especially one who no longer lives in the country (like me – but I have not noticed much of this slang among my young nephews and nieces, for instance – unless they refrain from it in my presence! but I don’t think so).
    But what was suggested was that English too should adopt some Arabic “curses”, without regard to the very different social circumstances that gave rise to such adoption – I agree with you that the comparison should be with Spanish in the US, but also with “Black English”.

  42. michael farris says

    “I noticed (on this thread) that only Arabic was suggested to be incorporated into modern English and French – w/o a single objection from native speakers.”
    Native speakers of English are not noted for objecting to the idea of loanwords from any language. So, while your assertion is technically accurate, I think it has no meaning whatsoever in contrast to the weighty meaning you seem to infer.

  43. michael farris,
    Your first paragraph is repudiation of your second.
    As to our respective circles of reading – have you stopped reading Samizdata, where I used to meet you before?
    If you refuse to see the signs on the wall that not only written in huge glaring letters, but scream in Arabic and other islamic languages – well, in spirit of the day, I can only wash my hands. But go and read your own catholic Pope, on loss of European identity.
    marie-lucie: yes, sheep, goats and camels are all cattle. Norway is (so far) a country in Northern Europe. America is a big continent. History is complicated.

  44. marie-lucie says

    About incorporating Arabic words – not necessarily curses – into other languages, there is already a long tradition: algebra, algorithm, admiral, and a longish list of others (consult any serious book on the history of English or French). The list in Spanish is much longer. All this for obvious socio-historical reasons: the former supremacy of the Arabic scholarly and scientific tradition, and the political and cultural dominance of the “Moors” in southern Spain for several centuries. The current use of Arabic words, etc in French slang reflects a different social reality at the present moment. Societies and languages tend to change in an unpredictable manner but preserve vestiges of the historical past.

  45. michael farris says

    My selective memory and lack of French knowledge to connect them to in my long term memory is blocking out examples (the only I remember is ‘blad’?) I had the idea that these were older established colloquial (as opposed to slang) words as there were some shifts in meaning. Phonologically they looked like they came from NAfrica.

  46. Tatyana, your bigotry, specifically in 5:48, is just too obnoxious to tolerate. Steve tolerates you because much of what you say is literate and interesting. But you push a lot of people to the limit, not only me.
    Coming from someone else the 5:48 post might have been just an off-color joke and I might have laughed. Coming from you, in context with everything else you say, it’s just more bigotry.
    There’s at least one Arab who posts here. I imagine he appreciates your sophisticated contributions on the Arab people about as much as you’d appreciate comparably sophisticated and sensitive contributions about your own people.

  47. “My own people”, as you call Jews, do not engage in murderous activities. They don’t blow up children, including their own, etc etc.
    As to everything else – ha.

  48. Forgive me for not being clear (friends are coming for lunch, and being a model hostess, I was busy in the kitchen).
    I meant to say – since Arabs hate me and “my own people” anyway, having no legitimate reasons to – unlike me and my people – I see no reasons to play PC games. Truth hurts, but somebody – some infante terrible (M-L: is that correct French spelling?) must say it.
    And now – I hear the door buzz. Enjoy your holiday, everyone.

  49. From here on, Tatyana, I’m not going to ignore your neocon bigotry.

  50. marie-lucie says

    Calm down, people. Remember the Biblical saying about the beam and the speck of straw in each other’s eyes.
    The attitude “we are good, you guys are the bad ones”, or “we” have our differences, but “they” are all the same, exists in every culture, but we don’t have to perpetuate it. “We” can always point to “them” as the bad ones, even if reluctantly having to acknowledge a few (exceptional) bad ones in our very midst and a few (just as exceptional) good ones in “their” midst). “We” can keep seeing others as either for us or against us. However, as I once heard President Mitterrand say on television, in a speech to his own party: “Nous croyons que nous sommes les bons, mais ça ne veut pas dire que les autres sont les mauvais.” (We think that we are the good ones, but that does not mean that the others are necessarily the bad ones).
    And please don’t accuse me of trying to justify Attila, Napoléon, Hitler or the innumerable massacres of history, ancient or modern. Discovering that some of your own people have been committing atrocities, as I did growing up in France during the Algerian war, and as many Germans discovered after WWII, to cite some already old examples, is a horrible thing – you feel you are being made an accomplice of acts which cannot be justified in any way – that is probably why some people try desperately to deny them.

  51. Calm down, people.
    Amen. Can’t I leave you folks alone for five minutes? And Tatyana, you started it with that 05:48 PM comment. Please don’t do that.

  52. Oh no, no, I just started to have some fun!
    Emerson is so predictable, all it takes is to rephrase his own words a bit, and he goes into this spectacular impotent rage.
    You can’t deny a girl some Sunday entertainment, Steve, surely.
    Or, well; if you do – I’ll have to go some other place to get my fix. Enjoy your cocoon, if for a short time that’s left to you.

  53. I have tolerated Tatyana’s obnoxiousness for some time now out of respect for Steve. But she has no respect for Steve. She seems to have enjoyed this transaction. I will have too, if she makes good on her threat to leave.
    Enjoy your cocoon, if for a short time that’s left to you.
    I don’t want to know what was meant by that.

  54. Seems that a call for curses can be surprisingly efficacious. How about a beckoning for blessings, next time? To see a thread anagrammatise to hatred here, of all places! Personal and political intolerance is better indulged privately by email, messaging… or (may I recommend, for the good of us all?) semaphore.

  55. You’ve laid in a good store of back issues of Reinhold Aman‘s Maledicta (official site), right?

  56. I thought I had the Best Of, but now I can’t find it. It may have gotten lost in one of my recent moves. Bah!

  57. Re: Old English, did you check this article out? (In tracking it down online, I found this, too.) Understand that I’m not questioning your research, but just digging through some pre-WWW stuff I have here. Like here‘s an old hand-typed & mimeoed thing that Schoenhof’s used to sell to supplement what the Russian profs across the street taught.

  58. No, no, I haven’t even done any research on OE yet — I figured people like you could save me bushels of time! Many thanks for the references.

  59. marie-lucie says

    Curses are not the same as insults, which attack persons for what they are or did, not for what they might be inclined to do in specific circumstances, nor are they the same as swearwords.
    It seems to have been customary in several ancient cultures to pile up curses as a way to enforce proper conduct, such as respect for legal agreements as in the article about Old English referred to by MMcM, and also respect for graves: witness the alleged “curse of Tutankhamon” (whether or not curses were written somewhere on or in the tomb, I don’t know, but the people who opened the tomb, and the general public, must have had some guilty feelings about it).
    Among the ancient Celts, druids were reputed to have very powerful curses which could poison water and do other noxious things to the unworthy, but these were delivered orally until letters were introduced from other cultures. Some of the Gaulish documents which have been discovered in Southern France, written on tablets, are curses, written mostly in the Greek or Etruscan alphabets (before the Roman conquest which brought the Latin alphabet). This must reflect the power of the written word coming to a hitherto illiterate society: the curse would be there for ever. All of these curses threaten dire consequences to the violators of whatever the writers considered important. And obviously, if one curse did not work (and for instance a grave was robbed), you had to use more and more of them.

  60. You asked for curses and insults and look at the response you got. Wow 60 comments so far. You better turn languagehat into cursesandinsultshat.
    Don’t forget to peruse all the great Dirty Dozens (also a tune by Count Basie)in the American black culture (Bo Diddley’s did a Dozens tune). The Life, too, was full of courteous insults–like that little signifyin’ monkey telling that lion, “I thought you called yourself the Jungle King/why man, you didn’t show me a g__ d___ thing/Why my old lady told me, ‘fore you left/She thought I could prob’ly whip your a__ my m___________ self.” ‘Scuse my language.
    Ur fiend
    the very insulting and cursed

  61. Tatyana, I have no idea what’s gotten your shorts in a knot, but:
    – I was just joking about incorporating the Arabic insults I mentioned into English.
    – My husband is NOT Arab, he’s Amazigh. They don’t give a crap about “your” people.

  62. If the thread that would (supposedly) not die has now been laid to rest, it is probably due to these mouse potatoes known as “spammers”. May they all get infected with blight and rot in subterranean hell!
    [Er, almighty God, given the time of the year, wouldn’t it be possible to consider some sort of resurrection sooner or later?]

  63. I hope your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down.
    “chook” = domestic chicken
    “dunny” = outside toilet

  64. OHG: Vnde ars in tine naso. (canis culum in tuo naso.)
    It’s in the 12th edition of Althochdeutsches Lesebuch that I’ve got (p. 10), so it’s probably in the 15th that you’ve got. It isn’t in the 1st that Google Books has, but search there does turn up some references. Also a few hundred hits in regular Google, including The Medieval Insult Page, which you may have already found.

  65. No one seems to have come through for you on Ancient Greek, unless they chose to do so via private email. Until someone more knowledgeable comes along, one sort suggests itself right away.
    It’d be an exaggeration to say that pitcher-catcher was more important than male-female, but a number of insults do revolve around that. So, how about εὐρύπρωκτος ‘wide-anused’? In translating The Clouds, Hickie comes up with ‘blackguard’. Liddell Scott is only slightly less coy with “wide-breeched, i.e. pathicus.” Similarly λακκόπρωκτος ‘cistern-assed’. Or [παγ-]καταπύγων, whose meaning isn’t 100% clear, but generally seems to be accepted as ‘enjoys being screwed [a lot]’. Or φιλόξενος ‘lover of foreigners’, because they imported [male] prostitutes. This occurs along with φιλοθύτης ‘excessively fond of sacrifices’, which is a personal favorite ever since I saw it explained as ‘meat-lover’, because the gods only got a small part of the carcass and the rest went to the assembled company.
    To the earlier suggestion of Catullus for Latin, I might add Plautus. For instance, there’s the very fast dialog where Pseudolus and Calidorus try to insult Ballio with things like like permities adulescentum ‘bane of youth’ and fraus populi ‘fraud of the people’. (The play was adapted as A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.)
    Perseus links on request once they get the disk restored. (I’m doing this the old-fashioned way with a physical dictionary.)
    You’re probably familiar with defixiones, where you’d scratch divine retribution against your enemy in lead and bury it. As marie-lucie points out above, there is a continuum between pure insults and magic-spell kinds of curses. There’s a strange twist to The Oscan Curse of Vibia. Some kid inadvertently memorized it and only recalled it under hypnosis. (Told in a book meant to debunk a popular reincarnation.)

  66. No one seems to have come through for you on Ancient Greek
    Oh, come on, I gave him two lines of the “Frogs” (misspelled, but then…). Not especially scatological or otherwise obscene, but comprehensively insulting.

  67. Oh, come on, I gave him two lines of the “Frogs”
    So you did. I’m terribly sorry. I simply missed them where things veered off course and certainly didn’t mean to dismiss them.

  68. xiaolongnu says

    If anybody is still reading this — I always thought that “san ba” (三八), meaning a ditzy or easy woman, was a reference to International Women’s Day, which is on March 8. Given that, it seems a shame that the meaning of the slang term is so negative. On the other hand, having “participated” in International Women’s Day activities in China before (which involved hair and shopping), I have to say it’s no wonder they’re having trouble being taken seriously.

  69. You didn’t ask for Cantonese, but for my money they have the all time winner “ham ga chang” – no one will write it out for me, so I can’t get any more accurate; but it means “I’ll kill you and your whole family” and it is never used in gest. In fact people just cringe when I even ask about it.
    Mandarin has a pretty good one too, though “Ga ni ma” – “rip [open] your mother”.

  70. Ko ni daa fun awon alakori yi!
    For a long time, I’ve thought Language Hat’s page one of the most intelligent and civilized spaces on the internet. A thousand Yoruba curses on any who dare spoil it.
    Awon oloriburuku; Sango a ba ti won je!

  71. marie-lucie says

    Jim, I don’t know what you mean by “good” – “rip your mother” seems pretty horrible to me, and as for “I’ll kill you …”, in the circumstances you quote this is not a curse, this is a criminal threat – not the same thing at all. A curse is a wish, not a threat (although it can be threatening if you believe in its power) – for instance something like “may your whole family die of … (whatever dire punishment one might think of)” is a curse, not a threat since the curser has no way (except for cursing) of bringing about the consequence. You may be able to laugh off a curse (which calls for someone or something else to punish you), but not a threat which has a credible chance of realization.

  72. David Marjanović says

    Scientifically, Catholic curses […] seem to tend toward blasphemy and the genital, whereas Protestant curse seem to tend toward scatology.

    Naaah. English is toward the genital, German is rather purely scatological (e. g. “fuck off” retranslates via Viennese as “go shitting”), and blasphemy is apparently normal in Italian, but unthinkable in German.

    So Slovenes swear in Serbian: much more satisfying.

    Oh yes. Oooooh yes. Can you imagine how angry my dad can get at the God who created him and thus put him into all that misery?
    However, I’m told Hungarian is the best of all. Unfortunately I have no idea of Hungarian curses. I suppose you should ask Bulbul.

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