Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hilarious Swearing in Spanish

Warning. While this post is not intentionally intended to offend, it does include swear words in both Spanish and English and my candid analysis of the two after living in Barcelona for over ten years. In which case and if you are easily offended, tough shit, you've been warned.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Barcelona and started to understand and learn the Spanish language and culture (and I can now be confident in saying it's the same for Catalan) was the prominence of swearing in everyday life. Speaking the English language, and especially being an English teacher when I first arrived here, I had sub-consciously (as I'm sure many of you will have) established some kind of hierarchy or set of levels as to the severity or intention of a particular word.

I'm guessing that your personal list will have a lot to do with upbringing, age, sex, an infinite list of possible influences, but at the end of the day, we'd probably all pretty much end up with a similar list. Starting with the most severe, and working down:

Fuck off/Fuck you
Fuck/Fucking Hell

Regional variations within the English language can then be slotted into the above list, including:

Son of a bitch (something I never say, but is heavily used in the US, for example)
Wanker (a personal favourite of mine)
Motherfucker (will always be associated with Samuel L Jackson's character in Pulp Fiction?!)

So, now we've established the list, in order of severity and intent, let me give you an example.

My Nana, for example, (that's my grandmother, just in case) is rarely heard to utter a swear word. This doesn't mean she can't tolerate the words and would be the first to admit that certain situations can merit a swear word - dramatic scenes on television, making characters credible on stage or screen, and particularly desperate situations in life.

She would never be heard to utter the F word. And let me make what I think would be a pretty bold but definitely true statement - the majority of women NEVER utter the word "cunt" - in fact, it's usually referred to as "the C-word" taking its place right alongside "the F-word". Am I right? If you think I'm way off the mark here, please let me know in the comments (obviously if you're a porn star, I can make exceptions here).

So it may come as a surprise that in Spanish conversation, the C-Word is used as an everyday conversation filler, by almost every age group and with a complete disregard as to the people around you that you might offend. It rolls off the tongue so easily, and is perfectly appropriate in the middle of a crowded restaurant/bank/funeral parlour/the list goes on. Typical example.

Conversation between two friends (any age):

A. Did you bring that CD to listen to in the car, by the way?
B. Ah, cunt, I left it on top of the telly.

In English that sounds quite important and likely an inappropriate use for the word, right, but that's perfectly fine here. "Coño" is also almost always used in place of Fuck in English when you say "What the fuck...?".

Literal translations of words from English to Spanish don't always translate in terms of the strength associated with the word either;

shit = mierda.
fuck = follar (the act) joder (expressing surprise/annoyance, etc.)

That's about where the comparisons end. I have had the conversation with many people over the years: What is the worst swear word/insult in Spanish? Friends, students, random people in a bar, etc. have all contributed to my childish curiosity and pretty much agreed over the years that "hijo de puta" is probably the worst tirade of words you could bestow on someone. So, just in case you missed that, it's "son of a bitch/whore" - pretty lame right, even if you do spit the words out?

From here, I'm afraid the translation of the words become fairly comic for me. We have variations of:

Me cago en la puta - I shit in the bitch
Me cago en Dios - I shit in God
Me cago en la leche - I shit in the milk
Me cago en tu madre, etc. - I shit in your mother, etc.

Now, although they all conjure up very visually unappealing images in my mind, they're hardly the first thing that would come to my mind in a situation of desperation and annoyance. I remember actually laughing out loud one time, when waiting for someone in the street. A man was talking fairly loudly in his telephone by the side of the road in the city centre and holding a brightly coloured triangle of paper in his hand. At one point he pulled the phone away from his ear and shouted as if into a microphone "DONDE ESTA MI COCHE, LECHES!". Now, you must understand my complete bemusement at the time, with the pure intent and blood-boiling rage running through this man's body at the time (I was unaware of the abbreviation or even the full version) and the best he could come up with was "WHERE IS MY CAR, MILK".

Funny Poster - BarcelonaSights Blog

According to certain sources, French is the best language to swear in as it's like wiping your arse with silk but I fully agree with one of the wisest men on the planet when he says there just is no replacement for the word Fuck sometimes, what do you think?

But going back to the original point, there appears to be no line to be crossed when swearing in Spanish, no words that can't be spoken by a certain gender/group/age. It's part of everyday conversation (people regularly swear on TV during the day here and it's never highlighted or drawn to anyone's attention, and I doubt the broadcasters receive any complaints). Which for me must be a little frustrating, right? So what about those occasions where you're REALLY annoyed? Here's a shout out to all of you bi-lingual Spanglish people out there (or not). Do you swear in your own language or in Spanish? or your adopted language? Which do you prefer? I'd guess everyone swears in their own language cos it comes so much from within, right? Let me know your thoughts.

If you're coming to Barcelona soon, try apartments for rent instead of a hotel. And for a quick look at the best sights, see this Barcelona guide.


kate said...

Just reading your blog and enjoying it but especialyl this post which really made me laugh. I like 'cara culo' which my partners son called him and he was furious! I asked for a translation which seems to be 'face bottom' which made me laugh and him angrier still.

best wishes


David Brydon said...

Hahaha!! Thanks Kate for commenting. See, there's loads I've forgotten! Cara de Culo is a great one, and I first learned that one with a less-than-friendly bank teller one time. When we left the bank, I said to my wife something along the lines of "she wasn't very happy, was she?" to which she replied "cara de culo" !!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I accidently find your blog and im glad! im planning to move barcelona next spring or after summer, depends am i going to new york for a month(mas o menos) but anyway i've found lots of usual info! I came from barna 4 weeks ago(feel likes one & half) and when im moving there im probably staying more than just a year or two, so your sites will be very helpful for me:) gracias! and in my country (Finland) we swear a lot but we don't call each others putas or guarras like my age girls does in spain, and I has to say that i hate it ! im not really use to it(yet), when my good friends are calling me a puta and when I say ''im not puta'' they're like ''yes you are'' im like ok... but it makes sense that they are like that, their language is very dirty!

David Brydon said...

Thanks for the comment! I'm pleased you found some interesting things and that you also agree with me about some of the swearing! That's great to know about Finland as well, so good luck for the NY trip and get in touch if you need any help when you're coming back!

Hasta luego!

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