A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do other languages have obscenities like those of English?

May 3, 1991

Dear Cecil:

Do other languages have vulgarities and obscenities that are used in conversation as they are in English? My husband worked in his youth with Italian-speaking laborers and says the worst he ever heard them say in Italian was "fangooloo." (He says that, contrary to popular impression, this means only "make a tail," in other words, "show me your back," or "go away."

I'm sure we've all heard of "merde," but do people speaking other languages ever say anything stronger? If so, what? In particular, does the now-common "F-word" have a counterpart in other languages?

Cecil replies:

Honestly, Sally, were you raised in a convent? English obscenities are a pale shadow of the invective used in other languages. The F-word is the least of it. If there's a language that doesn't have an equivalent, I've yet to hear about it. Poles have pierdolic, the French foutre (from the Latin futuere), Soviet Georgians secems … you get the idea.

As for fangooloo (in my neighborhood we pronounced it fongool), I'm afraid you've heard the expurgated translation. According to Kevin Beary's Florentine Locutions (1991), it's properly spelled vaffanculo, a contraction of va a fare in culo, and literally means "go do [it] in the ass," i.e., bugger off, fuck off, fuck you. "Some Italians affirm that the ass referred to is that of one's interlocutor, while others assert that the orifice in question is not yours or mine or anyone's in particular, but rather the universal anus," Beary says.

Vaffanculo is merely the best known of a rich tradition of Italian oaths and imprecations, although the consensus is that Spanish is the champ in this department. Herewith a few of the more printable international classics, culled from the pages of Reinhold Aman's Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression:

Mecagum les cinc llagues de Crist, "I shit on the five wounds of Christ," Catalan. Even more bloodcurdling is Mecagum Deu, en la creu, en el fuster que la feu i en el fill de puta que va plantar el pi, "I shit on God, on the cross, on the carpenter who made it and on the son of a whore who planted the pine."

Matumbo yangu huzaa maradhi, "My womb has born a disease," Swahili. Said by a mother to a disobedient child.

La reputisima madre que te recontra mil pario, "The twice most whorish mother that bore you again and again one thousand times," Spanish (Argentina).

Krijg de mazelen, "May you get the measles," Dutch.

Mabial agpi-agpi ke mabial nganswang, "[You have] very short breasts like the breasts of a porcupine," Dinga (spoken in Zaire). Or: Dem inear-inear, "[You have a] greatly lined and wrinkled belly."

Melewe silom we ie maragus, "Your mother has yaws," Ulithian (Ulithi is a coral atoll in the Pacific.) Also: Falfulul silom, "Your mother's pubic tattooing!"

Bi damaghi babat rydam, "I shit on your father's nose," Farsi (Iran). Also: Guz bi rishit, "May a fart be on your beard."

English isn't totally lacking in creative vulgarity. Sanford Margalith, writing in Maledicta 10, fondly recalls the Southerners in his World War Two artillery battalion who said things like, "I wouldn't piss on his ass if his piles were on fire." Non-insults were pretty snappy too: after a rough night on the town one soldier said he felt like he had been "shot at and missed and shit at and hit." Clearly we don't lack potential, just ambition.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Recent Additions:

A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Staff Report by SDStaff Jillgat, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Staff Report by Guest contributor Matt Craver
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Staff Report by SDStaff Div, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Staff Report by SDStaff Gfactor, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
A Straight Dope Staff Report by SDStaff Songbird
A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
A Straight Dope Staff Report by SDStaff Ian, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope! Your direct line to thou- sands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope? Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright © 2017 Sun-Times Media, LLC.