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Only Joe King

A light-hearted look at life in Andalucía and Spain in general. Its good points and its bad. This blog doesn't pull any punches.

Communion wafer, billy goat and other rude words – how to swear successfully in Spanish
Thursday, August 26, 2021 @ 3:36 AM

Forget swearing like a trooper, the real phrase should be swearing like a Spaniard. Everyone in Spain, from sweet little kids to frail old ladies, peppers their everyday conversation with enough swear words to make a sailor blush. Here’s an analysis from Joe King.

In Spain, unlike in many other countries, references to toilet habits, male and female genitalia and other taboo subjects pop up in general conversations all the time, without anyone giving it a second thought.

Swearing in Spain is as common as it is ludicrous, so if you wish to embrace the ever-present potty language or simply want to understand what your Spanish friends are trying to say, read on!

Swear words in different cultures and/or language groups make a fascinating study in themselves. For the Germans it’s all about the back passage, viz. Scheisse, Leck mich am Arsch, Arschloch, Du kannst mich mal ….. Connotations perhaps of homosexuality?

The British, on the other hand, are more focused on the sexual act and the sexual organs, with cunt, twat, prick, dickhead, knobhead and the insults fucker, motherfucker, wanker and tosser. The Americans like cocksucker, sonofabitch and suck my dick.

In Castilian Spanish - castellano, the language the andaluces don’t seem capable of speaking - the worst (best?) swear words all have to do with religion and blasphemy, ranging from communion wafer to shitting in the milk of the Virgin Mary to insulting some other Virgin, plus some that sound ridiculous to our ears, like billy goat.

There are so many different ways to swear in Spain, it’s hard to remember them all! Cursing is an integral part of the language, so it has become less taboo than in English. You hear it much more often and much more frequently than in the USA or England, say. No one can ever argue that Spanish isn’t a colourful language.

And let’s be honest here, what’s one of the first things you do when you start studying a new language? You look up the bad words (palabrotas)! As a starter, here are some of my favourites.

1. Me cago en la puta madre

This one takes the biscuit for one of the most hilarious and frightfully offensive swear words I have heard in Spain. Literally, it means “I shit on your whore of a mother,” I’d avoid using this, if I were you. You should use this phrase selectively and with caution. Remember, madres are sacred in Spain.

In fact, the “me cago en…” is one of the most common curse phrases you’ll hear in Spain. Whether you hear me cago en Dios “I shit on God”- that’s really bad - or me cago en la leche, literally “I shit in the milk (of the Virgin Mary)” but used more like “holy shit!”, there is no shortage of possibilities to be had with this one. Try me cago en todos los santos or me cago en la Virgen del Pilar. Just remember if you want to insult anyone or anything in Spain, mention the mums or anything related to the Catholic Church and you’re good to go!

Interestingly, if you describe something as “la puta madre”, it means it’s bloody amazing!

2. Joder

Joder is about as common in Spanish as “ok” is in English. You hear it all the time. Loosely translated as “fuck,” it is nowhere near as strong. To soften it, many younger people say jooo-er and do not pronounce the “d”. That of course doesn’t stop the adults. I knew a Spanish teacher who loved to scream “Joooooder, ¿por qué no te callas?” (Fucking hell, why don’t you just shut up?) at the students in class. It was hilarious, apparently, and a little bit frightening, but that’s the Spanish public education system for you.

3. Gilipollas

Gilipollas is the equivalent of our “tosser” or “wanker”. The phrase no seas gilipollas is more or less the same as “Don’t be a twat!”

4. La hostia

La hostia means “the host,” ie the communion wafer. Spain being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, one of the worst and most common ways to curse is to somehow incorporate the holy mother church. Hostia or hostias can mean many different things, like “shit” or “holy shit” usually an exclamation all on its own, like something you can’t believe. Eres la hostia means “you’re the bee’s knees,” in a good way or hostia puta “holy fuck.” Don’t forget you can always say, me cago en la hostia, “I shit on the host.” Yikes, that’s blasphemous, so maybe not!

Walking along in San Sebastián some years ago with my rather hefty Irish girlfriend of the time, a guy coming towards us said to his mate “Qué gorda, la hostia”, “Fuck me, what a fatso”. Before I could work out what they’d said and react accordingly, they’d disappeared up a side street.

5. Que te folle un pez

This one is one of my favourites and one I have personally never said because I am terrified of using it wrongly. I think it sounds just plain ridiculous coming from a “guiri”. Que te folle un pez basically means “I hope you get fucked by a fish.” See what I mean when I say Spanish is colourful? How do you even come close to insulting like that in English?! How do you even begin to compare “screw you” or “fuck you” to that?

6. Cojones

In Spanish they say “cojones sirven para todo,” and it’s true. Cojones is without a doubt the most versatile of all the Spanish curse words on this list; you can use it for just about anything. Normally, it means “balls,” ie testicles. “You’ve got balls (as in courage)”- tienes cojones. “That bothers me” – me toca los cojones and my personal favourite, estoy hasta los cojones – “I can’t take it anymore, I’m up to my (eye) balls.”

7. Cabrón

For me cabrón has always meant “bastard,” or “cunt”. It’s a pretty bad word. Literally meaning “male or billy goat,” I most frequently hear it as qué cabrón or qué cabrones in plural. Use it for people who are evil, people who are assholes and deserve a good punch in the mouth. According to the Urban Dictionary, “A good definition that would apply to all Spanish speaking countries would be asshole-fucker-bitch.” Can’t top that even if I tried.

8. Que te den (por culo) 

This one is sort of like “up yours.” Seriously, does anyone even say that anymore? Anyway, culo means “ass” so I think you can probably figure out what the rest of it means on your own. You can say just que te den or que te den por culo, both meaning “fuck you.”

9. Coño

Coño, literally “cunt”, is the most inoffensive word you can imagine in Spanish. Used by frail old ladies, as well as priests, it’s just a filler word. It can mean “mate” in that annoying way Liverpudlians use it, yet it’s often thrown into a sentence as a sign of frustration. It is never an insult! For that, you need to use cabrón (see above).

10. Pollas en vinagre

I’m going to end with my all-time favourite swear word in Spanish. Readers, I present to you pollas en vinagre “dicks in vinegar!” Use it how you best see fit, for its exact meaning still eludes me! On second thoughts, maybe don’t use it –just in case!


About Joe King

Joe, not his real name, is a bit of an enigma. He has lived in the Serranía de Ronda for many years, but prefers to fly under the radar. He doesn’t take life too seriously, except in the case of Covid-19, but even there he can see the funny side. Hence his pseudonym and lack of photo.

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