Curse words
May 5, 2006 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Are curse words international?

Assuming that words like 'shit' and 'fuck' are universal. Do non-christian nations say 'Jesus Christ' as a swear? If you are a muslim do you take 'Muhammad's' name in vain? If you are Indian do you take 'Budda's' name in vain? What about athiests? Would an athiest say 'Jesus Christ' as a curse?
posted by Kilovolt to Religion & Philosophy (48 answers total)
I know plenty of atheists who use 'Jesus' and 'Christ' as general-purpose swear words. I've never heard anyone use 'Muhammad' or 'Buddha' in a similar way.
posted by nomis at 10:51 PM on May 5, 2006

Some people use "Ya Allah" almost as a swear (like "Oh My God") but it's not ultra common.

Not all Indians are Buddhists and not all Buddhists are Indian.

There are plenty of swear words in other languages too.
posted by divabat at 10:54 PM on May 5, 2006

Curse words are as international as any other words. If a culture gains enough dominance over its contemporaries, phrases from that culture's language get adopted by the less powerful countries.

How do you think we ended eating hors doeuvres, tacos and sushi?

Ciao, you mensch
posted by oddman at 10:59 PM on May 5, 2006

The 'jist' (sic) of my question is thus: If you say 'Christ' as a curse and you don't beleive in Christ, are you still swearing?
posted by Kilovolt at 11:08 PM on May 5, 2006

As an atheist, i say 'Jesus Christ' all the time, i'm sure this is a vestige from my Catholic upbringing though.

A woman i work with who converted to the Muslim faith also uses 'Jesus' with some regularity, though she is Spanish and was also raised Catholic.

So i guess whatever you were taught as a child sticks.

That said, this is my favorite site for non-english obscenities.
posted by quin at 11:16 PM on May 5, 2006

Swear words come from culture, atheists in Christian nations used "Jesus" and "got damnit" as a expression of emphasis because people around them do.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 PM on May 5, 2006

Well, I think if you don't believe in God, you don't ascribe as much meaning to the name as others might, so you're not taking God's name in vain. So, no, you're not technically swearing.

Curious use of the word "sic", by the way. That's Latin for "thus it is written", and in today's parlance basically means, "I know you think that's a typo, but I meant to spell that word that way." Why did you spell gist wrong?
posted by emelenjr at 11:25 PM on May 5, 2006

'God dammit' is pretty universal. As a lot of faiths beleive in a 'god'. Is there a reason that people will use 'Jesus Christ' as a curse specifically?
posted by Kilovolt at 11:26 PM on May 5, 2006

I'm an athiest and I often say "Jesus crunching Christ" or "Creaking Christ!" or "Christing Hell!". If I hit my thumb with a hammer, for example, I might say "Jesus Christ! My Christing thumb! I hit my thumb with the Christing hammer!"

If i don't believe something, I usually call it 'Christballs'
posted by Mrs.Doyle at 11:31 PM on May 5, 2006

KV, did you mean "inter-religious", rather than international?

Using "the Lord's name in vain" is what makes it a "swear word" to Christians. Since they've got that 3rd Commandment, and they've mixed up Jesus and God a little, then inappropriate mention of the teh Jeebus breaks a commandment, and is thus bad.
(Although why there's nothing wrong with kneeling and praying to a big ol' ornate graphically carved crucifix above the altar and thus breaking the 2nd commandment has always confused me personally.)

Most religious people don't like it when you talk shit about their gods, but I don't know if there's doctrine about it as in Christianity.
posted by bartleby at 11:32 PM on May 5, 2006

for emelenjr: I spelled it that way because I meant to say 'gist' but I had a couple of beer(s).
posted by Kilovolt at 11:34 PM on May 5, 2006

for emelenjr: I spelled it that way because I meant to say 'gist' but I had a couple of beer(s).

sorry for the derail, but that doesn't even make any sense...if you caught it in time to add the sic, you could have just as easily changed it.
posted by juv3nal at 11:51 PM on May 5, 2006

Swedish curse words tend to be about the Devil or, more strangely, numbers.
posted by martinrebas at 11:52 PM on May 5, 2006

can you provide an example of these numeric sweedish curse words, martinrebas?
posted by b1tr0t at 11:58 PM on May 5, 2006

/not *enough* beers tonight
posted by b1tr0t at 11:59 PM on May 5, 2006

Well, they're mostly very mild curse words, but "tusan" (from "tusen"), "för sjutton" / "sjutton också", "attans", "sju-" (as in "sjujäkla", "sjutusan"), etc.
posted by martinrebas at 12:06 AM on May 6, 2006

My theory goes like this: 1) Do not take the Lord's name in vain. 2)If you take the Lord's name in vain then that is bad. 3)Jesus Christ is the Lord's name. 4) If you don't beleive that 'Jesus Christ' is the Lord's name then you should get another curse. 5)If you do not beleive that Jesus is god then why use his name as a curse.
posted by Kilovolt at 12:06 AM on May 6, 2006

If you do not beleive that Jesus is god then why use his name as a curse.

Because that's the way people talk where you live? If you don't believe in Thor, why would you call a day Thursday?
posted by martinrebas at 12:11 AM on May 6, 2006

Fair enough. 'Christ' is a swear word because everyone says it. But why don't people say 'fuck budda' as a curse?
posted by Kilovolt at 12:17 AM on May 6, 2006

Languages which are philologically and culturally related will often have similar curses and insults, but languages which are not related and come from unrelated cultures, well, literal translations of curses often sound strange to others in other languages.

I ran into one in Japanese that I thought was ludicrous: "Your mother's belly button sticks out!" It turns out that being an outie is a major source of shame there, and people often have surgery to correct it. So that insult really does sting in Japanese, or so I'm told.

I've read that one of the nastiest things you can say to a Russian is "nyekulturni!" which means "Uncultured!"

Insulting someone or cursing at them in Yiddish is almost a poetic form. (I've read some of them; they can be amazingly elaborate and clever.)

Your question was, "Are curse words international?" Some are, some aren't. Words travel, just like everything else. But traditional curses in different languages aren't the same at all.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:20 AM on May 6, 2006

In Japanese "Shimatta!" is very mild, about like "darn!" or "heck!"; you even hear cute little girls say it. "Kisou!" is stronger. Both words are usually translated as "Damn!" but so far as I can tell neither actually literally refers to damnation as such; it's just that they're used the way we use "damn" as an expression of anger or frustration.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:25 AM on May 6, 2006

Are you trying to say "buddy", "butter" or "Buddha", Kilovolt? Assuming #3, I don't know. By your logic, I can't say that because I'm not a Buddhist. Any Buddhists here want to weigh in on swearing an oath against their deity?

"They should name someone after you!" and other creative curses in Yiddish, from MeFi last year.
posted by emelenjr at 12:29 AM on May 6, 2006

Clarification: Is saying 'Jesus Christ' a universal curse/swear word? If it is, then why? Why are not other deities used as a curse?
posted by Kilovolt at 12:37 AM on May 6, 2006

Swear words like fuck, cunt, shit etc, don't exactly relate to deities (I hope) and they're still swear words. And what about pretend swears, like good lord (apparently okay for Christians to use), and my word. And get this, Australians use bloody as an adjective, but the Brits think it's obscene (according to the media who objected to a tourism campaign).

I am an atheist, and I use a variety of words dependant on the circumstances. I realised it was pretty ridiculous to stick to just one god that I was not a believer of, but trying to indoctrinate myself so that I used Freya or Quetzacoatl in the heat of the moment was quite difficult, rather pointless and made me sound pretentious.

Anyway, in this house, we use fuck mostly.
posted by b33j at 1:02 AM on May 6, 2006

If these words were referred to as expletives rather than curse words, we could bypass this issue of religion - because whether or not someone believes in JC, or god, when they're used as exclamations they have about as much meaning as 'Moof!'.

I don't see anything particularly odd about an aetheist saying one personally-meaningless word inherited from the culture they derive from, such as 'god' or 'jesus', as opposed to some other meaningless word, like saying 'shit' when you stub your toe, because stubbing my toe has as much to do with taking a shit as it does with the son of god.
posted by unmake at 1:23 AM on May 6, 2006

I don't know about international curses, but as an atheist, I too say "jesus christ." My dad always told me it was rude, but that never really put me off. I try to mix it up, though, usually by compounding curses as in "christfuck" or "cockshit."
posted by beerbajay at 1:49 AM on May 6, 2006

As a bloody Brit I don't bloody think that bloody is a bloody indecent word. Bloody can be used in a bloody many bloody ways. It is one of the bloody-most mildest bloody curse words.

Technically I bloody think it bloody refers to the "blood of Christ" and is yet again another bloody Christian swear word. As a bloody Atheist I really bloody appreciate bloody Christianity for bloody giving us all these bloody great swear words!
posted by schwa at 4:50 AM on May 6, 2006

This is an interesting question, but flawed in that the poster is assuming that what "makes" a curse word is that it takes the Lord's name in vain. That is one partial explanation for a limited set of curse words, but not the only explanation nor the only source.

So, yes, an atheist can say, "Jesus CHRIST" and mean it as a curse word even though he doesn't believe in god. Likewise, just because "fuck" doesn't have anything to do with god, it's still a curse word.

In Quebec, the curse words come from the church but "crisse" - the modified form of "Christ" used as a swear word - is one of the most gentle of all of them. "Tabarnac" is much harder, which is derived directly from the word for Tabernacle. Likewise, in french we use, "hostie" (or 'stsie') as an important exclamation point within an extended curse, which literally refers to the host (aka 'body of christ' in communion).
posted by mikel at 5:00 AM on May 6, 2006

Not sure if this is a derail...

There are a lot of things you can say in curse-word form.

Many would agree that when you start bandying deities' names around, you've crossed the line.

Why is there the perception that the "worst thing you can say" involves the name of a God-type entity? It would seem that one's mother is the next rung down on the ladder, followed by one's sister, then one's country.

Just wondering.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:51 AM on May 6, 2006

I know a native Lebanese who uses a variety of interesting swear words both in his mother tongue and English. Although the Arabic swears tend to be a bit more graphical "Your mother is sitting on the side of the road with her legs spread wide open", he does tend to say "God Bless It" a lot. I'm pretty sure this is the equivalent of "God Damn It" in Arabic but I'm not sure.
posted by onalark at 5:58 AM on May 6, 2006

hmm puting all muslims in the same basket is a little naif, muslim form Morocco have very very little in common with a muslim in Indonesia.

In Morocco we use to shout "Allhou Akbar" as you may shout "Jesus" or we can also say "God protect me from satan : Aoudou bilah mina ahaitan arrajeem" or sometimes "Arrassoul Allah" which means "Oh Prophet of God" and all those are for polite people, other less polite curses do not have Allah or his Prophet in them, as "Laklaoui" (Balls), "Zabi" (My Dick) and a lot of this kind of nice talking
posted by zouhair at 5:59 AM on May 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

I would think that "curses" would derive from "placing a curse on someone," and "swearing" would be "swearing an oath."

So "(local diety)" would be swearing, because you're pledging an oath before (local diety). What exactly the oath is, or what the oath customarily was, I couldn't tell you. I think the other religious terms fit in here, such as French's' "taber--!", an Arabic "Ay al-Ah!" or an American "Jeebus!"

The curses would be wishing ill upon the intended target, such as "go to hell!", "damn it all!" or "go fuck yourself!". These have been shortened to "hell!" "damn!" and "fuck!" I guess that the Sweedish use numbers now because they once had curses such as "may your mother be trampled by eighteen elks!"

I don't think that there is a collection of sounds that is a universal swear-word or cuss-word. The swears wouldn't translate across cultural barriers ("what do I care if you make a promise to your weird god?"), but if you translated cuss-words, I'm sure that the word "damn," expanded to it's original curse of "may you spend your afterlife in a prison of torture and misery" and translated into the local language, it would be accepted as intended.

If you really need to make someone uncomfortable, I find physical assault works across all language and cultural barriers.
posted by Mozai at 6:12 AM on May 6, 2006

I notice in US movies where people will say "Jesus Christ" as an exclamation [a swear or curse word, what is this second grade?] it will be translated into something an exclamation a little less to do with JC. Carlos Mencia can say pendejo in his act in the US and not get bleeped but the same word will get bleeps in Mexico. In Mexico "coger" is a vulgar term meaning "to fuck" but in other Spanish speaking countries it means merely "to take".

I am an atheist and "take the lord's name in vain" all the time. When I say goddamn I'm not actually requesting that a god damn someone or something to hell. I see it more as using the words available in my language to get a point across and nothing to do with the word's beginnings.

When I call someone a motherfucking son of a bitch, I'm not actually saying this person's mother is a dog who he happens to be having sex with.

Some profanity comes from religious roots but are no longer purview of the church. Given the recent furor over the cartoons depicting Mohammed, I doubt it would be acceptable to use his name as a cuss word. I'm sure it is used as much as saying "Jesus Christ" or "Oh my God" as an exclamation of disbelief or wonder of something. "Oh my God Becky, look at her butt" is not religious at all. The girl is not commanding a god to force her friend Becky to look at another woman's butt.

Profanity is just silly. You can't say "fucking" but "effing" or "freaking" or "flipping" is OK although these permutations are connoting the same feeling. For this I blame the fucking FCC.

[Also, I read before that the whole "using the Lord's name in vain" concept was not about actually using the name in exclamation, but rather doing something in the name of a god that goes against said god's teachings -- like killing Muslims in the name of Jesus [or vice versa]].
posted by birdherder at 6:24 AM on May 6, 2006

Just about every student in China can say Oh! My god! in English. They use it like native speakers for the most part. Except the part where they say it all the time.

In Sichuan, where I live, 二百五, or er bai wu which literally means 250 is used to say stupid. Sometimes my students will jokingly call friends 250.
posted by geekyguy at 6:32 AM on May 6, 2006

"Your mother's belly button sticks out!" It turns out that being an outie is a major source of shame there, and people often have surgery to correct it. So that insult really does sting in Japanese, or so I'm told.

Not true. Misinformation. It's just a bit of fun not "a major source of shame".

And the Japanese say "kuso" not "kisou" and it means quite simply "shit".
posted by dydecker at 6:47 AM on May 6, 2006

Can someone confirm/disprove this: 'I heard that in parts of China, the ultimate insult is to tell someone "I'm your father", which of course implies "I fucked your mother"'.
posted by martinrebas at 8:57 AM on May 6, 2006

There are different kinds of cussing: profanities (based on something profane, e.g. dammit or tabernac) and obscenities (based on something non-religious considered obscene, e.g. fuck or shit).

I don't agree that an atheist should not use a profanity, but should limit themselves to obscenities, while Christians should feel free to abuse the name of their Lord all they want - people hardly ever mean these things literally or think deeply about their etymological origins. You use curse words that you're used to, or which amuse you, or which are satisfying to say. It's much more to do with the feeling behind the word than anything else.

I would be surprised if "Jesus Christ" is a universal swear word, since I see no reason why this would be widespread in non-Christian countries.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:12 AM on May 6, 2006

one purpose of swearing is to signify in-group out-group status. We swear when we're with friends but not with bosses, etc. Many languages signify these social groups in other ways, e.g Japanese has politeness levels noted by verb endings.
posted by dydecker at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2006

"Why are not other deities used as a curse?"

At least some are. "By Jove" (where Jove is the Roman god Jupiter) has been a mild oath in English since Shakespeare's time.

"Is saying 'Jesus Christ' a universal curse/swear word?"

No. It's not a curse word in Japanese, for example. (And if it were, it would be イエス・キリスト or "Iesu Kirisuto.") Wikipedia has a section on profanity across languages.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2006

In Japanese, cursing exists, as do vulgar words, but about 70% of how you "insult" someone is how you talk to them. In any non-casual situation, lowering your conjugation to casual is almost automatically making it adversarial.

When you're already speaking casually, you start changing personal pronouns, and then you can start peppering in the vulgar words.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2006

> Assuming that words like 'shit' and 'fuck' are universal.

Not as expletives. In Polish you say "kurwa!" ("whore!") where in English you typically would say "fuck!" or "fucking!" Similarly, in Polish you say "cholera!" (yes, the name of the disease) where in English you typically would say "crap!" or "shit!" There are of course Polish slang words for "fuck" (as in sexual intercourse) and "shit" (as in feces), but they don't function like the expletives "fuck" and "shit" work in English.

And atheists curse like anyone else in their culture because they choose (automatically, subconsciously, through a lifetime of acculturation) words that have an effect on others, to communicate their shock/disgust/anger/emphasis to the world at large using the commonly agreed shocker words. It is commonly agreed that "cunt," for example, is a toe-curler of a word in English, so even people who know better (for instance, people who have the fine and wholesome body parts referred to by the word in its literal meaning) use "cunt" when they want to curl toes. Your choice of swear words is determined by your culture (what everyone around you believes by and large) much more than by your personal belief in a certain god or your personal attitude towards reproductive organs.
posted by pracowity at 2:31 PM on May 6, 2006

Can someone confirm/disprove this: 'I heard that in parts of China, the ultimate insult is to tell someone "I'm your father", which of course implies "I fucked your mother"'.
posted by martinrebas at 8:57 AM PST on May 6 [!]

If this is true, I wonder what Chinese audiences thought of the line, "Luke, I am your father"...
posted by Marla Singer at 3:03 PM on May 6, 2006

Can someone confirm/disprove this: 'I heard that in parts of China, the ultimate insult is to tell someone "I'm your father", which of course implies "I fucked your mother"'.

It may be regional, but the mandarin speaker I just asked said that cao ni ma indicates that you plan on fscking the recipient's mother, not that you already have.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:43 PM on May 6, 2006

Strange; I just read this on LiveJournal: 'One of my Spanish profs said that when he was growing up "Soy tu padre" (I'm your dad) was a popular insult the little schoolboys would yell at one another. He grew up in southern New Mexico actually'.

So apparently "I'm your father" used to be a common insult in parts of the U.S., too.

posted by martinrebas at 7:09 PM on May 6, 2006

While riding the bus in Albuquerque years ago, I remember hearing Latino men talk in Spanish, but curse in English. Anglo-Saxon words apparently were much more satisfying.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:03 AM on May 7, 2006

schwa: Technically I bloody think it bloody refers to the "blood of Christ"

There is also a theory that it derives from a contraction of the phrase "by our Lady". It's a bloody interesting question.
posted by nomis at 12:13 AM on May 8, 2006

I speak English and tend to use "bugger" as my swear word of choice, just because the sheer sound of rolling g's makes it sound great. Then I discovered Welsh, and now use "arglwydd mawr" as my swear word of choice for the exact same reason. Although, ironically, it roughly means Jesus Christ or whatever...

So it's not necessarily the social meaning of the word, rather the linguistics of it. Fuck and cunt would be swear words regardless of their dictionary definitions.

There's a great article on this from (who else?) the BBC.
posted by badlydubbedboy at 3:57 AM on May 8, 2006

Can someone confirm/disprove this: 'I heard that in parts of China, the ultimate insult is to tell someone "I'm your father", which of course implies "I fucked your mother"'
Confirmed. My senior middle school students indicated that it is a bad thing to say.
posted by geekyguy at 6:41 PM on May 8, 2006

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