Earlier today, I was talking about swearing in other languages with some friends (this is a serious question, bear with me), so I decided to look up some lists of Spanish swear words for fun. This initially went over my head, but I noticed that the swear words in Spanish translated to swear words in English. For example, fuck in English translates to Joder in Spanish and shit in English translates to Puta Madre in Spanish, and both Joder and Mierda are commonly used swear words from what I've seen in Spanish YouTube and Twitch streams. I genuinely want to know why both English and Spanish swear words mean the same thing. For example, why isn't "Padre Defacador" (Father Shitter) a common swear word instead of Puta Madre? Do other languages have swear words meaning the same thing as in English? Is this just as simple as "poop" is a funny and/or offensive word so the language has a swear word for it? This is a legitimate question I am curious about, so thanks if you can help!

  • 1
    You might look at linguistlist.org/issues/6/6-1046.html#2. Edgar Gregersen had a project on insults and curses that addressed these kinds of questions across languages. I don't know if his results were published. – user6726 Oct 9 at 0:34
  • Keep in mind that European languages are cousins, and moreover there's been a lot of linguistic and cultural exchange within Europe. New words, idioms and linguistic fads cross between them all the time. English and Spanish share a lot of stuff! You should expect to find equivalences very often! If you want to check whether some trend in swear words is universal or a widespread human tendency, you should compare it with some completely unrelated languages, like Chinese, Navajo or Berber etc. – melboiko Oct 9 at 5:35
  • Huh, thanks, I'll take a look at them! – Jodast Oct 9 at 15:45
  • Well, for one thing, it is physically possible to fuck one's mother (and it doesn't take much imagination to see why it's such a gross insult), but how does one shit one's father - what does that even mean? – jick Oct 9 at 17:48
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Puta Madre is more like shitty whore, doesn't it? Maybe motherfucker is analogous, though, if madre is an allusion to matre. Swear words are taboo and thus are hard to grasp in historic linguistics because of a lack of records. Nevertheless its cultural and associated with practices that are likewise taboo. So it is a question best left unanswered. There are other layer of insults, not related to human orifices or misdeeds. Such about animals (donkey, dog), basic religion (devil, demon, heretic, disbeliever), social status or bodily ability exist as well in Arabic for example. Idiomatic colocations from attributes would tend to be stable but the roots are hard to trace if a blunt curse has to be painfully obvious to be effective, and could be derived independently from a common theme. Whereas underhanded insults require creativity to skirt the taboo. They could be memorilized in poetry and jokes with a long beard, translated and reinterpreted repeatedly. Alas I have no specific example in mind. You can find terms of degredation in Egyptian for example the formulaic dirt under the pharao feet.

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