Totally separate point: Did you know Ani DiFranco is Italian for “Frank’s anus”?
Say tso, like General Tso, but a little crisper on the “T,” like halfway to “ch.” Good, you just said “fuck” in Chinese. Now try tso ni. That’s “fuck you.” And finally, give me a tso ni ma. Very nice. NEVER say that with a Chinese person within earshot. It’s the Mandarin equivalent of saying, “Fuck your mom.”
Mainland Chinese culture is about as coarse as contemporary civilization gets. Be it the back-to-back-to-back trauma of the civil wars, the Japanese occupation, the Communist Revolution, and Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or just an inherent consequence of thrusting a billion people from farming to superpowerdom in less than half a century, even the most sophisticated urban dwellers of the freeishwheeling New China have some pretty rough edges.
If you keep your ears open at fancy government functions, you’ll hear the word shah-bih (“stupid cunt”) continuously muttered by everyone, from party ministers to the janitor.
Likewise, if you go to a punk rock show, prepare to have NU-BIH! shouted at you from all angles. In practice, it’s the equivalent of yelling “Fuck yeah!” But if you punch it into Google Translate, you get “cow vagina.” How agrarian is that?
God love a society where you can pick a fight by calling someone a shoe. “Hey! You’re a shoe!” BLAM. Seriously, though, don’t go calling folks “shoes” in the Middle East. Nor dogs, donkeys, or sons of these animals. They’ve already got enough on their regional plate without having to deal with your sass-mouth. That said, if somebody’s giving you a hard time, and you happen to be in the Fertile Crescent, a brisk, exasperated بعبوس (pronounced “baaboos”) should make your feelings about the situation pretty plain. Its literal meaning strays a bit from conventional notions of fucking, and is a lot closer to “get your finger out of my asshole,” but it nicely nails the spirit of being fucked with.
Cursing in Russian could be its own article. Hell, its own book. Hell, it is a book. Punk ethnographer Alexei Plutser-Sarno, part of the same Moscow art collective that gave us Pussy Riot, has been assembling a multivolume dictionary of mat for the past 15 years. Mat — pronounced “maht” — is Russian for “obscene language.” It derives from the Russian word for “mother,” as in “Go fuck your mother.” Real nice, Russia.
This mother tongue is so extensive, the first volume of Plutser-Sarno’s dictionary runs over a thousand entries and consists solely of expressions using the Russian word for “cock,” хуй (pronounced “kwee”). So far he’s published three volumes of a projected 12: volume two’s all “pussy” (пиздá /“pizda”), while three is for “fuck” (ебáTь /“yebát”). He’s currently working on the next two volumes: four will continue his “fuck” work, while five focuses on “fucked.”
That’s right. The Russian f-word needs an entire dictionary for a single participle. Bear this in mind before you set out to get your ass kicked in the Russian Federation. If you think you’re getting under someone’s skin by calling their mom a сук /“suk” (“bitch”) or a блядь /“blyad” (“whore”), you need to know you’re in a whole separate league from people who regularly drop the word сукблядь /“sukblyad” (“bitchwhore”) in casual conversation and who are so far past telling you to go “fuck your mom” that they now just say, “Go to your fucked mother” (иди к ебаный мать /“idi ka’ebenyi mat”). Besides, блядь /“blyad” has become so commonplace in Russian speech, it’s turned into a conversational hesitation tool like “um” or “uh,” or a Canadian’s use of “fuck.”
Muscovites and their fellow Russians will probably just assume you have a very slow stammer.
EVERY OTHER LANGUAGE
Here’s the thing. No matter where you are on this great planet, if you really want to say the word “fuck” and have locals instantly understand you, just say “fuck.” No translation needed. Hip-hop, Hollywood movies, and the internet have done the heavy lifting for you. For all the lame aspects that have followed globalization and Western cultural hegemony (example: Bangkok is home to the world’s second-largest Starbucks), it’s helpful to remember that at no other point in human history has it been as easy for an American to be an asshole wherever he or she wants.
Thomas Morton is a writer, documentary-maker, and the creator of the TV series “Balls Deep.” He has learned to swear in the vernacular of 42 different countries, although a lot of them tend to run together.