Cussing, don’t leave home without it.

Most of us who have traveled abroad have usually toted along some sort of guidebook, be it Michelin’s Guide France, Baedeker’s Germany, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They generally include a slew of phrases the authors assume you will find essential: “Do you speak English?” “Have you any ready-made clothes?” “Is the bed well-aired?’ “What time is the next steamer?” Rarely, if ever, do you see supremely useful phrases. “Excuse me. Is this the way to Jim Morrison’s tomb?” And you will never find what you eventually need more than anything else, a good, hearty swear: “This is bullshit!”

Having spent some time in France and Argentina, I managed to pick up a few choice morsels omitted from the venerable guides. Since we are packing lightly for our journey, here are a few words that might come in handy when all else fails.

When in France:
Con is loved by the French (in more ways than one). While it literally, though rarely, translates as “cunt,” depending on how you say it, it can denote playing the fool (jouer au con) to being an “old fart” (vieux con), or just “dude.” Here are some adapted translations, though, for when things go amiss for you. Ne fais pas le con! (Don’t be a dickhead). Je me contrefous de ce que tu penses! (I don’t give a flying fuck what you think!) Quel Conard! and Quel conasse! (respectively, or dis-respectively, masculine and feminine for What a bastard! and What a bitch!). Salope! also works well here either sex.

If someone is bothering you, there is also the ubiquitous Casse-toi! (Fuck off!)” If someone won’t take a hint, there is always, Casse-toi sinon je vais t’empoisonner! (Get the fuck lost or I will poison you!) That sweet little, old postcard lady wants to charge you four times what their worth can be met with, C’est vraiment des conneries! (This is really bullshit!). Finally, for anything you paid too many euros for, but turns out to be just crap, C’est de la merde!

When in Argentina:
The Argentinians have their own way—with everything. If you learned Castilian Spanish in high school, you are in for quite the surprise when you hear the porteños, native speakers, of Buenos Aires. First of all, they pronounce things differently, and they have a colorful way of mixing metaphors and making up their own words. A phrase like Me chupa un huevo literal means something like “an egg sucks me,” but is taken to mean “I don’t give a shit.” Then you have boludo and quilombo. The cabby who just dropped your luggage is a boludo, a dumbass. If you call him that, however, and he drives off with your luggage, you are in quite the quilombo, a fucked-up situation beyond belief.

Here are some phrases to kick around, but don’t be surprised if you get kicked back. Since it is more likely than not that someone will try to cheat you at some point, you can parry with, ¡Me estás cagando! (You’re fucking me over!). Naturally he will reply that he is on the level and considers you like family. Your answer would be, ¡No me bolacees! (Don’t bullshit me!). He insists that you buy something so he can feed his family, and he points to little girl smiling sweetly up at you. But you won’t fall for that old ruse, ¡Ni en pedo! (No friggin’ way!) When you get back to your hotel and realize that the little girl was probably the one who pick-pocketed you, you can always fall back on the venerable ¡Esto es un quilombo! (This is a fucked-up situation beyond belief!).

For some other juicy international morsels, see Nancy Friedman’s recent blog

12 thoughts on “Cussing, don’t leave home without it.

  1. phanmo May 9, 2015 / 5:53 am

    Two languages dear to my heart, as I first learned Spanish from a porteña, and I currently live in France.
    A couple more useful phrases: “Ça me casse les couilles!” – This is a fucking pain in the ass!, ; and “No me importa un pedo” – I don’t give a fuck (In French and Porteño, respectively).

    I find it interesting that both France and Argentina (specifically BsAs) have a very similar slang style: Verlan in France and Lunfardo in Buenos Aires both involve swapping the first and last syllables.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ducon May 9, 2015 / 8:11 am

    Thanks for the post. Just one point to clarify. Se contrefoutre (in je me contrefous de …) isn’t derived from con. It’s contre + foutre. Contre being a kind of super modifier. Je me fous de ce que tu penses / je me contrefous. The second is much stronger.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bindmoggled May 9, 2015 / 9:48 am

    I don’t have any useful language tips or suggestions. I simply enjoyed this post! Great early Saturday morning reading.


  4. opinion8ter May 10, 2015 / 2:51 am

    I’ve always wondered who made these words “swear” words??


  5. Melanie May 10, 2015 / 3:32 am

    I had the good fortune of visiting my brother when he lived in Rome. I learned 3 phrases: “Dove il bano?” (Where is the bathroom?) “Posso avere un altro bicciere du vino rosso?” (May I please have another glass of red wine?” and, my personal favorite, which must never be used within Vatican City, lest one risk arrest and the nightmare sure to follow when not a native: “GLI MORTACCI TUA!” (Roughly trabslated: “F your dead ancestors!”)

    That’s really all you need to get by. Most Romans speak English readonably well and if you act as if you are trying to speak Italian to them they will often accomodate you and speak English back. So keep the GMT phrase for *special* circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Cardinal St Lulio May 10, 2015 / 11:16 am

    A few etymological Argentine clarifications:

    “Me chupa un huevo” literally translates as “it sucks one of my balls”. “Boludo (and in neighboring Chile “huevon”) indeed means “dumbass”, but literally means “full of balls”. “Huevos” and “bolas” are alternate words for “testicles”.

    “Quilombo”, as I was taught, literally means a “whore house”, so saying some situation or thing is a “quilombo” means “it is chaotic beyond repair with everyone getting fucked”.

    Finally, “me estas cagando” literally means “you are shitting me”, as its companion phrase, “no me cagues”, means “don’t shit me”.


    • Rob Chirico May 10, 2015 / 3:19 pm

      I would often say “No me rompas huevos.” But I would add that this figuratively means, “Don’t break balls.” Literally, though, “huevos” means eggs. If you ask for huevos duros, you will not get much of a stare as they bring you hard-boiled eggs. Of course, in Argentina, you might just get the other product as well…


  7. Rob Chirico May 10, 2015 / 1:26 pm

    Cazzo (for cock or dick) is also helpful, “Scusi, sono una testa di cazzo!” (Sorry, I’m a dickhead!)


  8. srbjohnston May 10, 2015 / 3:42 pm

    French has some good minimalist cursing too. ‘Ta mere’, is a useful shorthand insult for invoking sexual inappropriateness towards someone’s mother, ‘Ta guele’ (literally ‘your jaw’) means shut the fuck up. And of course ‘putain’ (literally whore) is a great catch all swearword.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. deuchbagmen101 May 22, 2015 / 6:18 pm



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