Other than eating or drinking, cursing is the most fun thing you can do with your mouth. But why limit yourself to cursing in English when there's a whole world of beautiful curse words out there to use? And while you might imagine most of the f-words in other countries translate to mean some version of "sexual intercourse," you'd be wrong. In fact, when the world stubs its toe, it says the equivalent of the f-word in all manner of funny and beautiful ways.
To help us with this task, we talked to Gabriel Wyner, who's fluent in six languages and wrote a book to teach you how to speak in foreign tongues called Fluent Forever. Come join us on a world tour of the f-bomb, from Turkey to Thailand.
How to read all the f-bombs
Wyner has some important notes about languages before you read through this: "Foreign language pronunciation is super tricky to talk about. Oddly enough, most non-English languages use consonants and vowels that, well, aren’t in English. While we could've given you the “English-y” pronunciation guidelines you’d find in travel guides (French: putain [poo-TAN]), practically speaking, no one is going to understand you if you run around yelling “poo-TAN! poo-TAN!” in France. So... we’re going to be a bit more accurate, by providing recordings, video tutorials, using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), and discussing some of the trickier sounds directly in our notes."
What it means: The phrase is meant to express something like “Oh, God!” but “gevalt” strangely translates to “force” or “violence.”
How to say it: "Yiddish actually has a lot of sounds that are the same in English, so you’re pretty good to go here. There are three slightly tricky spots in the word [gəˈvalt]. First, the [ə] is basically just a unaccented version of our [ɪ] as in 'sit' [sɪt]. Next, the [a] in that same word is a vowel half-way between our [ɑ] as in 'father' [ˈfɑðɚ] and [æ] as in 'cat' [kæt]. Here’s a video tutorial on the German’s [a], which is the same as the one in Yiddish. Last, the [l] is a little different from our 'L,' since it only uses the front of your tongue, rather than the front and back. You can find a quick discussion of that here."
What it means: While the direct translation is “whore,” it’s used as an interjection, just like the American f-word.
How to say it: "Both of the vowels in this word are going to be new to English speakers. The first one, [y], has the tongue position of 'ee' [i] with the rounded lips of 'oo' [u] (watch here for an example). The second, [ɛ̃], takes the tongue position of 'eh' [ɛ], but allows air to come through your nose (watch here for an example)."
What it means: Aloha means hello and goodbye, and joder means “to fuck” as well as “to annoy, anger, piss off, or destroy.” One word says so much.
How to say it: "Lots of new sounds in this one. You’re starting with [x], which is a kind of hissing sound made by pulling the back of your tongue near your soft palate, then going to [o], which is the vowel Americans use at the beginning of a word like 'Oh' [oʊ]. Then comes a familiar 'th' [ð] as in 'thy' [ðaɪ] sound, then [e], which is like our 'eh' [ɛ] with a slightly higher tongue position, and finally, a single roll of an 'R.'" If you want further info, Wyner made some video tutorials about Spanish vowels and consonants.
Hijo de puta
[xo ðe ˈputa]
Spanish (Central America)
What it means: It literally means “son of a bitch,” but it’s used as the f-word.
How to say it: "We’ve actually covered almost all of these sounds already. [x] [o] [ð] and [e] showed up in joder, and the [a] is the same as the one used in Yiddish (oy, gevalt!). [i] is exactly the same as English’s 'E' [i], and [u] is basically the same as our 'oo' [u] as in 'poo' [pu]."
What it means: It literally means “sister fucker.” Damn Hindi, you nasty!
How to say it: "We’ve already covered [o] (in joder), and [ɛ] is the same vowel as the 'E' in English’s 'bet' [bɛt], so we only have a few new symbols left to discuss. First off, that [bʱ]. This one turns out to be one of the trickiest sounds in this article. Hindi has two 'B's: one that’s just like English’s 'B,' [b], and one that’s extra breathy -- it has a lot more air coming through your vocal cords as you say it. To practice this sound, put your hand in front of your mouth, say 'B,' and try to maximize the amount of air you feel hitting your hand. The second half of the word is easier -- it starts with [tʃ], which is basically the same as English’s 'ch' as in 'cheese,' with a bit less air coming through it. And then you have [d̪], which is just like a 'D' in English, except pronounced with your tongue touching your upper teeth."
What it means: Is there a more gross phrase than “your mother’s c*nt”? Nope! And it’s far and away the most popular way to say the f-word in Israel.
How to say it: "Arabic pronunciation can be tricky, but not here. The vowels are [ʊ] (as in 'put' [pʊt]) and [æ] (as in 'cat' [kæt]), and the only tricky thing is that the [s] and the [m] are double consonants, so they’re pronounced a bit longer than you’d pronounce them in English." And because the Internet is a strange and glorious place, Wyner found a video of fruits and veggies saying the phrase.
What it means: It literally means “whore,” but it’s used like the f-word. And as a general filler word in conversation.
How to say it: "The vowel is basically our [æ] as in 'cat' [kæt], but the [lʲ] and [tʲ] are both going to be new for English speakers. You’re going to pronounce those as an 'L' and a 'T' with the middle of your tongue raised up towards your hard palate."
La concha de tu hermana
[la ˈkontʃa ðe tu erˈmana]
What it means: While it directly translates to “your sister’s vagina,” this phrase is commonly used in Argentina to mean “fuck!” -- but not as an insult.
How to say it: You'll find all the important pronunciation info you need in the joder and hijo de puta explanations. Or just hit play and copy how they sound.
What it means: Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans who stub their toe might shout “pussy," but everyone knows they mean the f-word.
How to say it: "The only new sound here is the [ɲ], which is an 'N' pronounced using the middle of your tongue, instead of the tip." If you need more help sounding it out, this YouTube video can assist.
What it means: That’s not a “B” in the word “Scheiße,” it’s the German letter Eszett. And as you might guess, it means “shit,” but is used as the f-word.
How to say it: "Not much new here, pronunciation-wise. [ʃaɪ] is very close to our 'shy' [ʃai], just your tongue doesn’t get quite as high. The [ə] is roughly the same as Yiddish’s [ə] -- a kind of short, unaccented [ɪ] (as in 'sit' [sɪt])."
What it means: Dutch is yet another language that says the word “vagina” when they mean the f-word.
How to say it: "The new sound in this word is the vowel [ʏ], which has the tongue position of [ɪ] as in 'sit' [sɪt], but the lip position of 'oo' [u] as in 'boot' [but]. It’s similar to French’s [y] in 'putain!' [pyˈtɛ̃]." Wyner can take you through those tricky vowels in this video.
Pinyin: tāmāde, IPA: [tʰa1ma1tɤ]
What it means: Saying the phrase “his mother’s” in the US wouldn’t offend anyone, but it might be a different story in Taiwan or China.
How to say it: "Mandarin is a tonal language, so first off, you need to pronounce the three syllables at the right pitches. In this case, we have high-high-neutral. So start high-pitched, stay there, and come down on the last syllable. As for the consonants, the [tʰ] and the [m] are the same as in English, and the [t] is basically halfway between a 'D' and a 'T.' Last, we’ve already covered one of the two vowels we need, [a] in 'oy, gevalt,' but we still need [ɤ]. This one takes the tongue position of [o] (the beginning of 'Oh!' [oʊ]), but instead of having your lips in a tight circle, you’ll relax them."
What it means: It’s said Italians speak with their hands, but when they say the word "cazzo," know that they’re not at their happiest. And also know that they’re saying a word that means penis.
How to say it: "We’ve already covered the [a] in 'oy, gevalt' and the [o] in 'joder.' The only fancy thing you need to do here is the double-length [t], which you’ll get by going really quickly from the [a] to the [t], sitting there, not making any noise for a moment, and then continuing on to the [s]."
What it means: The f-word doesn’t exist in Japanese. To show how pissed off you are, you'll have to say a word that means shit.
How to say it: "This one’s pretty straightforward. You’re basically saying [k], whispering a quick [u], and then saying [so]."
What it means: While it directly translates to “fuck,” it’s not used as a verb. Instead, it’s used in exasperation.
How to say it: "Korean sounds are usually challenging, but these are pretty simple. The first sound, [ɕ͈] is basically a higher-pitched version of English’s 'sh' sound (your tongue gets closer to the roof of your mouth), the [a] is the vowel we talked about in 'oy, gevalt!,' and everything else is pretty straight forward."
What it means: In Brazil or Portugal, you can use foda-se to say the f-word when you’re frustrated, but like in Korean, you can’t use foda-se as a verb.
How to say it: "The first vowel is 'aw' [ɔ] as in 'law' [lɔ], the [ɐ] is almost identical to English’s 'uh,' and the [i] is the same as our 'ee' [i]. It’s the first word in this article where you’d be pretty accurate simply pronouncing the English-y pronunciation, 'FAW-duh-see.'"
What it means: While it literally means “fuck it,” it’s used as an interjection to mean “fuck!" Whatever, it’s all Greek to us.
How to say it: "The main new sound in this word is [ɣ], which is a buzzing sound made with the back of your tongue. The other foreign sounds are [a] (from 'oy, gevalt!') and [o] (from 'joder')."
[jet] (high tone)
What it means: You shouldn’t say words like “yed” in Thailand. It literally means the act of intercourse, but apparently people don’t take kindly to it.
How to say it: "This is pronounced much like we’d do 'yet,' with a tongue position that’s halfway between the [ɛ] in 'yet' [jɛt] and the [i] in 'ye' [ji]."
Gosh dang it!
[ɡɑʃ deɪŋ ɪt]
What it means: When you’re super cheesed off in middle America, you can always shout this. You're asking the Lord to condemn something.
How to say it: Wyner is completely stumped by this one.
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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist, and is cheesed off right now. Follow him to curse words at: @LeeBreslouer.