Swearing And Cursing In Chinese And Cantonese: The Profanities We Say, And Why

Swearing in Chinese culture is always a colourful affair. Some vulgar, curse words in both Chinese language and Cantonese dialect get straight to the point, while others are more subtle and rather hilarious.

When I was growing up, my parents threatened to slap my palm with a ruler if they heard me uttering a profanity in English (my first language), Chinese or Cantonese. Being the timid kid that I was, I never did. The years went by and today this is no longer true: I’m not anti-swearing and admittedly curse every now and then.

Some of us might find swearing and everything vulgar intimidating, and curse words make us feel small| Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up.

Some of us might find swearing and everything vulgar intimidating, and curse words make us feel small| Weekly Photo Challenge: Look Up.

Swear words are said for certain reasons in certain situations at certain times. Quite a few of them in Chinese and Cantonese may seem confusing at first but breaking them down word by word, they translate into nothing really complicated and the meaning behind them is simple.

Just like swear words in Western culture, swear words in Chinese and Cantonese are often linked to the notion of family and point towards private parts. In both cultures, these phrases are usually used to express displeasure at things not going the way we want. The f-bomb relates to the act of sex, and so does the common Cantonese swear phrase, “Diu na ma / F**k-your-mother” (𨳒那妈).Then there is also “Sei baht por (死八婆) / Die, b***h. Swearing in Chinese culture dates back to the Battle of Ningyuan: Ming Dynasty general Yuan Chong Huan famously led his troops to victory, putting a temporary halt to the Manchu revolt with the famous battle-cry, “F**k his mother! Hit the hard! (掉哪媽!頂硬上)”.

While there are still many in Asia who shy away from anything obscene, swearing here is catching on these days. For instance, the word “Diu (𨳒)”, meaning male genitalia, is used more and more in Hong Kong among the younger generation, especially during street protests. Whenever I visited my grandma in Malaysia, she would tell stories about her annoying neighbours and mention “Diu na sing (𨳒那星) multiple times in reference to them, cackling.

Strong language in Chinese and Cantonese touch on situations – talk of death that is taboo in Asian cultures – that we’d rather not be in, let alone happen. Consequently, some Chinese tip-toe around using foul language; everyday-life-themed euphemisms replace the f-word. The phrases “Zam lei gor sei yan tau” (砧你個死人頭) / Cut off your damn head” and “Pok gai (仆街) / Go die in the street” are said when we’re unhappy with someone’s choices. Whenever my mum suspected I took lollies from the lolly jar in the kitchen (I did) and I denied it, she would say (in Cantonese), “Tell the truth. Or else I’ll cut off your bloody tongue!”.

Some of us might move as far away as possible from swearing, holding on to our values.

Some of us might move as far away as possible from swearing, holding on to our values.

Quite a few derogatory terms in Chinese and Cantonese speak of bodily functions that can come across as grotesque when we visualise them. During the Mao era (and even today), it was common for the lower and middle class to sleep, excrete and copulate in closed quarters. As Marta over at Marta Lives In China said, in China generally “people don’t have any taboo about body functions related to the digestive system” and have no shame bringing others down with such language. When Chinese “swear” at someone this way, they usually want to point out ugly character.

Some body function related phrases include, “Sek si orr fahn (食屎屙飯) / Eat s**t, s**t rice”, “si futt lou (屎忽佬) / backside-asshole man, “Si futt hahn (屎忽痕) / Itchy backside” and “Lei yao mow low gah (你又冇大腦) / Do you have a brain?”. My dad loves using “Sek si orr fahn” to criticise Australia’s politicians – all talk and getting not much done when it comes to making a train line from Melbourne’s airport to the city a reality.

At times there is a stigma associated with swearing in Asian cultures, and this can be put down to a few reasons. Those of us who staunchly follow a certain religion might not be too fond of saying or simply thinking about foul language. For many a stereotypical Chinese brought up in a conservative household, purity and kinship are prided upon: when one swears, they are seen to “curse yourself, curse your family” with their impure, perverted mind. In traditional Chinese culture, copulating tends to be acceptable when one is in a committed relationship and unspoken otherwise – naturally the f-bomb and c-bomb referring to getting frisky / nether regions might be hushed by some.

When I was a kid, I only heard my dad swear in English once, and Chinese or Cantonese rarely. Once it was a hot afternoon in Malaysia and he and my mum we arguing about school holiday plans in Cantonese. In raised voices. All of a sudden, with an emphatic command in his voice dad yelled, “F**k!”. Then, “Diu!”. For the next hour no one said a word. Dad had a temper but was always very careful with his choice of words. Not this time over trivial plans, though.

In Chinese culture, expressing emotion is not always admired. Bottling up feelings and getting on with what needs to be done as opposed to complaining and consulting is our mentality. When some Chinese do actually swear, we usually intend on giving others a piece of our mind and proving a point – and in a sense some of us are reserved about swearing compared to how liberally the Western world uses strong language. As comedian Richard Pryor said on voicing thoughts with conviction:

“What I’m saying might be profane, but it’s also profound.”

The company we keep may influence our choice of words, and rub off on our personalities.

The company we keep may influence our choice of words, and rub off on our personalities.

As a kid, the only times I cursed was at my brother, “S**t you. Lei sei la / You die (死)”, when he hid my stuffed toys. Last year, foul-mouthed Julian at work smirked at me, “I wonder how you would sound if you said f**k”. Out and about, I’ve always been the quiet, goody-goody two shoes Chinese girl with a squeaky clean image. When Britney Spears uttered the word “damn” in her song Overprotected in 2001, my then-teenage heart dropped. Looking at Julian’s gloating face, I wanted to say, “F**k you”. But I didn’t (today we no longer work together).

Sometimes the only words we know of a language might be the swear words, and we might only be comfortable swearing in one language and not another. All in all, swearing draws attention to our cultural and generational differences, and swearing in our language and/or another language can unite us. On choosing moments to use profanities, author James Rozoff offered:

“Vulgarity is like a fine wine: it should only be uncorked on a special occasion, and then only shared with the right group of people.”

While some of us choose not to swear, some of us choose to do so to express ourselves and release emotion. Swearing is common in Australia, and not all swear words mean offense here – that is, swearing and the effect of vulgar language Down Under among different races is contextual.

Some of us swear, some of us don't. Each to their own.

Some of us swear, some of us don’t. Each to their own.

The other day at work, my morning started with a frustrating call from a client. He barely let me get a word in, talking over me. When the heated call finally ended, I let the pen in my hand fly across my desk…and without thinking uttered a very calm, “For f**k’s sake.” And went back to work like nothing happened; none of my colleagues – much older, much younger – said anything. And I wondered if Julian would think those words sounded beautiful.

It’s one thing to swear at others, and another to swear at ourselves be it in our language or another language. Either way, it’s not the end of the world if we let slip a curse word every now and then.

Do you swear?

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229 thoughts on “Swearing And Cursing In Chinese And Cantonese: The Profanities We Say, And Why

  1. My dad always said, “Profanity is the last resort of the unimaginative.” Then, of course, the vacuum would quit working. “Jesus f***ing Christ, you stupid sonuvab***h!”promptly echoed through the house.

    But I did see an article recently that insisted that swearing was a sign of higher intelligence. So, f***, yeah, I’ll own up to cursing worse than my dad on a regular basis. 🙂

    Andy won’t teach me any Cantonese swear words, though. I’m going to try some of the ones in your article on him (even though I will never get the tones right, it will give him a laugh).

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    • Your dad is hilarious. The irony. He made it sound like all hell broke lose when the vacuum cleaner conked. Maybe the machine really couldn’t work out how to move all its gears at once.

      Haha, swearing as a sign of higher intelligence. I like that. When we know swear words, we essentially know more words and sort of admit what makes us happy and what does not (in the instance of casual and angry swearing).

      You can google some YouTube videos on Cantonese swearing too. Let me know how Andy reacts 😀

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  2. Very interesting post, Mabel. You are right that we may only be comfortable swearing in one language and not another. Since we were not allowed to swear when I grew up, I don’t really know how to swear in Chinese. I am not even familiar with those Chinese swearing words you wrote here. But after I came to America, I heard a lot of swearing words from my classmates. And my parents were far away… 😉 So, when I am really mad, English is the language I would use 😉

    You amaze me, still. 😉

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    • Thanks, Helen. This post was a fun one to write. It is interesting to see how our friends and the company we keep influence our language and whether we swear or not. Then again, as we grow we express ourselves in different ways. Like you, I didn’t know the Chinese characters of the swear words until I wrote this post…I’m sure you’ll be able to pick up swearing in Chinese when you have time 🙂

      You know what? I amaze myself sometimes. Never thought I’d ever write a post telling others what words are swear words. Feeling a bit naughty 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Mabel, and a fascinating topic which can really challenge the cultural divide. I know it often confuses people from other cultures when Australians use an expression like “you old bastard” as a term of endearment for someone – can this happen in Chinese culture too?

    I worked in Indonesia many years ago and I found that if people wanted to swear, they usually did so in English (although sometimes it was a bit mangled, the intent was usually quite clear). I also found if you wanted to stop someone in their tracks, telling them that they were “kurang ajar”, literally uneducated, was very effective. I don’t think it would have much impact in Australia.

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    • Yes, it certainly can. In Chinese culture, swearing euphemisms may be used as a term of endearment. “Itchy backside” as above can be used to describe someone who has something to pick about, and sometimes we might encourage them to do what they want to do.

      I LOVE the phrase “kurang ajar”. I heard the phrase “kurang ajar punya” a lot when I lived in Malaysia. As you described in Indonesia, this phrase has a shock factor to it in Malaysia. The Malay bad, gangsta looking boys in my class in Singapore liked using this phrase when they weren’t too happy with someone. Thanks for stopping by, Graham. Much appreciated.

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  4. Very interesting, Mabel! It’s fantastic how you link history with curse words. And you also managed to get Kim K there! 🙂 I used to refrain from using abusive language until I joined ad school. Somehow, the prerequisite for fitting in was hurling a lot many abuses. Funnily, I’ve noticed, whenever I learned a new language there was always someone who would want to look up the swear words and flaunt his/her new found vocabulary.

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    • Haha, so true that sometimes in order to fit in and look cool, we have to swear. Funny how a lot of curse phrases are short and sweet, making them easier to learn 😀 I stumbled upon this wonderful Kim K and Emily R. street art a few weeks ago and I thought it would be perfect for this post.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This post was the most in-depth post about swearing I’ve ever read! And I loved it! I like the quote about vulgarity. I swear. I didn’t used to swear as much having gone to a catholic school, swearing would get one in deep do-do. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed myself using swear words more. Although only with my husband or a good friend lol. I would never swear in public. We’ll probably I wouldn’t. There’s a first time for everything!

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  6. I found this post so interesting Mabel! I always wondered what Asian swears there were so thank you for clearing it up! I find it swear depending on the company I keep. If I am around old school friends, I swear a lot more. Around family I never swear. I would love to hear you swear because you’re so cute I can’t picture it. Don’t worry, people have told me before they can’t imagine me swearing and then when I do they recoil slightly haha. Keep them guessing! x

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    • Your old school friends sound like great friends, not judging you for your language. Perhaps they are the kind who swear too. I would love to hear how you swear too, lol. When I use a curse words, I like it to fit seamlessly into the sentence I’m saying, like it’s just another word…or a word that sounds beautiful. I’m sure when we catch up, you’ll hear x

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  7. Interesting post. I think personality and beliefs also affect whether we swear, swear little or not at all. For example, I don’t swear in my day to day life because I don’t feel the need to – The only case, is if I get extremely angry! I hope your next client will be far more kinder with words and listen to you.

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    • So true that personality also affects whether we swear or not. Using profanities to a large extent is our personal choice – we have a choice to say them or not say them. I deal with difficult people most days, and since I don’t swear during every call, I reckon I have a lot of self control.

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  8. Interesting and a unique article Mabel! I am from India and I dont swear but if I did, it would definitely be in English! Most men on the streets use cuss words in Hindi (or local language) quite rampantly and indiscriminately. The funny thing is I didnt ‘hear’ these until quite recently possibly because they were ‘foreign’ words and their expressions or conversation is not particularly agitated – it’s done pretty much reflexly and conversationally 😀

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  9. “Vulgarity is like a fine wine: it should only be uncorked on a special occasion, and then only shared with the right group of people.” <= I like this phrase.

    Do I swear? Of course not. I'm a f**king nice person. There was once a sonofab***h who accused me of being a serial profanity spewer though, absolutely no idea what he's talking about, that f**king dingleberry! *snorts* Who am I kidding? Of course I do swear. A lot. Especially when I'm talking to my close friends, or when I'm stuck inside my car in the middle of a century-epic traffic jam which (ironically) happens pretty much every day after work. There is an unofficial statistic that says Cantonese people are the most vulgar persons in the entire world. I totally agree!

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you swear, then you swear. Sounds like it is second nature for you to swear. Sometimes the more we hear and use profanities, the less of shock they will seem to us.

      Lol, swearing in your car in bumper to bumper traffic. Maybe that is sometimes accompanied with horn honking. I don’t drive, but when I run up to the sardine packed train at the train station during peak hour and the doors shut in my face, yeah, I silently curse in my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Mabel,

    It is interesting to learn that swear words are similar in most of the cultures, only languages differ. I don’t swear and never have used any such words but I have heard them a number of times…never liked them! Also it depends on how strongly such words are criticised and emphasised that vulgar language is looked down upon. 🙂

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    • You are so polite and courteous to not swear, Balroop. Part of me does think swearing is unnecessary. Often when we are calm, we think and solve things better. I suppose when you say one swear word/phrase by itself, there is more emphasis. But when used as part of a longer sentence, maybe it’s a different story and less intimidating 🙂

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      • I think when people use swear words, they just try to channelize their anger and frustration as they have not been guided better. There is no doubt they try to intimidate others with such words but that just exposes their own personality. Wishing you a wonderful, swear free week 🙂

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        • It is so true that many of us swear because of negative energy and feelings. Admittedly, that’s why I swear and when things get better, I don’t think of profanities at all. Take care, Balroop.

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  12. Another bold topic! Like many people I sometimes use bad language, but mostly to express anger and/or frustration at/with myself – not others. On occasions where I do find myself frustrated with others, I picked up the creole phrase ‘merde dimounn’ from my parents, which I have always taken (even today) to be a rather mild way of calling someone an idiot or a fool. However, a literal translation could be ‘s**t-person’ or perhaps an English equivalent would be ‘s**t-head’.

    It’s interesting how curse or swear words can be the first (or only) words people learn of a non-native language. But I generally try not to use bad language and for better or worse others do notice this. I distinctly recall a situation in some years past, in a the context of an on-line community, where someone had apparently been attempting to impersonate me. It soon became clear the individual concerned was not me because as a dear friend rightly pointed out in my defence, ‘that couldn’t have been Simon because he doesn’t swear!’ (Not at others, and not in public, at least!) I wonder if it was like that with you and your colleague Julian – where he knew you didn’t use bad language (at least at that time), but on the rare occasion that you might it would sound ‘beautiful’, at least in a strange, twisted sort of sense.

    My reasons for choosing to avoid using bad language? James (of the Bible) writes that the same tongue we (believers) use to praise God is the same tongue we use to curse others. Praise and cursing should not come from the same mouth. But what does it mean to curse? Is it simply the use of ‘swear’ words (f**k, s**t, etc, in English)? I might not use the most vulgar words, but even milder insults like ‘bastard’ (which, admittedly, can even be used in an affectionate sense in Australian culture) reflects the outpouring of the spiteful heart against a fellow human being. To show love towards each other rather than cursing, even towards enemies, it’s a hard thing to but something I strive towards because that’s what God does for us. (:

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    • Nice to hear you say too that you use strong language on yourself and less so on others. In a sense, that is polite and taking into consideration into how others feel about swearing. I wonder if many of us are actually comfortable swearing at ourselves…and I suppose so since for a quite a few of us, we let fly a curse word when we find ourselves in a sticky situation. Thanks for sharing that creole phrase. I will keep it tucked away and won’t think much about it 🙂

      Sorry to hear that someone tried to impersonate you online and your companions defined you through the non-strong language you used. It goes to show that whether we swear or not can be a personality-thing, or how others might see our choice of words. I’ve worked with Julian for a few years, and we’re very good friends today. I think he always knew I had a cheeky side to me…and if I had said a curse word when we worked together, he would have probably go, “I knew it!” and I wouldn’t describe it all as twisted.

      It is interesting to hear that there is strong language in the Bible. It is true that when we curse towards others, often we are not all too happy with them and yes, rightfully it is a form of spite. Spite and hate towards someone rarely solves anything, and if anything gets us riled up too. Good to hear your faith gives you a sense of purpose in life and the way you conduct yourself. Always appreciate the chats, Simon.

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      • If I berate myself, it’s because I know just how broken I am, doing things I ought not to and neglecting things I should. When famous authors of the time were asked ‘What’s wrong with the world?’, GK Chesterton reportedly responded ‘I am’. It’s not a self-esteem issue – I know there’s always grace – but this is why I have no problem with telling myself off for making stupid mistakes or choices.

        Heh, somehow I doubt you’ll find reason to know Mauritian Creole although I understand there are a lot more Mauritians in Melbourne than in Sydney. On the other hand, I think ‘merde’ is fairly well known as a bad word in French even among English speakers albeit perhaps not recognised as being all that bad to their ears. I remember seeing a kids’ movie where a character exclaims ‘merde!’ – again, more at exasperation/frustration with herself than others – because of her French background. Clearly, the censors did not take offence at that!

        I’m glad you still get along with Julian today – I mis-read the fact that you don’t work together any more as you don’t see him any more either. For me, I think I would prefer not to be known as someone who uses bad language. Someone else here mentioned something about foul language being for the unimaginative, and it reminded me of some creative insults from Shakespeare, ‘O, vassal! Miscreant!’, or even Hergé’s Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics, ‘Miserable blundering barbecued blister!’ Granted, they have more of a comical impact than an offensive one, but it’s refreshingly different to the same old boring stream of bad language we hear day to day. (:

        I probably didn’t make myself clear, I should have used quotes, but James was simply pointing out the incongruity of words of praise and cursing coming from the same mouth. Describing the existing situation rather than prescribing what should be. Nonetheless, there are moments of strong language in the Bible – when writing about his former Jewish life before his Damascus Road encounter with Jesus (being born in the ‘right’ tribe, a zealous Pharisee, etc), Paul calls it all ‘rubbish’ in comparison to what Jesus offers, at least when politely translated in the New International Version. The King James Version perhaps more accurately translates the same word as ‘dung’ – or in our contemporary English context one could argue it to mean ‘s**t’. The point being that Paul obviously felt very strongly about all the things he once thought would make him a ‘good boy’ in God’s eyes and used strong language to convey this. (:

        Once again I’ve made this far more long-winded than I meant to. Thanks for continuing to make the effort to reply to everyone!

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        • I do think it’s good to acknowledge choices that make us unhappy, and that way we can move on. When we swear when we’re angry, we honestly admit that something is wrong. I applaud you for that, for being so honest with yourself.

          “I think I would prefer not to be known as someone who uses bad language.” This is such an interesting train of thought. I actually agree with that personally. What we say essentially is a reflection on ourselves, and some might believe the stereotype that cursing means we are the vulgar kind in different facets of our lives.

          The impact of comical profanity euphesims can certainly give us a bit of a laugh. Andy in the comments earlier shared a Monty Python video that touched upon this, and it is a great watch.

          Thank you for your in-depth responses, Simon. They always add a lot of dimension to the discussion 🙂

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  13. Excellent post Mabel (as usual) – I swear like a trooper most of the time when I am around people I know and am comfortable with. I don’t swear in front of strangers – crazy moral guidelines I draw for myself 😉 I love the insults shouted from the castle wall by French soldiers… my favourite – “”Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of elderberries.” haha – makes me laugh every-time I hear it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGXx56WqqJw

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    • Good to know you are polite with your language around those whom you don’t know, Andy .Very respectful. Thanks for sharing the video. I love Monty Python and that was hilarious, especially the French guy. “boil your bottoms” Now that is one I haven’t heard before but I like the sound of it 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I do but using different languages in different contexts. Lots of milder language such as “wahlaowei” and “babi”. Had a good laugh reading this – was saying all of the above expletives in my head lol! Have a good weekend and keep warm!

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    • “wahlaowei” and “babi” Hahaha, I remember those two words used a lot among my classmates during my high school days in Singapore. They were mainly used to express frustration, but all in good faith. You took me on a lovely trip down memory lane, Shi Jing 🙂

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  15. Swearing is fun. And I think its funnier in your non-native language. It somehow doesn’t have the same impact and it is only when you say it and watch a native speakers reaction, do you realize how bad it is. Like in Thai, there is a bad word saved (it seems) for politicians. I think it’s enjoyable to say (please don’t make me try to say it using this English keyboard :P), but apparently, it’s quite bad. Actually, it’s the same Thai word as monitor lizard!

    So, I have to ask, what’s making you write about swearing? Something shitty on your mind? 😀

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    • That Thai curse word reserved for politicians sound bad, and I will not prod you further. When we swear in a foreign language, I think a lot of the time we feel naive about it and the culture too.

      Each post I write and the timing of it, it rubs off on my personal life. Of late, life has been a rollercoaster and saying a swear word to admit a situation is bad is…liberating. And then I go, what can you do, and move on 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wish I was one of those girls who didn’t swear, but I was raised rather freely and watched standup comedians growing up – so swearing, well, it’s like the babysitter 🙂

        Hope the road smoothes out soon Mabel!

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  16. Do I swear? I uncorked it for special occasions 😉. I can count on one hand the number of times I shared my vintage with others. Being British, I have my social wine etiquette ☺️.

    Some months ago, I texted my Spanish colleague that I would like my ‘me time’ , nothing personal and would not have tea with him and the American colleague. ‘You’re anti-social and so British,’ he snapped in his reply. After work, all three of us waited for a bus to take us to the Centre. The Spaniard would not drop the matter. Pardon the pun ‘I then shoved a bomb into his backside.’ ‘You are British, he barked’ ………….look on the bright side of life. That’s better!

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    • “…shared my vintage with others” I love how you describe strong language. That’s a very clever euphemism.

      The Spaniard must have been rather shocked when you dropped that word. He must not have seen that coming. I’m guessing you actually felt good (or maybe you were more frustrated) and above all okay when you said it to his face.

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  17. Thanks for the colorful Chinese Cantonese lessons! Truly, much can be learned from a culture by focusing on the vulgar. Cantonese being on of the most expressive languages ever in that regard. I’ve even heard worse than what you shared 😉

    To talk about myself a bit, there was much cursing in my house growing up. Looking back I think it was rather trashy… Nowadays I try to use profanity more sparingly so that it has a greater effect.

    It’s all relative though. Depends on the scene one is in. It is certainly appropriate to speak more politely around one’s parents and then let loose when with friends. All depends.

    Even in literature I think it’s more intense if writers make up some very original scenarios for shock value’s sake rather than just say “f**k” every other sentence.

    That said: you have a great f**ken’ day!

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    • Agree with you that Cantonese is one of the more expressive languages around. A lot of it tends to be said with a degree of emotion that can not only be heard in the words but in the voice – much more so than say, English.

      “All depends”. Well said. What might be a curse word to some might not be for another, and it is all dependent on where we are and what we’re doing, and whether we’re having fun.

      As for literature and all things writing, any kind of language goes really so long as it reads well 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  18. I guess on the rare occasion in English. As a child, I did try imitating my mother’s swear words and she promptly told me not to.

    My mother I believe did swear in Toishanese…we think they were swear words when she was incredibly angry. My father less so. But if you met my mother, you wouldn’t guess she swore.

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    • Perhaps to this day you remember your mother’s swear words. Interesting to see that your mother and father and okay with each other swearing / not swearing. In a sense strong language defines our personality, but then again also not.

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  19. Hello Mabel,
    How do you come up with such different and interesting topics everytime, and the description you give is almost perfect. Really glad to read this post on swearing, it connects me to your journey. I have had similar experiences.
    Now more eager for your next blog..
    Thank you for this..
    Shreyans

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    • Each post that goes up rubs off on my personal life or what I’m currently feeling of late. I wanted to write a post on swearing for more than two years but the timing never felt right…until now.

      However, I don’t believe in perfect timing; just that some moments in time are better than others. Don’t know if you feel that way. Maybe you do.

      Thanks for your support, Sheryans. Much appreciated.

      Liked by 2 people

    • No I agree with you, we can not time things, but somehow the nature or maybe the destiny is very correctly timed. Who timed it is unknown, but it appears to be perfect. And the post you wrote shows a lot of research, about your own life, and also other common experiences. The effort you put in a write up is commendable..and it sounds cute when you write my name sheryans instead of shreyans.

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  20. Very interesting.
    RE: “Do you swear?”
    Having a child really cut back on that. There is the three-beer zone where it may come out for nostalgia. I only swear like Ned Flanders now. “Diddley -doo”

    Growing up in a corrupt, industrial American rustbelt city, most grown-up men swore like on “the Sopranos” or “Goodfellas”. It is just the way that guys talk. I still think that way under it all. Political correctness is dumb. Real men swear, and swear creatively. I wouldn’t do it in front of a lady though.

    It is actually better to use a funny phrase rather than the standard Anglo-Saxon words however. Instead of a construction worker saying “get a load of those t*ts on the photo that Mabel posted.” it is better for him to say “did you see those Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bangs”. That way it is more amusing, and he gets a Disney movie reference in.

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    • Haha, Ned Flanders swearing! Love that. It’s something that kids might find fun to say, and for most part thankfully that phrase isn’t exactly a swear phrase…

      Interesting to hear of how often regular Joes talk in your neck of the woods when you were younger. It must be part of culture, and no one thinks twice about swearing to each other.

      I agree with you on your last point. “…Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bangs”. Very, very clever and I will keep this in mind 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  21. This article was really insightful! 🙂 So thank you for that. I am sure when learning almost any language, native speakers always attempt to teach you how to swear or say something embarrassing. However, in the past three years of learning Chinese, I have yet to learn a swear word! I know some expressions that can be taken incorrectly such as 我喜欢吃豆腐 (wo xihuan chi doufu) as in something relating to sexual harassment.

    Another interesting event that has happened is that my grandmother who only speaks Greek tends to swear in German and her reason is “it’s not a language I know, therefore it means nothing to me,” It’s rather interesting that she does that.

    As with me, I will admit, I sometimes have a bit of a potty mouth. I tend to use it a lot recently as my neighbor is a complete idiot. He is renovating his place and has been for six weeks… Every single day from 8:00-17:00, there is constant hammering and drilling which makes studying and doing assignments impossible at this point… so needless to say, I swear like crazy out of frustration. And due to other frustrations here (such as my internet being down for almost a week, having power cuts and idiot drivers), my level of profanity has increased ever so slightly. I am, however, trying to cut back as Derek isn’t a fan of me swearing and we both agreed that when we someday have children of our own, we want to possibly not swear at all in front of them.

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    • It is amazing that you have yet to learn a swear word in Chinese! But I suppose it is only a matter of time…then again, it can also be due to the company you keep and maybe a conservative person teaches you Chinese, and so are your classmates 🙂

      I hope your neighbour finishes his place soon and that your Internet gets back up and running and stays that way. It must be annoying. Funny how it is natural for quite a few of us to swear when we are angry – and I suppose the more we swear when we are angry, perhaps less vulgar the terms might seem to us and that they are just another expressive phrase.

      Someday, you and Derek will be great parents 😀

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  22. My mom always told me that swearing showed a lack of proper vocabulary. I never heard my dad swear, although he worked down the mine, where swearing must have been a very common occurrence. I once got into trouble at home for saying, “Oh Knickers!” 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Got to love swearing in Cantonese. Not that Mandarin is lacking or anything like that but in Cantonese it sure sounds badass! This reminds me also on a game I played few years ago called “sleeping dogs” which play in the Hong Kong Criminal world 🙂

    I don’t swear that much, only when something really goes the wrong way. I was raised not to swear/ use bad words from early age on so I never really got into the whole thing

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  24. Pingback: Take a moment and look up #Istanbul – My Arab Life

  25. Mabel what an intriguing post. You come up with the greatest ideas. I think in my lifetime I have gone through phases where i have sworn more than others. I shall have to reflect on that a bit. As a child I would get in trouble for swearing and don’t really remember doing so very often. Once away from home and as a young adult I did swear a bit. Once I had children and they would mimic everything I said well let’s say I entered a non swearing phase. Today it wouldn’t be very often but like you, after a very frustrating situation I might slip and say something under my breath like ‘for *&!@# sake!

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    • Sounds like you know how to watch your language, Sue. Very commendable for you to watch what you say around your children when you were growing up. Imagine swearing, and then your kids asking you to explain what the profanities mean.

      “For f**ck’s sake” when things go horribly wrong or frustrating. We have a lot in common, my blogger friend 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  26. Yes, I’m afraid I swear quite a lot – even my son pulls me up on it, and it some of the more colourful expressions have amused work colleagues. I was never allowed to swear as a child, even to say things we now think of as very mild, like damn. At least my parents weren’t hypocritical, my mum never swore and I only occasionally heard my dad say ‘bloody’, which was the worst of it.

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    • Aside from swearing to express frustration, maybe some of us swear when we’re adults because we want to rebel. That is, swearing is an act of rebellion. Interesting to hear that your son catches you out on it – he sounds like a very polite and respectful kid.

      “Bloody” seems to be a rude word to many. When the Tourism Australia ad came out featuring this word some time back, it sent shock waves around the world.

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  27. This is a different post with detailed analysis of the use of swear words. Though people all over the world swear, I haven’t come across any writing that discusses swearing at length. You have rightly noted that we might be comfortable swearing in one language but not in another. The choice of swear words used also says something of the user’s personality. Sometimes people (mostly youngsters) use swear words to show off an attitude. I generally avoid the use of swear words, but sometimes I do swear in English when I am disgusted or angry.

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    • What an excellent point you bring up, that youngster like to use swear words “to show off an attitude”. Some might use swear words to rebel against what they have been told to do, or maybe they want to challenge someone.

      Like you, I swear in English when I am annoyed but not so much Cantonese these days. It’s probably due to the fact that most people I’m with speak English.

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Somali. I am very humbled, and I really, really appreciate your support. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  28. Loved this post Mabel – as always an interesting opportunity to explore other cultures and go beyond normal thought. I worked in the technology industry where it was 95% male, all of whom were 20 years or more younger than I. It was there I truly learned to swear because I found they used swear words as normally as they used anything else. I remember how shocked my mother was the first time I used the f–k word – not accepting my explanation for how frequently it occurred in conversations at the office. I soon learned to mind my tongue depending on my audience!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank for sharing your story, Tina. Sounds like you were one of the boys and fit right in. Then again, that’s not to say women don’t swear or can’t utter a curse word. I bet when you swear you say it with a lot of gusto 😀 So wise to mind your tongue – not all of us appreciate swearing. I think I better watch my tongue too.

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  29. Historically in the West, when Christianity was a more powerful force, the main swear words were religious: God damn it (or you), Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and many more obscure religious curses. Swearing seems to be related to something forbidden or hidden or close to the heart. Using “your mama …” as a swear word attests to the close love we have for our mothers.

    My husband was from Xiamen. The swear words he knew in Hokkien had a lot to do with animals. “Your mama’s tits drag on the ground” has something to do with the mating habits of pigs, if I remember right.

    I seldom swear. I guess I usually don’t feel the need. But one of the characters in my new novel likes to swear, and I let her do it.

    I wrote a post on swearing in January in which I give some tips from an article about research on the benefits of swearing. http://nickichenwrites.com/wordpress/writing/i-need-to-swear-more/

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…be related to something forbidden or hidden or close to the heart.” That is such a great point, Nicki. Perhaps that is why quite a few curse words hit so close to us and we get worked up over it, maybe even taking it personally. And cursing with reference to animals, that certainly exists.

      I love your post in swearing and love how you fleshed out why some of us swear in general. Interesting to know curse words can make what we say sound more convincing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • If I hear you swear, I will point it out to you. But I suppose you will have a valid reason why you said what you said. Sometimes we can’t help ourselves. It’s just in human nature to say what we want to say.

      Liked by 1 person

  30. You are what you grew up in. My parents were almost professional swearers. If there were an olympics for cussing, yeah…my family would be gold medalists. Maybe win five. So…yeah, I can pretty much curse with the best of them. But I abstain in my writing for the most part, only use a relatively palatable one or two when I need to exclaim some kind of horror, like maybe when a gecko poops in my rice.

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    • I would love to meet your parents. They sound like the kind who say what they want and have no fear about what others think. It runs in the family…I trust that you are as good as them. Badfish.

      If we do ever have a face to face conversation and you pepper your conversation with appropriate swear words and used well, maybe I’ll buy you a cone of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice-cream 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Who’d have thought swearing could make such a fascinating subject, Mabel? Great photos and I love that you’ve included some Chinese history. 🙂 I used to be a bit of a prude (probably still am, if I’m honest 🙂 ) and really don’t like hearing the f-word in common speech. That doesn’t mean I don’t use it sometimes- often in frustration when I’ve been clumsy (I fell up the stairs in the Algarve recently, spilling some of my precious white port- loud F**K!) One of the things me and my son disagree about is the peppering of songs with swear words. He’s a fan of rap and metal so it’s totally ‘normal’ but for me it’s too much. 🙂 Good job we can agree to differ. Hope you had a good weekend, sweetheart?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Prude. That is what some called me when I was younger for being a goody-goody two shoes and for not swearing.

      I hope you were okay from your fall and you didn’t hurt yourself. Though I’m not put off with swearing, generally I prefer my music with no swear words unless they really do put the song into context (think Lix Phair’s ‘Why Can’t I’, it’s a cheeky little song…).

      The weekend was great. Thanks, Jo. Have a good week ahead, lovely 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  32. Another creative post – what a great topic! Fictional curses are always fun (things authors make up for their characters to use). I remember going through a “frack!” phase when watching Battlestar Galactica. But now, frack is a real word in another context. Driving often brings out the worst, even in people who seldom curse in other circumstances.

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    • Thanks, Sandy. “Fictional curses” – I love how you say it, and what a wonderful phrase to describe swear words that aren’t really swear words. Haven’t heard “frack” in a while; it rolls of the tongue nicely. I will remember this word now.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. Again, the topics you come up with! You’re a riot. I imagine quiet little Mabel whispering, “F — you.” LOL. Well, I never analyzed the different purposes cursing and swearing serve but that is interesting that sex and genitalia are used as they are around the world. Interesting post!

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    • Sometimes the quietest people surprise the most. And sometimes the softest words have the loudest and biggest impact. Indeed is fascinating how all around the world, we have so much in common when it comes to swearing. Thanks for supporting, D x

      Like

  34. Thanks for mentioning me, Mabel! 😀
    I do swear quite a lot. My poor parents must be very disappointed! Sometimes I feel embarrassed that I swear too much, but the words just slip out of my mouth, haha.
    When I drop a bomb word in Chinese people laugh. I guess they are not expecting the foreigners to know that kind of words!

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    • No worries, Marta. Your post inspired me to write this post! Good on you for being confident with your language. Some of us find it so much easier to express themselves with swear words.

      I think you are very clever to know swear words in Chinese and actually drop it in front of others 😀

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  35. Interesting and informative as usual, Mabel. It’s funny to read that you use the ‘f’ word. I do, too. I swear quite regularly but not to other people, just to myself or my boyfriend sometimes, LOL. Ha, that’s a funny story about your dad swearing and then everyone being silent…not sure how to respond. Great post!

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  36. I never imagined you can swear on someone’s body parts 🙂
    I mean if you lie, does it means the organ would be cut off by God, so something bad would happen?

    We, Indians, normally swear on God (which you might already be aware of). Some swear by their parents too (normally mother). It’s just that we are afraid of losing the close ones.

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  37. Like you, I did not ‘swear’ as a child…because I knew that if I did, I would never stop. When I was in my 20s, I worked on a trading floor where the language was foul. It was there that I started cussing and never stopped. By my 40s, I was dropping the ‘f-bomb’ a bit too frequently. But when I went to sea, the swearing seems to have lessened. I must be more relaxed. I love James Rozoff’s quote and think I will live by in from here on out. My favorite curse term is ‘cluster f**k’.

    LOVE LOVE LOVE the graff in this post.

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  38. Somehow I feel much more comfortable to swear/curse in my second or my third language than in my native language. Just like you said, it feels comfortable for my part to say in other languages than mine but certainly not for the native speakers who heard my curse in their languages. Overall I rarely curse and swear anyway and I hope I will not insult anyone 😀

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    • So interesting to hear, Indah. I think we tend to swear more – and also pick up swearing – around those who do and don’t mind cursing. Quite often, our parents don’t teach us how to swear so maybe that is why some of us (maybe those who are more conservative) don’t feel comfortable all the time swearing.

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  39. A co-incidence, Mabel, that I wrote a similar post on swear words/expletives on my Bengali blog a few days ago 😀 Your thoughts are so much in sync with mine in this matter that I’m really surprised! (wish you could read Bengali)
    Anyway, I was a timid child as well and using cuss words was a big no-no in my house. Even the milder ones used to give me a shudder. But, during my college days, I learnt new and innovative swear words in Bengali and gradually started using them, mostly in fronts of friends, though. Now I don’t think using swear words is a bad practice unless you are abusing someone purposefully. Using them somewhat helps to vent out the anger and frustration bottled in the mind, and, it eventually helps. Just like in Chinese/Cantonese and English, in Bengali also, most swear words have sexual innuendos or relate to some way to male/female genitals. I think, all languages share the same propensity in this regard.
    I do use swear words, in English/ Bengali and occasionally Hindi. Not to demean anyone but just to make my point clear or to express anger. And, I never use them in front of my parents or other elders in the family.

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