Thomas Morton
13 min readAug 23, 2020

Originally published in the Summer 2020 “Travel Issue” of Penthouse — albeit edited to a much tidier length.

The first thing any good traveler learns when he and/or she visits a new country are the basic phrases of its native tongue. Hello, good-bye, please & thank you, my name is Chet, sorry I thought that was the bathroom, etc. The second thing any good traveler learns is how to swear like a cab driver. Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz describes cussing as “the only living language in a world of anemic vocables” and “poetry within the reach of everybody.” And the cocksucker’s right! Curse words are not only the funniest and most exciting parts of any language, they’re an essential gateway to blending in with the locals and to understanding the root-psyche of the culture at large.

I mean, shit. What’s it say about us anglophones that we call everything from literal human feces to somebody’s personal possessions to small children shit? Pretty anal indeed. And if you ever bore any illusions about our society’s stance on incest, hearing the word motherfucker in its typical tone and context should clear that up right fucking quick. Pardon me, right motherfucking quick.

There’s a more practical purpose for boning up on foreign profanities, and that is to keep you the fuck out of trouble. I can’t count the number of times I’ve avoided getting jumped simply by recognizing that I was already getting fagbashed.

This is as true at home as it is abroad. For instance, the odds of imminent violence when someone uses the word cunt go way down if they have a British accent. Likewise, if a Canadian ever refers to you or someone in your company as a goof, the prudent response is not to hiccup “Well gawrsh!” but to look for the nearest exit.

Here then is a quick guide to all the different words and phrases that’ll get your clock cleaned around the globe.


This is probably a safe place to start, seeing as how most Americans are familiar with the verb chingar. Remember in Traffic when the guy ordered a “chingada ensalada”? Classic.

The Ch-word seems like a pretty literal cognate to the English fuck, especially in light of all its syntactic variants. I mean, you can’t get much closer to being a fucker, for good or for bad, than being un chingón. There’s a kind of loving sense to fuck, however, that’s completely absent in chinga.

One time a magazine I worked for was running an article about a cottage industry of people making amateur sex tapes and selling them in Mexico City. Gringos we, we decided a fine title would be Chinga Tu Madre (y Tu Padre y Tu Tio y Tu Hermana, etc.) — you know, fuck your mom and your dad and your uncle and your sister too — fuck the whole family! Fortunately a Mexican coworker saw the piece before it went to print and came screaming over to stop the metaphorical press. You’d never use chingar to refer to people having consensual, mutually pleasurable sex, he warned us, particularly if any of those people were your relatives.

Etymologically, chingar means “to rip apart.” To drag Octavio Paz back in here for a sec, he attributes the word’s implicit violence to the Spanish conquistadors who chingado’d the Aztec Empire right down the middle. This, of course, would make Hernando Cortez the original chingon, but remember, for every fucker there’s a fuckee. That’s just physics.

In the case of Cortez, his chingada wasn’t just the social fabric of indigenous Mexico. He also fucked his native guide and interpreter, Doña Malintzin, leaving her pregnant with the first Mestizo child in history, and leaving the rest of the newborn race with the mother of all mommy issues. Mrs. Malintzin has a few different nicknames, including la Malinche — roughly the Mexican equivalent of Benedict Arnold — La Llorna, the weeping wife, and, easy enough, La Chingada.

So, if you’ve ever wondered why some Mexicans get so worked up over the casual suggestion that they chinga their madre, maybe it’s because their ancestral madre got about as fucked as you can get. See? Pays to know.


Actually, sometimes it pays not to know. One time I accidentally attended a wake in rural Brazil — that’s how shitty my Portuguese is, by the way. I had NO IDEA why everybody at this barbecue was acting so somber. The bereaved quickly cottoned to my lack of fluency, I’d say around the time I managed to upend the picnic table, spill five or six beers, and step on the family dog all in one fluid whirl of clumsy.

After giving the universal sign for I’m sorry (extremely hard shrug coupled with an equally cartoonish “Yikes!” expression), the whole family blandished me with a fusillade of “No problem”s and “Don’t worry about it”s. Then, upon realizing that I had no earthly clue what they were saying, they all switched gears into a comprehensive litany of regional profanities. All of them, from the 5-year-old boy who called me some variation of “donkey farter” to the sweet little old granny who asked her daughter incredulously if I really didn’t know that my whoreshit-mother had fellated a cow. It went on like this for ten minutes, the whole while I’ve got my shoulders cocked to my ears and the dumbest look you’ve ever seen on my face.

There’s something to be said for knowing how to gracefully take a joke, or an insult for that matter. There’s a whole nother something to be said for taking one like an idiot, repeatedly, from members of four different generations. And that is, it’s funny. Uproarious, it turns out. Whether the family of the deceased ran out of swearwords or simply ran out of breath from cackling too hard, I still do not know. What I DO know is that by the time Hurricane Laughatme finally ran out of steam I’d endeared myself to the funeral party as some sort of poor man’s Chaplin, and we all got manguscado in honor of the dead.

Oh, that’s when you’re so drunk it’s like you got conked in the head with a mango.


Go figure, the French have a ludicrous number of expressions for fucking, as many as there are different ways to fuck. They’ve also got some great fuck-yous, from the plosively straightforward baise-toi to the extremely concise t’encul, which makes the five syllables of “fuck your own ass out” seem like sputtering overkill.

In a culture this nakedly libidinous, lobbing out sex acts doesn’t pack quite the same punch as it does in the Unlaid S of A. So, in order to properly get a Frenchperson’s dander up, you’ve got to take the reverse tack. Try calling them mal baisé and see how long it takes the glass in their hand to connect with your forehead. Thanks to the wonderfully polysemous nature of the language, you’re not only saying that they’re “poorly fucked,” you’re also implying that they’re bad at fucking AND that they haven’t been fucked at all! The ultimate indignity.

I’ve also found mal à bite will do in a pinch. Its most literal approximation is “cock-sick,” but it can convey anything from a juvenile kind of “butthurt” feeling to full-blown impotence, depending on how much oomph you give it. Mal à fente is a good female alternative, though truthfully it’s pretty unisexual.


When France gave the North American colony of New France to England in the 1760s, it forked the culture in two very different directions. While the continental French underwent centuries of political revolution and social upheaval, loosening their tongues and morals along the way, Quebec played relatively nice and let the Catholic Church run the show until the middle of last century. The result is a weird, horny little province where nudity is a regular part of breakfast (le serveuse sexy) and B&Bs leave out books by the Marquis de Sade on the nightstand, but where the worst thing you can say is tabernacle. That’s the box in church where they keep the communion wafers. THAT’s what French Canadians shout when they’re either super excited or they smack their thumb with a tack hammer — Tabernak!

Incidentally, the two other biggies are hostie (that’s the wafers themselves) and calisse (that’s the chalice you drink communion wine out of). What’s great is, not only are the three words pretty much fully interchangeable, you can also cram them all together to make a triple-swear. Ah, calisse d’hostie de tabernak! The holy trinity of cussin’.


These guys say fuck the same way we do, but boy do they say it a lot. Half the time it’s not even really a word, just the sound they make to fill in the gaps in their speech, like like or uhhhhh.

If you really wanna get a Canuck’s goat, the best way is to disparage their work ethic. The phrase dog fucker has snuck down into American usage recently, but its original Canadian meaning is someone so lazy they can’t even be bothered to find another human to have sex with. And although fucking the dog is a venerable practice among working people worldwide, the job-proud Canadians really don’t like being called on it.

You can also call them a goof, which, as mentioned above, is the atom bomb of Canadian shiftlessness. Throw a Canuck in there while you’re at it, for some reason that still bums a lot of them out.


You know your culture might be a little on the religious side when you let the Pope have his own country inside your country. Ditto when you can watch reality TV stars screw on primetime television, but get kicked off the air for blaspheming the lord.

If you’ve spent enough time around Italians, you’ve probably heard all manner of colorful signifiers for copulation and the anatomical components involved. It’s entirely possible, however, your ears have never been blessed with the king-mother-god-emperor of Italian swears. A two-word phrase so heavy, so laden with fury that even a fiery-tongued people like the Italians would hesitate to let it pass through their lips. You ready for it? Porco dio. That’s it. “Pig God.”

I used to think the porco in porco dio worked the same way we sometimes say porking to mean fucking, like “No way, that dude porked Bethany!?” THAT at least made sense to me. I mean, sure, “fuck god,” pretty extreme sentiment. But porco does not equal pork, not as a verb, not even as a noun (their word for that is maiale). What an Italian is saying when something compels them to exclaim porco dio, is, quite literally, “pig god.”

There’s a bit of a grammatical mix-and-match quality to the language you can lean on to turn the phrase into something a bit more sensible, like “god IS a pig,” but all the same. Pig god. It beggars imagination that this is the single most offensive thing you can say to an Italian. Even more offensive than cazzo maria (Mary’s dick). Somehow even more offensive than pota di Christo (Christ’s cunt). Pig god.

Totally separate point: did you know Ani di Franco is Italian for “Frank’s anus”?


Say tso, like General Tso but a little crisper on the T, like halfway to “ch.” Good, that’s fuck. Now try tso ni. OK, that’s fuck you. And finally, give me a tso ni ma. Very nice. Now NEVER say that again with a Chinese person in earshot. This is more or less how I learned the Mandarin equivalent of “go fuck your mom,” and the warning that accompanied it could not have been more severe.

Mainland Chinese culture is about as coarse as contemporary civilization gets. It’s not uncommon to see young parents hold their infant child over a trashcan to take a dump, for which their rompers have a traditional hole in the caboose (like the butt-flap on a union suit but if the flap part fell off). Be it the back-to-back-to-back-to-back trauma of the Chinese Civil War, occupation by the Japanese, the Civil War again, then 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 a fancy government function, you’ll hear the word shah-bih (“stupid cunt”) continuously muttered by everyone from party ministers to the janitor. Likewise, if you go to see a punk show, prepare to have NU-BIH! shouted at you from all angles. In practice, it’s the equivalent of “fuck yeah!,” but if you punch it into google translate you get the words “cow vagina.” How agrarian is that??

I remember watching a businessman in Beijing pull over to the side of the highway and open his car door to spit, all while talking on his cell phone. And I know for a fact he didn’t tell the party on the other line “excuse me,” because, as my Mandarin instructors told me, “We don’t really use that phrase here.” All to say, not the kind of place one minces words. Especially about mothers.

Despite the admonitions on the ts-word, one cruddy night found me standing in a freezing downpour while fighting some proto-coronavirus-level flu and trying to hail a taxi with a bunch of shopping bags in my hands (the hotel I was at had misplaced my laundry). Cab after cab stopped just long enough to hear the name of my hotel before screeching off to find a better fare, drenching me with puddle-water in the process. As the fourth consecutive cabbie threw his car into drive, propriety jumped ship, and I felt my right leg kick out at its fender while the dread words tso ni ma burst forth from my mouth. The taxi instantly stopped.

While the driver rolled down his window, I took quick mental stock of my situation. I was soaked, shivering, sick, holding five pairs of new underwear in a foreign country, and now I was going to be in a fight. Tso me.

No English words can describe my relief when the man I had just invited to pummel me instead stuck his hand out the window and waved me into his car. He drove me home and helped me with my bags, cheerfully babbling the whole time in the dialect of Mandarin he assumed we both spoke.

When I recounted this story to my Chinese friends who’d taught me to swear, they said, “Good! You’re learning!”


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, nor donkeys, nor sons of any of the above. They’ve already got enough on their 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! (baaboos)” should make your feelings about the situation pretty plain. Its literal meaning strays a bit from conventional notions of fucking, and is really a lot closer to “get your finger out of my asshole,” but it nails the spirit of being fucked nice and evocatively.


Cussing in Russian could be its own article. Hell, it could be its own book. Hell, it IS its own book. Punk ethnographer Alexei Plutser-Sarno, part of the same Moscow art collective that Pussy Riot came out of, has been assembling a Great Dictionary of Mat for the last 15 years. Mat’s the Russian word for obscene language. It’s also the Russian word for “mother,” as in “go fuck your mother.” I agree; real nice, Russia.

This mother-tongue is so extensive the first volume of Plutser’s dictionary runs to over 1,000 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 (пизда́/pizda), while three is for fuck (еба́ть/yebat) — and is currently working on volumes four and five. Four continues his work on fuck. Five finally moves on to the next word… fucked. That’s right. The Russian f-word needs an entire dictionary for its participle.

Russia has so many profanities it’s possible to say someone “speaks mat,” the same way you’d say someone speaks pig latin or esperanto. There’s also double-mat, which is where you say something totally unobscene using nothing but obscenities. I guess we do that shit too in fucking English, but certainly not to the same extent. Not to where it has its own goddamn name.

A Russian tried to tell me about another thing called triple-mat, but damned if I could understand him. It was like string-theory for swears.

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 are 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, blyad’s become so commonplace in Russian speech it’s turned into a hesitation marker like the English umm, or the Canadian fuck. They’ll probably just assume you have a very slow stammer.


Here’s the thing. No matter where you are on this great globe, if you really want to say the word fuck — and have the locals understand that you’re saying the word fuck — you can just say fuck. No translation needed — rap music, movies, and the internet have already done the heavy lifting for you. For all the failings we tend to heap on globalization and Western cultural hegemony, 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.

J’like that shit? Good, pay me! Ah ha ha ha, just ribbing you there, but in all-encompassing seriousness, if you would like to pay me, and are able, you may do so at my venmo account thomas-morton-5. I only bring it up so I don’t die. Just kidding again, it’s so I don’t have to live in my car.