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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

How to hurl insults like a Spaniard

Spaniards, from young children to old people, just love to swear. The Local gives you a round-up of some of the more bizarre phrases.

How to hurl insults like a Spaniard

Unlike in many other countries, references to toilet habits, male and female genitalia and other taboo subjects pop up in general conversations all the time without anyone giving it a second thought.

What’s all this about people doing their business in “the milk”? And why do “testicles” keep being mentioned?

Swearing in Spain is as common as it is ludicrous, so if you wish to embrace the ever-present potty language or simply want to understand what your Spanish friends are trying to convey, read on!


Photo: Vengel Crimson

Me cago en la leche: Spaniards metaphorically crap on all kinds of things when they want to express anger or frustration; from God Almighty (Dios), to 'your' mother (tu madre) and the salty sea (la mar salada). Perhaps the most bizarre thing they choose to mentally defecate on is 'the milk'. All these expressions sound very vulgar in English but in Spanish they're so common most recipients would barely bat an eyelid.

READ MORE: Five ways that 'leche' means more than just 'milk' in Spain


Photo: Kristem Shoemaker

Que coñazo!: If you think this translation sounds bad enough, let us assure you the more literal one would have sounded a lot worse. If something is a drag you use the expression '¡Qué coñazo!'. The Spanish C-word, much more socially acceptable than in English-speaking countries, is also used to express everything from surprise to indignation: ¡Coño!. Don't be surprised if you hear everyone from grandmothers to schoolkids shouting it out at top volume.


Photo: David Goehring

Hostia (host/body of Christ): Probably the most common form of blasphemy used by Spaniards. If someone or something is 'la hostia', it is amazing or the bee's knees. 'Hostia!' on its own is used as damn or bloody hell are in English. Then there's to give someone a host, dar una hostia, which means to smack or hit someone.


Photo: Francesco Rachello

Estar pedo/llevar un pedo: 'To be fart' or 'to carry a fart' has nothing to do with flatulence surprisingly. Although the word for a fart in Spanish is pedo, the expressions are a colloquial way of saying 'to be drunk'. For interest's sake, in Spanish you throw a fart if you want to say you've passed wind – tirarse un pedo. Not that you would make that public knowledge!


Photo: Alec Schueler

Me importa tres cojones: This saying means 'I couldn't give a damn' in English. 'Why testicles?' you may ask. Well, 'cojones' (balls/nuts in English) is commonly recognized as the Spanish word with the highest number of derivative meanings. It's used as a verb (acojonar – to scare), as an adjective (acojonante-amazing) and many more! Even the number of 'cojones' can change the whole meaning of the sentence: ¡Y un cojón! means 'not a chance!' while 'hacer algo con dos cojones' means to be brave.


Photo: Paolo Camera

De puta madre: Calling someone a 'hijo de puta' (son of a bitch) might land you in trouble in Spain despite the customary use of swearwords by many Spaniards. But the most common superlative in colloquial Spanish is 'de puta madre', which means great or awesome. It can also be used as an adverb: juega de puta madre – he plays really well.


Photo: Thomas Beck

Llevar los huevos de corbata: Male genitalia used again in a common colloquial expression in Castilian Spanish. To wear your balls as a tie translates as being tense or nervous. In fact, Spaniards will often hold their throat and say 'this is where I have my balls'- con los huevos aquí- when they want to express nervousness or fear.


Photo: Joseph Choi

Está que te cagas: Why something being good would induce toilet troubles is another mystery. But Spaniards, mainly young ones, will very often use this saying when they're excited about how great something is. There's also “¡Cágate!”, or crap yourself. You say this when you want to express shock or surprise.

List compiled by Alex Dunham 

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Qualcosa non torna’

Does this phrase add up to you?

Italian expression of the day: 'Qualcosa non torna'

Ever get the feeling that things aren’t quite right, that perhaps you’re missing something, that something fishy might be going on?

In Italian you can express that with the phrase qualcosa non torna (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-TORR-na’).

Qualcosa you’ll probably recognise as meaning ‘something’, and non of course here means ‘doesn’t’, so the slight wild card for anglophones is the verb torna.

That’s because tornare means ‘to return’ in most contexts – but it can also mean to balance, to add up.

Ho calcolato le spese, il conto torna.
I added up the costs, the bill checks out.

I conti dell’azienda tornano.
The company’s accounts add up.

The Math Seems To Check Out! GIF - The House Will Ferrell The Math Seems To Check Out GIFs

The word can also refer more nebulously to something sounding or feeling right – or not.

Secondo me c’è qualche parte del mio discorso che ancora non torna.
I think there are parts of my speech that still aren’t quite right.

And when something doesn’t torna – that’s when you know things are off. It’s the kind of expression you’re likely to hear in detective shows or true crime podcasts. 

Qualcosa non torna nel loro racconto.
Something about their story’s off.

C’è solo una cosa che non torna.
There’s just one thing that doesn’t add up.

It’s similar to how we can talk in English about someone’s account of an event not ‘squaring’ with the facts, and in fact you can also use that metaphor in Italian – qualcosa non quadra (‘qual-KOH-zah-non-QUAHD-ra’) – to mean the same thing as qualcosa non torna.

Trash Italiano Simona Ventura GIF - Trash Italiano Simona Ventura Qualcosa Non Quadra GIFs

You can adjust either phrase slightly to say ‘things don’t add up’, in the plural: this time you’ll want le cose instead of qualcosa, and to conjugate the tornare or the quadrare in their plural forms.

Ci sono molte cose che non tornano in quest’affare.
There are a lot of things about this affair that don’t add up.

Le loro storie non quadrano.
Their stories don’t square.

You can also add pronouns into the phrase to talk about something seeming off ‘to you’ or anyone else.

La sua storia ti torna?
Does his story add up to you?

C’è qualcosa in tutto questo che non mi torna.
There’s something about all this that doesn’t seem right to me.

alfonso qualcosa non mi torna GIF by Isola dei Famosi

The next time something strange is afoot, you’ll know just how to talk about it in Italian. Montalbano, move aside…

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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