It’s happened to all of us. You’re walking around your favorite little pueblo chatting with a friend in your broken Italian/Spanish/Swahili when you notice everyone is looking at you in horror. Little kids begin to cry and the police head over to chat.
Oh crap! What did you just say? You didn’t realize it, but one of your seemingly benign utterings to your friend was a super offensive curse word to the locals. Now you’re explaining yourself to the authorities and apologizing to upset mothers.
Let’s take a look at some curse words that don’t have the same meaning in other languages.
Your British friends always get so upset when you use these, but you just laugh. That’s because although folks in the US know these two words are curses, they don’t treat them with the same reverence as our friends across the pond.
Both “wanker” and “tosser” are terms for someone who spends all their time goofing off. More specifically, it refers to a male who spends all his time with his hands in his pants.
One of the more versatile curses on the list, carajo is a Spanish word used in a variety of ways. It serves as a routine exclamation like the f-bomb or s-bomb, or or sometimes it’s a slang term for the male genitalia. In other places, it’s considered a more mild word, like “darn” in English.
But what does carajo literally mean? It was a term for the crow’s nest, the lookout basket at the top of ships. When sailors would get punished by their captains, usually for acts of mutiny, they would stick them in the carajo where they would get very sick. No wonder it became a curseword!
There are many forms of Arabic, and each comes with their own set of swear words. One such example is the Tunisian form of Arabic. Their word “Hawi” means “impotent” or “spermless.” Of course this calls into question the victim’s manhood and ability to reproduce.
Another example is Arabic in Kuwait. This one could actually get most of us in trouble very quickly. A slang word for female genitalia, in that region, is “kiss.” You can probably guess how this would be a problem.
It’s hard to tell where to start with Australia. They have so many sayings that could get an average American into trouble it’s almost comical.
Take “cactus,” which is used like “screwed” or “f**ked.” One would say, “How are we going to get out of this? We are so cactus!” Or “root,” which is rude slang for sex. One curse that’s also sometimes used in the US is “tool,” which is slang for a useless person.
Luckily, the Aussies probably won’t get up in arms too much if you let one of these slip. But it’s always a good idea to check up on possible infractions before you whip out your passport!