How to Curse Like a Russian Kindergartner

Posted on 07. Mar, 2013 by in Culture, language

Today, my friends, is the day to learn some Russian curse words. The signs are all here – the Chelyabinsk meteor, the asteroid flyby, the unbelievable видео с авторегистраторов (dashcam videos). These videos alone make you want to curse a blue streak. However, keeping in mind that just like the great and mighty Russian language, Russian мат (swear words) is rich and complex, it’s best to take some baby steps instead of jumping right in.

So today we’re going to learn a few words every Russian детсадовец (preschooler/kindergartner) knows. Before we set off, a couple of предупреждения (warnings).

Warning #0

This post is about Russian curse words. The curses are pretty mild, but if you are easily offended, skip this post altogether.

Warning #1

What you are going to learn today is pretty mild, the curse words used by children, mostly very young children. Unless otherwise specified, adults do not use these very mild curses.

Warning #2

Yes, these are mild curses, but they are still not appropriate в приличном обществе (in a polite society). So learn them to understand things you hear, but avoid saying these words. Or you might end up looking like круглый дурак (a total fool).

Speaking of the words дурак (a fool, masculine) and дура (a fool, feminine), these are some of the first bad words children learn. As kids grow, they expand their vocabulary with дебил/дебилка (moron), идиот/идиотка (idiot), and придурок (a fool). Придурок is grammatically peculiar since it doesn’t have a feminine form.

Preschoolers might use this дразнилка (a jeer) which, although making no sense in English, has a sing-song quality in Russian: Петька – дурак, курит табак, дома не ночует, девочек целует (Petya is a fool, smokes tobacco, does not spend nights at home, kisses girls). Of course, feel free to substitute Петька with your nemesis’ name, although Лекс Лютер – дурак (Lex Luthor is a fool) sounds a bit awkward.

Grown-ups might say Моя новая начальница – полная дура. (My new female boss is a fool and a total fool) and Этот придурок проехал на красный свет (This moron drove through the red light).

Next up is the word какашка (poop). Come to think of it, this is the first bad word Russian kids learn and learn well. I’d say, by the time a Russian child reaches a ripe old age of three, she might hear this word oh, well, a few thousand times.

Since it’s such an important curse word to know, let’s track it through its stages of development:

Toddlers are first introduced to the word кака (poo) in a sense of “dirty disgusting thing that should not be shoved into one’s mouth or even touched” as in Фу, брось каку! (Yuck, drop this bad thing!)

Preschoolers quickly outgrow the кака stage and move on to a much funnier sounding какашка. Many Russian names can be made to rhyme with this word as in Машка-какашка, Сашка-какашка, Пашка-какашка.

However, pretty soon kids abandon the word какашка and move on to the next level, namely the word говно (sh*t, crap). Говно is an adult-level bad word and is very rude. But in the interests of language learning, here are some examples:

Children might say тебе смешно, а мне обидно, тебе – говно, а мне – повидло (you are laughing, I am wronged, you get sh*t and I get jam). Again, this doesn’t make any sense in English, but at least in Russian it rhymes.

Adults might say Этот фильм – полное говно (This movie is total crap) or Ты что, потратил деньги на это говно?! (Did you really spend money on this crap?!) or they might sing this song. You might also hear an adjective говнистый (crappy) and a verb говниться (to act sh**ty).

So we just got from дурак to говно and that’s a pretty steep slope (whether down or up, you decide). Isn’t there a middle of the road Russian curse word we can learn? Of course there is. The next word is попа (butt).

Ok, попа is really not a curse word at all nor is it bad. It is a perfectly appropriate synonym for ягодица (buttock) as in как правильно сделать укол в попу (how to properly administer injection into the buttocks). As a side note, in Russia injections into the buttocks seem to be the preferred method of administering intramuscular injections.

A slightly less appropriate word with the same meaning as попа is задница, literally “the behind”. Some of the most common adult uses seem to be ты сейчас получишь по заднице (you’ll get your butt whooped soon), said to a misbehaving child, and a phrase задницу отсиживать, meaning to spend a lot of time sitting down. Children usually don’t use this word.

The next butt word on the rudeness scale is жопа (ass). It’s rude, it’s crude and kids use it a whole lot (and so do adults). The way kids use this word is pretty straightforward. It can be used as a jeer, such as the classic Ты, ты, ты жопой нюхаешь цветы (You, you, you are smelling flowers with your ass). Or it can be used to say that someone is a bad person. Он – жопа, велик не даст (He is a greedy bastard and won’t let you ride his bike).

As kids grow up, their use of this curse word matures, becomes more sophisticated. Saying that someone is a жопа starts sounding very childish. There are other, stronger Russian curse words for this situation. Instead, adults use this word to

  • Tell someone to go to hell as in Пошёл в жопу!
  • Succinctly describe the true gravity or difficulty of the situation as in Тут такая пробка, просто жопа. (The traffic jam is really bad with no hope of getting out of it any time soon)
  • To describe something that is shoddily made or executed as in у нас всегда всё через жопу делается (everything is done ass backwards here)
  • To describe someone who cannot get things done right as in у него руки из жопы растут (he is all thumbs; lit: his hands are growing out of his butt)

There is also a verb жопиться meaning жадничать (to act greedy, be unwilling to share).

Of course, there are other Russian words that may classify as mild curses. One of these is блин. You might know блин in its meaning of “a pancake” or “a crepe”. However, it is also widely used in place of really bad words or as a filler:

“Блин! Я опять опаздываю на крокет к Королеве!” (Darn! Again I am being late for a Queen’s croquet party!”

or

“Блин! Я, блин, опять опаздываю на, блин, крокет к Королеве, блин!”

In case you’re wondering what really bad word блин replaces and what other big bad curse words Russians use, let me know.

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19 Responses to “How to Curse Like a Russian Kindergartner”

  1. David Roberts 7 March 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    I like the expression ложка говна в бочку меда for “a fly in the ointment”. It would sound even better with if the genitive of мед were мьда!

  2. yelena 7 March 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    David, I usually say в бочке мёда – ложка дёгтя. Дёготь is a word rarely used these days and it doesn’t even look like it’d be a real word :) As for a phrase with the говно in it, I prefer сделать из говна конфетку (to make something good, useful or at least good looking out of crap). Even though it sounds bad, the meaning is very positive, even admiring as in Марта Стюарт уж точно умеет сделать из говна конфетку. (Martha Stuart definitely knows how to make something good out of crap).

  3. Rob 7 March 2013 at 11:46 pm #

    The next butt word on the rudeness scale is жопа (ass).

    The word жопа does not actually appear in the following joke, but it’s essential to the humor. The other thing you need to know is that морда (lit. “animal’s snout”) is a colloquial term for the human face, like “mug” in English.

    Девушка в первый раз ночевала у парня дома. Выходя из ванны, она спрашивает парня:
    – У тебя в ванной я видела два полотенца, на одном было вышито “М”, а на другом “Ж”. Я вытиралась полотенцем с буквой “Ж”, ведь “М” – это ведь для мужчин, верно?
    – Нет, “М” – это значит для морды.

    A young woman was spending the night at her boyfriend’s house for the first time. Coming out of the bathroom, she asks her boyfriend:
    – “I saw two towels in your bathroom — one embroidered with “М” and the other with “Ж”. I used the one with Ж to wash my face, since the М is for мужчина, right?
    – “No, the М means ‘for your mug’.”

  4. Rob 7 March 2013 at 11:54 pm #

    Adults might say Этот фильм – полное говно

    There’s also the phrase говно на палочке, literally “crap on a small stick”. The word палочка in this case is understood to mean the wooden stick in a мороженое (ice cream), so the implication is that someone is packaging and selling dogsh*t as though it were a delicious chocolate-coated Dove bar.

    So you could use this phrase, for example, about a crappy film that is hugely overpraised by critics.

  5. Rob 8 March 2013 at 12:05 am #

    One of these is блин.

    This “cussword” is a particular favorite of mine because it reminds me of “Oh, fudgesicles!”, “Holy sugar!”, and “Baloney!” in English…

  6. mike 9 March 2013 at 4:01 am #

    Fun post, Yelena. It’s interesting hearing the differences between children and adult forms of cursing. Let me say I appreciate what you and Rob do for us here. I know it must be a lot of work. Thanks!

    When I first studied Russian in the 60s and 70s, there were no published мат dictionaries. There’s one online that is very extensive and would have been quite shocking in my day. Sad because I think you should be aware of the bad words and know why they’re bad so you don’t accidentally offend. I somehow acquired all of three naughty words — г*, х*, ж* — but I had nowhere to use them! In graduate school we passed around a photocopied (that gray, smelly chalky paper) list of мат words that people at Harvard assembled from samizdat literature. We were so impressed!

  7. Rob 11 March 2013 at 10:13 pm #

    I somehow acquired all of three naughty words — г*, х*, ж* — but I had nowhere to use them!

    Dare I ask which of the х*-words? There are at least three, I guess, but two of them are milder euphemisms for the third one (i.e, the one that rhymes with “phooey”) — which definitely belongs to the Unholy Trinity of Russian Filth, and is much more obscene than the г* and ж* words (both of which, you’ll notice, were spelled out in full in the post).

    P.S. The other two in the Unholy Trinity are the п* and ё* words (and their derivatives). Various Russians have told me that the full б* word and possibly one of the м* words are only in the “second rank” of dirtiness, while говно and жопа are only “third rank”, although still very rude.

    Of course opinions vary and there is some subjectivity here –but natives seem to be unanimous about the “Three Worst” words.

  8. Rob 11 March 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    By the way, for more information on mild Russian cussing, check out Yelena’s old post on the versatile word фиг (and its numerous derivatives).

    Literally, фиг comes from the term for a crude hand gesture equivalent to the US middle finger or the UK “V-sign”. And it’s used euphemistically as a replacement for an extremely obscene term of — ahem — Phallic Significance. (One of the above-mentioned Three Worst Words.)

    Also, don’t miss the comments section of the фиг post, where there’s a discussion of the word хрен — another “phallic euphemism” (it literally means “horseradish root”!) that can sound quite vulgar in some contexts, without being super-obscene.

  9. Rob 11 March 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    And this post also reminded me of a famous old joke about the extremely high frequency of certain cuss-words in Russian speech. Actually there are several variants (all with the same punchline), but here’s a typical version translated to English:

    At the CIA headquarters, an agent is being trained for a deep-cover assignment in the USSR. He’s taking an oral examination in advanced Russian, and hesitates over a sentence.

    “What’s the matter?” — asks the examiner. “Don’t you know how to say it in Russian?”

    “Yes, sir, I know how to say it,” answers the agent. “But I can never remember where to put the неопределённый артикль «блин»… [the indefinite article «блин»].”

    Googling on the Russian phrase at the end will turn up other variants in the original.

  10. Rob 11 March 2013 at 11:29 pm #

    the Unholy Trinity of Russian Filth

    Incidentally, the ru.wikipedia entry on Russian cursewords uses the delightful phrase основные «три кита» русского мата… — “the fundamental Three Whales of Russian obscenity”.

    I’m not sure if “three whales” is an old expression or an invention of this particular writer, but in any case — there are definitely THREE of them!

    P.S. Okay, I just Googled on «три кита», and it’s definitely a well-established phrase meaning “the Top Three most important elements.” Век живи, век учись!

  11. mike 12 March 2013 at 3:02 am #

    “Dare I ask which of the х*-words? There are at least three, I guess, but two of them are milder euphemisms for the third one (i.e, the one that rhymes with “phooey”)”

    Yes, that’s the one.

  12. Paula 12 March 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I find it interesting to know those words. Even if you don’t use them to speak, it’s useful recognize them when you’re just listening…
    Once my Russian teacher, a woman, got sick and missed class. She sent her husband to replace her and he spent a lot of time teaching curses to the class… =)

  13. Rob 17 March 2013 at 8:59 pm #

    Even if you don’t use them to speak, it’s useful recognize them when you’re just listening…

    As I mentioned to Yelena, it’s also useful to understand what the words DON’T mean. For example, the rude word п**ор (pidor) is often explained in slang dictionaries as a very homophobic word for gay males — which is perfectly true, except that sometimes the word is better translated as something like “lousy backstabbing bastard”, without any implications about sexual orientation.

    Similarly, the “Three Whales” of Russian мат are all sex-related, but possibly 75+% of the time their idiomatic meanings have no sexual implications whatsoever.

  14. yelena 22 March 2013 at 1:47 am #

    I’d move the percentage of non-sexual usage to 95% :)

  15. yelena 22 March 2013 at 1:50 am #

    Paula, that’s totally what my Dad would have done if he got to sub a class :)

  16. Kappi 26 April 2013 at 9:56 am #

    This one is great! Many thanks!

  17. KPhaurdew 26 September 2013 at 6:34 pm #

    “The Unholy Trinity of Russian Filth” may be my new favorite phrase.
    On that point, one of my Russian professors definitely taught us х* in class. I wish I could remember the context, because, contrary to how it may seem, it was actually helpful. I think it was to teach us to be careful about spelling or pronunciation or some such. But I will never forget the devious look on his face as he talked about it. Classic. :)

  18. Nina Kirkland 25 April 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    when my mom wanted to curse at my dad she would call him old horseradish.
    старый хрен … and he would reply мат тебе … and we kids would know he was swearing.


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