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Oysters, not hostias! How to ‘swear’ politely in Spanish

Swearing is accepted in many social contexts in Spain, but if you really need to sugarcoat your curse words, there are many euphemisms and expressions that can help you save face in certain situations.

Funny picture of father-in-law strangling son-in-law
If you don't want to be strangled by your inlaws, you may need to refrain from using actual Spanish swear words at the dinner table. Photo: Javier Pincemin/Flickr

At first, many foreigners who are learning Spanish in Spain are somewhat surprised by the frequency with which swear words – palabrotas or tacos – are dropped in daily speech. 

From grandmothers to young children, swearing is used, accepted and sometimes not even noticed by listeners in many settings.

Be it on the 8 o’ clock news or at the local fruit market, saying tacos generally doesn’t have the same shock factor as it does in English.

But that doesn’t mean that to come across as a local, you have to start swearing like a sailor.  

As just mentioned, swearing is tolerated by many in Spain, but that doesn’t mean it’s commended. 

And there are plenty of social contexts where you want to make sure you don’t drop C (coño) or J (joder) bombs, unless you want to go red in the face (think job interview, kid’s birthday party, meeting the inlaws, staying in the neighbours’ good books).

Luckily, there are a number of euphemisms and expressions that you can resort to milliseconds before you put your foot in it.

¡Ostras! instead of ¡Hostia!

If you’re in the company of religious people who frown on blasphemy, shouting ¡Ostras! (oysters) rather than ¡Hostia/s! (oist, sacramental bread) will get you out of a pickle…unless you’re at a seafood market, then prepare to pay about €20 for a kilo of these molluscs. 

For context, Spaniards shout out hostia or hostias when something surprises them.

couple eats oysters and drinks beer
Mentally stuffing your mouth with oysters will help you keep blasphemy at bay in Spanish. Photo: Chris Graythen/AFP

¡Jopé! instead of ¡Joder!

Joder in Spanish’s F-word, and although it doesn’t shock as much as its anglo saxon equivalent does English speakers, you may not want to use it in the company of children and their watchful parents. 

Just as common are jo, jolín, jolines, jopelines and jobar, none of which actually have another meaning.

They’re all softer ways of expressing discontent at something, with the first syllable – jo – alluding to joder without actually saying it. It’s similar to saying flip in English.

¡Mecachis…! instead of ¡Me cago en…!

As you may be familiar with already, when Spaniards want to express anger, the often linguistically ‘crap on’ things (me cago en…), be it the salty sea,  the milk or someone’s relative. 

Mecachis is a way of alluding that you’re verbally defecating on something, without having to actually say it. 

It can be used on its own or if you want to add some flair, mecachis en la mar ( polite version of ‘cr*p in the sea’) is also widely accepted.

boy holds fist in anger, polite swearing in spanish
Mecachis is a good word to avoid being a potty mouth. Photo:Anna Kovalchuk/Pixabay

READ ALSO: What’s the worst possible insult you can say to someone in Spain?

¡Córcholis! Instead of ¡Cojones!

Cojones as you may know already, cojones is Spanish slang for testicles. It’s meant to be the Spanish word with most derivative meanings, with even the number of cojones giving different meanings to expression (one cojón expensive, two for bravery, three for disregard). 

Despite the lexical wealth that cojones words and sayings grant Spanish speakers, they’re not to everyone’s liking.

Using córcholis gets around this problem, at least when wanting to express surprise politely, not to refer to male genitalia.

¡Miércoles! instead of ¡Mierda!

Shouting Wednesday is the chosen way to avoid poop-themed expletives in Spanish.  

Again, miércoles shares the first syllable as mierda, so it’s similar to English speakers saying sugar or shoot to not say shit. 

angry woman swearing, how to swear politely in spanish
Take your mind of swearing by shouting nobody’s favourite day of the week. Photo: Dead Cat/Flickr

¡Caray! instead of ¡Carajo!

Shouting caray is a bit like saying good heavens, wow or damn in English. 

Caramba is also an alternative, although you’re more likely to hear Bart Simpson use it in English than in the streets of Madrid or Barcelona. 

Carajo is a vulgar way of referring to a penis, although in Spain it’s rarely used like this in modern speech, but rather is added at the end of sentences to round off your anger (¡Vete de aquí, carajo! – Just leave, damn it!) or to say what the hell..? (¿qué carajo + verb?).

Caray however is usually used by itself, often to express surprise or shock in a mild manner. 

¡Me importa un pepino! instead of ¡Me importa una mierda!

When saying ‘I couldn’t give a damn’, Spaniards say me importa followed by una mierda (sh*t), una polla (d*ck), un coño (p*ssy) or any other swear word that springs to mind. 

But if they want to avoid filthy talk, they usually resort to a healthy assortment of vegetables to do the explaining for them. 

Therefore, ‘not giving a cucumber’ is one of several ways of expressing disdain without actually swearing. 

You can use ¡Me importa un pimiento! (I couldn’t give a pepper!, ¡Me importa un rábano! (I couldn’t give a radish) or ¡Me importa un comino! (I couldn’t give any cumin). 

Interestingly, British English speakers also say ‘not give a fig’ about something.

man holding giant cucumber
Turning your attention to the little importance vegetables have in life should help you stop swearing in Spanish. Photo: Oli Scarf/AFP

¡Vete a freír espárragos! instead of ¡Vete a tomar por culo!

Again, the foodie theme prevails when it comes to Spaniards respectfully telling someone to get lost. 

‘Go and fry asparaguses’ is perhaps the most interesting of the available euphemisms, which we can only assume relates to getting…erm…rodgered (How? We don’t know).  

There’s also “¡Vete a tomar por saco!”, which certainly serves as an alternative to vete a tomar por culo (get done up the backside, but similar to f*ck off or f*ck you in English). Centuries ago, saco (sack) used to be the name Spaniards used to refer to their undergarments, so you get the drift.

You can also use ¡Vete a tomar vientos! (Go get some wind) and ¡Vete a paseo! (Go for a walk). 


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¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

You may be familiar with the basic way Spaniards say ‘cheers’, but there are other Spanish expressions and habits associated with clinking glasses and making a toast that you’ll be happy to learn.

¡Salud! The different ways to say cheers in Spanish

Life in Spain comes with plenty of get-togethers and celebrations, and although alcoholic excesses are not generally part of the Spanish culture, booze will be a part of almost all social occurrences.

If you’re a foreigner who’s made Spain their new home, it’s therefore important to familiarise yourself with the language and idiosyncrasies that are part of such occasions.

Let’s start with the word for a toast, in the sense of honouring someone or something with a drink.

The noun for this is un brindis, which apparently originally comes from the German ‘bring dirs’, meaning ‘bring thee’ (as in, I’ll ‘bring thee’ a drink, a speech, etc.). There’s also the verb brindar, which means to toast.

So if you want to give a toast in Spanish, you should start off by saying me gustaría proponer un brindis por… or me gustaría brindar por… (I’d like to make a toast for) and once you’ve finished your speech you should raise your glass and for example say ¡Por los novios! (for the newlyweds) or ¡Por Juan! (for Juan!).

When it comes to clinking the glasses, Spaniards will often use the interjection chinchín, an onomatopoeia which pays heed to the sound, but it’s really the same as saying cheers.

The most common word used in Spanish to say cheers is ¡Salud!, which means ‘health’, in the same way as the French say santé and the Germans gesondheid. Spaniards may also direct their toast specifically at the person they’re drinking with by saying ¡A tu salud! (To your health!). 

You may be happy to learn that Spaniards don’t take the custom of looking into the other person’s eyes while clinking glasses or drinking quite so seriously as in other European countries, where the failure to do so carries the penalty of seven years of bad sex (ouch!).

A quick glance at the person you’re cheering with will go down well, however, as direct eye contact is the standard in social situations in Spain.

READ ALSO: Why does the birthday person pay for everyone’s food and drinks in Spain?

What is considered to bring bad luck in the bedroom is toasting with a non-alcoholic drink in Spain, so consider yourself warned.

Catalans have an interesting version of the Spanish cheers – ¡salut i força al canut! – which translates to ‘Cheers and strength to the purse’ in order to wish health and wealth, although some people wrongly assume it’s meant to wish people good virility.

While we’re on the subject, there is a very common cheering expression used in Spanish to do with rumpy pumpy.

After cheering, whether by raising a glass or clicking glasses, many Spaniards will then take their glass and quickly place it down on the table before lifting it again to take a swig.

Bemused foreigners will then be reminded that el que no apoya, no folla, ‘the one who doesn’t place it (the glass) down, doesn’t have sex’.

Does it make it any sense? Nope, but it does get a few laughs, and before long you’ll find yourself quickly tapping the base of your drink against the table through force of habit.

Another interesting habit that foreigners in Spain tend to find amusing is when a group of friends in a circle move their glasses in four different directions whilst saying ¡Arriba, abajo, al centro y para dentro!, which means ‘up, down, to the centre and inside’, the latter being when you drink.

So there you have it, ¡Salud a todos! (Cheers to everyone!)