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.
¡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.
¡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.
¡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.
¡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).