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Learning Spanish For Members

Why do Spaniards swear so much?

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
Why do Spaniards swear so much?
A sign reading 'Fucking Spain' during national day in Catalonia. Do Spaniards swear more on average than other nationalities. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

A common belief among English-speaking foreigners living in Spain is that the average Spaniard is a bit of a potty mouth. Is it true, or just a load of b*llocks?

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Swear words, called palabrotas or tacos in Spanish, are part of daily speech in Spain. 

That’s not to say swearing is A-ok in all social settings - in formal settings and in front of children they’re unsuitable, for example - but tacos certainly get used more often than not without anyone even batting an eyelid. 

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Spanish swear words simply don’t have the shock factor that the F-word or the C-word can have for English speakers. 

There isn’t really a taboo swear word, although some curse words have more clout than others and factors such as intonation and context can also play a big part.

READ MORE: What's the worst possible insult in the Spanish language?

The average Latin American Spanish speaker will also be quick to point out that Spaniards tend to curse more than their own countrymen.

So are Spaniards as ‘sweary’ as their reputation would suggest?

According to a survey by language learning platform Preply, 48 percent of Spaniards don’t like to hear expletives. If that’s the case, they’re certainly doing a very good job of hiding their disdain for them. 

Preply found that Spaniards use an average of 9 swear words a day, a figure which apparently makes them more well-spoken than people in the US (21), Poland (19), the UK (10) and Germany (10). 

It’s a positioning which many in Spain, Spaniards and foreign residents included, would no doubt question. 

The same poll found that Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the place in Spain where people swear the most (16 curse words a day), but just over the water in the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is where they apparently swear the least (5 a day). 

What does seem more believable about Preply’s findings is the breakdown of when Spaniards swear the most: in the company of friends (31 percent), at home (31 percent), when driving (16 percent) and when at work (13 percent). 

In terms of who instigates Spanish people to swear, it’s again friends first (35 percent), oneself (35 percent), partners (14 percent), work colleagues (8 percent), siblings (5 percent) and finally parents (2 percent).

READ ALSO: ¡Joder! An expert guide to correctly using the F-word in Spanish

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As mentioned briefly earlier on, more than 68 percent of Spaniards avoid swearing in front of children or their bosses, 58 percent mince their swear words with elderly people, 55 percent keep their speech clean with strangers and 51 percent avoid obscenities during meals. 

Spanish men reportedly swear more (10.4 times a day), while women do so a bit less frequently (7.8 times a day). 

As interesting as all this information may be, it doesn’t really clarify whether Spaniards are the curse word kings.

In an article in The Guardian asking its international readership which country or culture they thought had the most lax attitudes towards swearing people named Americans, Scots, Australians, Czechs and Jamaicans. One reader who had lived in Hungary and Spain said Hungarians swear more. 

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If you Google why do the French or why do Italians swear so much, numerous Reddit forums will pop up with people asking the same question as they do about Spaniards.

Perhaps it’s more a case of swear words being more socially accepted. You’ll never hear an insult or swear word get bleeped out on Spanish TV, even if it’s national news, nor will an apology for the expletive follow.

Demonstrators hold a banner reading "Agenda 2030, stick it up your arse" during a farmers protest in Spain 2024.(Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

If a child or grandmother in Spain swear, it will be met with looks of disapproval, but not the same collective gasp as in English-speaking countries.

Swearing in Spanish isn’t just about expressing anger and frustration, tacos are just as applicable for surprise, joy, approval and relief. 

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If something’s good, you can say cojonudo or de puta madre (fucking or bloody great). If you’re pleasantly surprised, you can say ¡Coño! ¡Qué sorpresa! (shit, what a surprise!). If your team scores a goal, you shout ¡Vamos, joder! (Fuck yeah!). If you want to pay someone a compliment, you can tell them they’re el puto amo (the fucking boss). 

READ ALSO: Why 'cojones' (testicles) is the most versatile word in Spanish

Curse words are also probably used more often in Spain as a sign of affection among friends - ¡Te quiero, cabrón! (I love you, you bastard) or ¿Qué pasa hijo de puta? ¡Cuanto tiempo! (What’s up, you son of a bitch? It’s been so long!) - whereas in English this would be more appropriate for an episode of The Sopranos than between friends in daily life.

“Spanish and Catalan have always been languages ​​very rich in insults and foul words have always been said, there has been evidence of this since the Middle Ages,” Emili Boix, professor of multilingualism at the University of Barcelona (UB), told La Vanguardia.

“What happens is that now all this appears more in public and before it was more hidden, and previous swearing was only a thing for men and now women have joined in using it”.

Things have certainly changed since the times of the Spanish Inquisition, where speaking sacrilegiously about God or Catholicism could lead to you being imprisoned and muzzled. 

READ ALSO: ¡Me cago en! Seven things Spaniards verbally defecate on

Interestingly, blasphemy remained illegal in Spain until 1888. Now something as blasphemous as ‘crapping on God’ (cagarse en Dios) is acceptable as a way of expressing anger. 

For Susana Guerrero, language professor at the University of Málaga, the fundamental change to swearing in Spain came with the arrival of democracy and the concept of “freedom” and “egalitarianism” leading to the demise of linguistic courtesy in public, something which still exists in many Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.

READ ALSO: Do Spanish people actually use the formal ‘usted’ form anymore?

“The frequency creates a certain desensitisation in the listeners or readers so curse words lose their virulence,” linguist Antonio Millan told La Vanguardia.

“It's like eroticism: the first topless beach trip surely made many people's eyes pop out of their sockets, and today they’re very common”.

Interestingly, calling someone an imbécil (imbecile), idiota (idiot), subnormal (moron) or payaso (clown) can cause much more offence to the receiver than cabrón, hijo de puta, gilipollas and capullo, all of which are actual swear words.

So all things considered, it’s fair to say that Spaniards swear more than they used to but there’s no proof that they’re the world’s biggest potty mouths, that cursing generally causes less offence in Spain than in other countries (including Spanish-speaking Latino ones) and that swear words are more ‘applicable’ in a variety of situations other than just to show anger or frustration.

The correct usage of swear words may be a sign of fluency and advanced integration, but it can be a nuanced and delicate subject for foreigners who are learning Spanish to broach, so please tread carefully!

READ ALSO: How to swear ‘politely’ in Spanish

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