Cursing in French

Disclaimer: There will be cuss words in both French and English in this post. If that is going to offend you, please feel quite free to skip it and move on!

After half a year in France, I’ve just finally begun to figure out cussing in French. And boy is it weird.

Here’s the thing. And I didn’t realize this until I went to see Django Unchained with French subtitles: they don’t actually seem to* have all the cussing variability the English language so generously provides.

For instance: “putain” is supposedly the French version of F—. However, I quickly caught on that it isn’t used like f–k. It doesn’t seem to hold the same power. I mean, it’s by no means a good word, but it doesn’t quite have that, well, rape connotation to it (I should specify here and say that the original definition of f–k did have rather violent sexual connotations that don’t necessarily exist anymore, although they do kind of provide an undercurrent). It felt more like a cross between damn and f**k. Not quite as bad or soft as either.

Upon further consideration though, I discovered something interesting. “Putain” is completely different! Haha, it seems logical, but it just doesn’t have the same usage, connotation or meaning. It stems from “whore,” but the usage is a mix between f–k, damn and shit. Because the word for shit is used for a much more specific situation where things have really turned sour.

Anyway. I just wanted to say to y’all. Cursing. Doesn’t. Translate.

*added after original publish. Keep in mind that I’ve only been here 6 months.


6 thoughts on “Cursing in French

  1. “…they don’t actually have all the cussing variability…”
    This is wrong . I probably know more of English than you know French, and I can assure that French owns an infinity of swearwords which surpass by far English arsenal . You just have no idea of them and probably don’t recognize them when you hear fluent French .

    1. You have a valid point, however if you can’t see it in a movie like Django which is one of the best representations of cursing I can think of, where would you use it?

  2. A movie . An American movie . Subtitles are often far from the actual dialogue . Besides, you can only read French “translations” of US swearwords, which doesn’t make much sense does it ? The French don’t swear in the same way, they use many other types of dirty words, refering to other taboos .
    Ordinary people in life often use swearwords, which became unnoticed nowadays due to overusing . To hear more, any kind of worker, young brat, white trash, the list is long . Or watch modern French films, the “real hard life” kind . There are plenty . But as I said the risk is you don’t catch them .

  3. Perfectly legitimate. I did end making the point that the approach is fundamentally different. You are right to point out that the translations don’t translate, because they don’t. Even when we are instructed that they do (through movies, classes, other translation media).

  4. If you’re interested, there are swearings coming from the excrements family . Chier ( to shit) is used and declined ( chiant, chiadé…) in many phrases bearing different meanings . Pisser too . The southern version of chier, caguer, is common too .
    Gueule ( gob) with engueuler ( to scold), dégueuler ( to vomite), is used in many occasions and nuances too .
    Salaud ( bastard) is in the top 10 . Its feminine version salope can mean whore, bitch, of a bastard female .
    Putain, or pute, or putasse, you heard .
    Fuck does exist : it’s foutre . It is used in an infinity of phrases with an infinity of meanings .
    Cul (ass) with its family . Enculer ( fuck in the ass), and “Enculé ! ” wich, like putain has gone far from its initial meaning, now used as a harder version of Salaud .
    To name prick and cunt, French slang must be N°1 in the world . I would need a whole paragraph to enumerate them .
    The same can be said about the hundred possible ways to name sexual acts in slang/cussing .
    This is just a sample man, and honestly I’ve always been startled by the few possibilities English offers in that domain ( maybe this f… puritanism…). And believe me when I was a teenager in England and a young bloke in the States I did some extensive research on this important subject .

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