How To Swear Around The World by Jason Sacher, illustrated by Toby Triumph (book review).

November 25, 2015 | By | Reply More

Whenever I employ a foreign language in my stories, one of the first things I look for isn’t something you will find in phrasebooks and that’s how people swear, so I tend to take an interest in books that show the words that are used. It isn’t always a single word so something like the Google translator isn’t always of use nor might it be a translation of an English swear word. I never realised that being called a ‘turtle’ in Chinese could be so offensive. There must be some serious issues about a certain bunch of ninja terrapins films being shown over there.


Swearing can be divided into two main forms. Swearing at yourself or your predicament or at others and the level of that where it is deemed as an insult to cause serious offence.

Although this book, ‘How To Swear Around The World’, doesn’t purport to be comprehensive, the swear words do hit most continents. It would have been nice if the English ones were included as part of the choices so the explanation of meanings could also be included. After all, if this book is sold world-wide, those who only speak mostly their own tongues might want to be educated as to their significance or what they actually mean as well as what to be careful of in English. Insults can happen both ways after all. Oddly, author Jason Sacher doesn’t explain the sources of the words but he does explain some of the associations.

Interestingly, insulting your mother seems to be universally common and less so about insulting your father. Thinking about it, from a historical point of view, maybe who your birthing father is is less important, which is rather odd because being promiscuous is part of the insult about the mother figure.

There are some other interesting word choices. In Spanish, a ‘Hugo’ means vomiting in Argentina. I hope a certain SF award ceremony is never done there. Of animals, being called something related to a dog, cow, pig or donkey is more prevalent and a cat. No doubt for their stubbornness although I would have thought cats would have been pretty high on that list.

Something that I have never explored is the various curses but like swear words, they don’t normally come up in dialogue. You do get a few chosen ones here that might help guide you in what to use but I’m going to have to have a serious think lest I copy. People world-wide do curse death on people so there is never a happy curse.

One language that doesn’t have swear words is Japanese although its inferred by implication and be careful about using the word ‘you’. With the Arab nations, insulting the moustache is most disrespectful. When you consider how so many Arabs have them, I do have to wonder as to whether anyone within earshot would think that they are being addressed.

Although there is a couple pages of how to say ‘sorry’ as the end for being rude, it did make me think that there really ought to be a book about how to be polite or certainly to avoid faux pas with swear words. Not only as a countermeasure for this book but also how not to be unintentionally rude as well.

I wish there were more swear words, usage and insults covered in this book but it does give you some of the more useful ones to be aware of, although I would be careful about saying them abroad in such dangerous times as we live in today. However, this book can also be used as a guide to know if someone is insulting you. Certainly, some aspects of this should be covered in the traditional phrase books. Don’t swear or curse aloud.

GF Willmetts

November 2015

(pub: Chronicle Books. 125 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK), $12.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-1087-5)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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