ratcreature: RatCreature blathers. (talk)
RatCreature ([personal profile] ratcreature) wrote2012-01-05 10:39 pm

a brief intro to swearing in German

Since a few people seemed interested, and I already wrote some of it in previous comments to other entries, I thought I'd post a guide to swearing and insults in German after all. However, please keep in mind that for fiction this can't replace language betas, and personally I think that in many cases actually the better choice is not to litter your story with foreign language fragments to begin with. It also ended up being somewhat rambly.

The basic thing to keep in mind for English-speakers in particular is that the most versatile German swearing is not derived from the German "fuck" but from "shit" (and to some extent piss and other words connected to filth/excrement).

The German "to fuck" is "ficken" and it is just used as a crude word for having sex. It is not used in metaphorical constructions, e.g. the equivalent for "to fuck up" is "Scheisse bauen" (literally "build shit") and to "fuck off" is "verpiss dich" (piss off) etc. You could construct things with ficken, but mostly that is because German is quite flexible when it comes to making up words, and it is not common, and also even more crude than the English as far as my language feeling goes. I don't think I've ever even said that word out loud, actually. This holds even with related words, like "to screw someone" (for cheating) is "jemanden bescheissen", and "to fuck with someone" (like kidding someone in a mean way) is "jemanden verscheissen" ("verarschen", derived from Arsch, i.e. ass, is also possible). Just forget about "ficken" for plain swearing.

So the most important word to know is "die Scheisse". It is female and uncountable in that much like the English "shit" there is no plural. You use it as a simple curse: "Scheisse!" You may also see a masculine word "der Scheiss" which is the crude word for stuff, i.e. "crap", e.g. "Räum deinen Scheiss weg." means "pick up your crap." It is technically spelled "Scheiße" if you can use the "ß" (unless you are a German-speaker in Switzerland or Liechtenstein, they did away with the ß) but it is much simpler to just stick with the ss-equivalent, not least because in certain derived forms like say "beschissen" the ß becomes ss anyway because the vowel changed from "ei" to a short i so it is easier to just go with the ss throughout.

To use "Scheisse" as modifier to curse something, you just put "Scheiss-" in front of the other word, e.g. Scheisswetter (fucking weather), Scheissverkehr (fucking traffic), Scheissjob (fucking job, though for expressing displeasure about work you have a variety words, like calling it Maloche, especially for physically hard work, borrowed from some Yiddish word or other, or repetitive, machinelike work is called robotten in some regional variants etc. so obviously there is more variety than just sticking on prefixes), Scheisscomputer (fucking computer) and so on and so forth.

Just like "fucking" can be put in front of an adjective as well, so can "scheiss-" then not capitalized, e.g "It's fucking cold." is "Es ist scheisskalt." (as a side note, it is not that common with hot, but that is not the mechanism, but probably because "scheissheiss" would rhyme and thus sound funny; "Scheisshitze" for "fucking heat" is common enough).

You can also make it into a proper adjective itself which is "beschissen" (with the literal meaning "covered in shit"), e.g. "Der Job war beschissen." is more or less equivalent to "Der Job war Scheisse." i.e. the job was shit, but then you have to watch out to match and decline it like any other adjective, so it is simpler to just stick with "Scheiss-" in front. As a verb "bescheissen" means to cheat someone, and "verscheissen" means to fuck with someone (i.e. kidding someone in a mean way) and also to mess something up, however for the latter "verkacken" is more common (at least for my language feeling, though you should always keep in mind that regional varieties of German differ considerably).

Which brings us the next part: The more harmless word for shit is "Kacke" (i.e. "poop"), but it is definitely less common, especially in the combination words, i.e. "Kackwetter" is possible but less common than "Scheisswetter". The adjective belonging to it is "verkackt" (don't ask me why it is beschissen, but verkackt -- I have no answer) and that has a connotation of messed up that beschissen has not, and it is less common than beschissen as straightforward adjective. It is more commonly used as a verb for that, e.g. "Ich habe die Prüfung verkackt." means "I have fucked up the exam." That you can also do with a person: "ich hab's mir mit ihm verkackt" if you totally screwed up with someone. You can also substitute scheissen here and say "verscheissen" instead "ich habe die Prüfung verschissen", but I think that is less common, because "verscheissen" means also to fuck with someone in the sense of telling untruths (like I mentioned above). So stick with "verkacken" messing up things, and "beschissen" for things that are crap.

Of course there is more variety in words you can use with the same mechanism to swear, but none are quite so flexible and versatile as "Scheiss-". But you can also use "der Dreck" (dirt), though in most combination with an added "s" to make it sound right in combinations so "Drecks-" (there is some linguistic term for that s that I have forgotten).

Other common cursing works much like in English, so "damn" is "verdammt" (also "verflucht" i.e. "cursed") and works as curse and as an adjective. However like I mentioned above with "beschissen" you have to match it to the noun, its case and article like any other German adjective while you swear, e.g. "a damn dog" is "ein verdammter Hund" while "the damn dog" is "der verdammte Hund", "That damn dog is eating my shoe." is "Der verdammte Hund frißt meinen Schuh." but "I kicked out the damn dog." becomes "Ich habe den verdammten Hund rausgeschmissen." However "Scheisse" encroaches even upon some of the English uses of "damn", e.g. "I don't give a damn." is "es ist mir scheissegal", i.e. the "egal" as adjective was modified with scheiss- (the plain expression is "es ist mir egal" meaning "I don't care").

Okay, so now you can curse things, screw them up or screw with other people. What about insulting people? The basics are "das Arschloch" for the asshole and "der Arsch" for just ass. Notice the grammatical gender, Arschloch is neuter, Arsch is masculine. The equivalent to "cunt" is "die Votze", also spelled "Fotze" sometimes, (but I think it is even cruder than in English, I hear it very rarely), for "bitch" you commonly say "die Ziege" or "Zicke" (both literally mean a female goat). Also common animal insults for women are "Schnepfe" or "Kuh" (meaning snipe and cow respectively).

There are lots of pejorative names for women, like "Schlampe" for slut, not used for men in that sense afaik, though for someone male you could say the somewhat uncommon "Hurenbock" meaning a man who whores around, literally a whore-buck. (I think it's on its way to become oldfashioned or already there? I'm not certain whether it is that or general sexism that makes the insult rare for men.) As a side note to "Schlampe", it also means an untidy, negligent woman (related to "schlampen", "Schlamperei", "schlampig" and so on) instead of a promiscuous one, and with that meaning it can be made male i.e. "der Schlamper" (though that's still rarer than the female), but that has no sexual connotation afaik. But that's patriarchy for you. There's also "die Tussi" which can have a sexual component, perhaps of being "tarted up" (which is "aufgetakelt" in German) but is less extreme than "tart", which would be probably "das Flittchen" (the neuter article there is because the ending -chen always demands the neuter). An even slighter derogative for women is "die Tante" which in plain use just means "aunt" and is neutrally used for that, however if you use it for strangers it means a slightly annoying woman who bothers you on some level, but not for sexually/moral reasons, often in combination words. A common example is "die Klatschtante" for a gossip (the person) because "der Klatsch" means "gossip" (the talk), but it also works for e.g. "Versicherungstante" for a female insurance employee or any number of combinations.

To insult men you tend to combine "Kerl" (which is a slightly derisive word for "guy" with a connotation of being uncouth) with either "Scheiss-" or "Drecks-" so you end up with "Scheisskerl" and "Dreckskerl". If you want to increase the insult slightly you start out with "der Sack", which normally just means a large bag (like the kind for dry goods, not handbags or tote bags, which are "Tasche" in German which also means "pocket" so the overlap of terms for cloth things to store and transport stuff is different), but is on its own already an insult when used for a man. I'm not sure how that became an insult, maybe because it's also "Hodensack" (for scrotum). My dictionary tells me the direct equivalent would be "sod" for British English. Anyway, starting from Sack you get Drecksack. For once it's not usually combined with Scheiss-, a rare example of that. I have no idea why. However it's common to combine those with some adjectives in particular "old" and "lazy", i.e. "alter Sack" and "fauler Sack" respectively.

The equivalent for "motherfucker" is generally said to be "Wichser" (though literally it means "wanker" as "wichsen" means "to wank", only in the masturbation sense, not kerfuffling, or it can also mean to polish your shoes, but you have to specify the shoe part, and it is not so common but I guess innocently that verb is just for a fast rubbing motion), and "son of a bitch" is generally "Hurensohn" (i.e. son of a whore) but I think it is less common than the English.

Obviously there are many more context-dependent insults, like a host of racist words and so on, but on top of the variety, such words also change quite a bit over time, much like youth slang. (Here's the obligatory mention that fiction takes research especially if it wasn't set in present day.) Though generally long established is the mechanism to just append "Schwein" (pig) or "Sau" (sow) to something neutral and it becomes an insult or increases the insult. For example the plain insult for police is "Bullen" (i.e. bulls, though afaik that only established since the 1960s, illustrating the need for research in swear word use) and you can increase that to "Bullenschweine" (see the punk band Slime's lyrics) which doesn't make much sense except for the insult mechanism. It works well for a variety of short words at least of one or two syllables, less for longer ones though there it depends a bit how it rolls of the tongue. E.g. if I wanted to insult an American for being an American I would not attach -schwein to "Amerikaner" but would shorten it to "Ami" (colloquial to slightly pejorative for American) first, and then call them "das Amischwein". So constructing insults without actually knowing the language is very tricky, and they also change over time.

Many of the more specific insults are pretty similar in imagery to their English equivalents, e.g. "brown-noser" is "der Arschkriecher" in German ("der Kriecher" on its own is also an insult, someone who crawls, i.e. a sycophant), though there's also the slightly less vulgar "der Speichellecker" (more or less meaning toady, literally spit-licker.

When insulting for class, very common if highly troublesome is calling people "Assi" (more or less something like "white trash" I think). I say it is troublesome because of course this is short for "der Asoziale", and thus one of the categorizations for people to be put into concentration camps, and the underlying idea that some non-conforming/non-productive people are somehow a drain on society and harm the whole is still very much present in the ideology even if calling the imagined whole "Volkskörper" went out of style because of the horrifying ends to which this ideology was taken. But anyway, it's quite common to hear "Assi".

When insulting for intelligence there is a whole gaggle of words, just like in English, all with slight variation in the connotations. For common plain ones choices could be "Idiot" (pretty much like the English) or "Trottel" (has shades of clumsy ineptitude). The equivalent to the offensive use of "retarded" in German is "behindert" (meaning just "disabled" and as that is in regular use) with the same problems.

With sexual orientation the equivalent for "gay" is "schwul" and has become likewise reclaimed, so it's not really an insult anymore, except among teenagers (much like "gay"). It's however less used as a generic equivalent for homosexual ("homosexuell") in German, so a lesbian (or "Lesbe" in German) is just "lesbisch". An insult for a gay man would be "die Schwuchtel" (you notice how unlike the plain "der Schwule" it's feminine). As with many such terms I have seen it reclaimed by a few gays, but in general use that is an insult. The same is true for "die Tunte", that one goes more in the direction of "queen", but is used in a reclaimed sense more often, though still not neutral. Also, while "Homosexueller" is clinical but more or less neutral like the English "a homosexual", the shortened form "Homo" is not.

Back from the specific to the general, there also is a weaker way to make pejoratives without swearing, which I never know how to translate in English, but is popular to express disdain in German (explained here in more depth by a linguist). The mechanism is that you can modify most verbs into a noun and then modify them with pre- or postfixes to express disdain, say you dislike someone's singing, the regular noun would be "der Gesang" but you can also take "singen" and make it into "das Gesinge" or into "die Singerei" and neither is a neutral noun, though the latter slightly less pejorative than the former, i.e. that can also just mean not being serious, like in "die Spielerei" for a playful diversion less serious than a "Spiel" i.e. a game. Or if you have "reden" (i.e. talk) you can make "das Reden" which neutral act of speaking or "die Rede" which is a talk in the sense of a speech, but there is also "das Gerede" for pointless talking. However that these addons make things derogative is not a hard rule, I think, and it doesn't always work, so you have to ask a linguist for details. It does work for many verbs made into nouns though.

And when you make negative verbs into nouns like "labern" for "to blather" you don't go for the simple noun "das Labern" (which would be technically correct) but say "das Gelaber" for "the blather" to reinforce the negative connotation. Then of course you can stress it with cursing on top of that, like "Scheissgelaber" if you are particularly frustrated and people go on endlessly without coming to a resolution. Similarly if you want to curse your exhausting job you can first go for calling it "Maloche" (as mentioned above, German pilfered a fairly large number of colorful words from Hebrew via Yiddish) then make that worse with "Malocherei" and then add a Scheiss- so it becomes "Scheissmalocherei". German is like Lego that way.
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[personal profile] lireavue 2012-01-05 10:47 pm (UTC)(link)
...I love DW's Network, and I just started looking through my German textbook today, and I am having an EPICALLY bad day. Swearing in new languages is one of the surefire ways to cheer me up at least a little. YAY THANK YOU.
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[personal profile] kittydesade 2012-01-05 10:54 pm (UTC)(link)
And I was just saying yesterday I didn't have enough swear words in enough languages for the crap this day is heaping on everyone. Excellent! I will print this out and put it in my binder of awesome.

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[personal profile] astridv 2012-01-05 11:07 pm (UTC)(link)
Very entertaining post indeed!
A male version of 'Tante' would be 'Heini' in my neck of the woods. Dieser blöde Heini, der Versicherungsheini...

Yeah, Fotze is really more vulgar than cunt; I rarely ever hear it and when I do, I slowly back away - indicates it's not my crowd.

that the most versatile German swearing is not derived from the German "fuck" but from "shit"

Scheiss~ is the little black dress of German swearwords. ;)

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[personal profile] mecurtin 2012-01-05 11:43 pm (UTC)(link)
Thank you very much! I have sent this over to the Distant Future, to improve her German studies.

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[personal profile] sqbr 2012-01-06 02:58 am (UTC)(link)
Oooh, thankyou! I did German at school and we didn't cover any of this :) We had at most "so ein Mist!" which I'm sure is an incredibly dorky thing no actual teenager would say.

I never knew that nouning made verbs insulting, how fascinating!
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[personal profile] domarzione 2012-01-06 03:32 am (UTC)(link)
Verkackteh -- very useful Yiddish word, I know it well. :)

Very entertaining overview. It won't save you from eye-searingly bad language abuse, but maybe one person will think more carefully...
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[personal profile] lilacsigil 2012-01-06 03:36 am (UTC)(link)
This is excellent, and a great (but entertaining) discouragement to using German without checking first!

Slut used to have the same connotations in English (disorderly, negligent) but not for several decades now. Interesting how the word developed in the same way in both languages!

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[personal profile] quietbang 2012-01-06 04:49 am (UTC)(link)
That's super-useful, thank you. I always try not to use gratuitous foreign languages unless I'm sure of their meaning in writing, because as a native francophone I've been subjected to enough terrible French to last a lifetime, but I've always felt German is the best language to swear in. ;)
I only did a bit of it in school, but my list goes thusly:
French to live
English for science
German for swearing
Italian for seducing
Latin for art.

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[personal profile] schneefink 2012-01-06 09:25 am (UTC)(link)
Hehe, fun to see it all explained like that. As for regional differences, "Assi" is only used in Germany afaik, and I've never even heard Maloche. "Vollidiot" and "Volltrottel" are fairly popular here.
Now I want this for all the other languages...

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[personal profile] thady 2012-01-06 03:43 pm (UTC)(link)
I've heard some "Fick dich" und "Fick dich ins Knie" around here, but it's not really common.

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[personal profile] genarti 2012-01-06 04:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Ooooh. I don't speak German at all, but I love languages, so this is fascinating! I don't anticipate using it in any fic soon, because it's not particularly relevant to any of my current fandoms or original stuff, but I am always, always interested to learn more about languages as they're actually used. Thanks for writing this!
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[personal profile] acari 2012-01-06 05:11 pm (UTC)(link)
You hear "Proll" around here quite often. Which I would say falls into the category of words like "chav" in the Uk or "bogan" in Australia.

I usually only think "ficken" related swearing, like "Fick dich ins Knie". I don't think I ever said it out loud, but I use "scheiße" and related words like punctuation sometimes. "Fotze" is a complete no-go.

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[personal profile] weewarrior 2012-01-06 07:15 pm (UTC)(link)
*applaudiert* Das war richtig lehrreich, selbst für 'nen Native Speaker. Auch wenn ich jetzt das Gefühl habe, Deutsch als Sprache ist echt analfixiert...

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[personal profile] jo_lasalle 2012-01-06 07:23 pm (UTC)(link)
I saw this linked somewhere on my network, and it cracked me up hard. Well done on cataloguing all that! Seeing various quirks of the German language illustrated by 'how to use Scheiße correctly' is hilarious and fantastic. Lego, indeed.
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hey, cool!

[personal profile] kaz 2012-01-06 09:00 pm (UTC)(link)
More data for regional variation [er, for swearing I think I represent the Göttingen contingent as my parents, who are from elsewhere, don't swear much]: I think I hear "ficken" in swearing more than you do, but it usually seems pretty lifted from English - "fick dich!" and the like. I have never heard the word "Maloche", I would not use "verkackt" (would probably use "versaut", or possibly "ich bin bei X abgekackt", or other stuff that's not coming to mind right now), would not use "verscheissen" and am very sure I've never it used that way - I'd use "bescheissen" instead ("du willst mich wohl bescheissen?"). I haven't heard Schnepfe but that might be because I haven't heard people try to seriously insult one another that much (la la living in Britain).

Also, thank you for informing me of the etymology of "Assi". Bam, that's one word out of my vocabulary. (Did something similar with "Spasti", and also with "geil" although more out of mortification on that one.)

Also also, I've never consciously realised that stuff with pejorative prefixes and suffixes but it is hella interesting! :D I'd also sometimes add "Rumge-" in place of "ge-" for another layer of pejorativeness plus making it more colloquial (dieses Rumgetanze, ehrlich).

Re: hey, cool!

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[personal profile] lobelia321 2012-01-06 10:55 pm (UTC)(link)
German is like lego!

*loves this post*
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[personal profile] cakey 2012-01-07 12:54 am (UTC)(link)
Lego language! Very interesting, I love to listen to people talk about their native languages like this, especially when you compare it to English, and I read this as a Norwegian :)

the most versatile German swearing is not derived from the German "fuck" but from "shit"

And in Norwegian it's "faen" ("the devil"). We're all about the religious swearing up here in Scandinavialand. Other than that the construction of swear words are remarkably similar. European languages are like a big family. An inbred dysfunctional family...

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[personal profile] khana 2012-01-09 12:11 am (UTC)(link)
cool post. (i should be asleep!)

I don't hear verscheißen, but verscheißern. or, as kids, we used verkackeiern. no, i don't know where that one came from. and most commonly for this, verarschen.
also, i have heard and used 'verfickt(e scheiße)', as a use of ficken.
and i have heard malochen, but only ever from my grandpa's generation, i think. schuften, in verb form, more often. but that's not really derogatory.

andyway, yes, we really do have a lego language. makes me want to have a look if i still hve something on morphology. but i probably through it all out.
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[personal profile] oxymora 2012-01-09 02:55 pm (UTC)(link)

I really hope people use this (and follow the advice of getting a language beta), because I'm tired of Google Translate German(TM).

'Fick dich ins Knie' was fairly common when I was a teenager (the 90s, Bonn), and of course there's Fickscheiße and verfickte Scheiße, but I guess Scheiße makes everything viable as an insult. Recently, I've heard Mutterficker a few times (mostly ironically), but that always throws me for a loop, it sounds so weird.

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[personal profile] christycorr 2012-01-09 02:59 pm (UTC)(link)
This was amazing! A very interesting read. Thank you! ♥
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[personal profile] sylvaine 2012-01-18 11:33 am (UTC)(link)
Hee, this post made me grin. I love reading about language, and this is particularly interesting because I can actually compare it to my own experiences/connotations of the various words you addressed. I doubt I could be that articulate about swearing, and I never realised it was that *complicated*!

Now I would love to see a post like this one for other languages, too...

[identity profile] ileliberte.livejournal.com 2012-01-05 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I can't imagine ever really needing this stuff, but language is always so fascinating and I love this post ♥

[identity profile] jimandblair.livejournal.com 2012-01-05 11:17 pm (UTC)(link)

the grammar and the structure aside insults are so primal. I recall our discussion about (I'm even struggling to type it) 'spakka'/spastic

I am however entertained that Kacke is poo, since this seems similar to the word used for poo in my 'neck of the woods' -- although phonetically I would say 'Ca-ka'

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[identity profile] imadra-blue.livejournal.com 2012-01-05 11:31 pm (UTC)(link)
I would likely never need this (I try to stick to English, and if I ever do have characters speak in non-English, I try to get people who know the language to beta for me), but it was really interesting to read. I like finding out how insults work in other languages. I don't even know why. XD Thanks for putting this together!

My icon should match the facial expressions of people cursing in any language! (He does have a loud, filthy mouth in canon. XD)

[identity profile] talitha78.livejournal.com 2012-01-06 04:16 am (UTC)(link)
LOL. This post is total win!

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