What do Japanese think of English swear words?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/27/what-do-japanese-think-of-engl.html



I found that because I thought I’d posted this before.

(an actual book for sale)


I’ve noticed their swear words just aren’t very powerful.

My son was a fan of shounen anime at a young age, where the heroes are constantly swearing “kuso.” The translators can’t render it literally, because literally it means “shit.” But it’s so mild, your teenage heroes can say it ten times an episode… which wouldn’t work as well in English.


You don’t have to go that far: English swear words include a lot of straight sex terms that are almost ordinary words in French. Look up ‘baiser’ in a good dictionary - it means ‘to kiss’ but a lot more too. I feel the French usage is a lot healthier.

maybe that’s why they are so intense with samurai

Kind of like “oh, poo”, I guess.

  1. Sex words
  2. Excrement
  3. Blasphemy

I don’t think there’s a fourth category.

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It is literally impossible to curse up a storm or even subtitle a Tarantino movie correctly in Japanese. Even “Go pound sand up your ass” from Fast Times at Ridgemont High doesnt translate.

There are a total of three swear words:

  1. baka (stupid)
  2. kuso (shit but completely mild in Japanese, not even a “bad word” in most cases)
  3. shinu (die)

Despite the variety of guidebooks as per @Jorpho earlier post, I’ve yet to hear anyone here who hasn’t lived in the US use the word fuck out loud. Honestly even phrases like “lets fuck” end up being very indirect.


Speaking of Japanese, the creator of Chibi Maruko-Chan has passed away at age 53

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There is also:

  1. aho (stupid but with a Kansai accent)
  2. zaken nayo (oh #$%%!)
  3. eitchi (perv)
  4. chin chin (pee-pee, childish way to call a penis)
  5. maguro (both tuna and female anatomy)

My wife frequently calls me 1


You can curse explicitly in Japanese, it’s just not that necessary because all that’s necessary is to break the polite phrasing. ‘hame’ is fuck/pound, but not used for cussing like English. Probably the worst are ‘kurosuzo’ (I will kill you, but even ruder), ‘shineyo’ (die), and temee (just ‘you’, but implying the listener is six social levels beneath the speaker, like an Indian ragpicker).

Others I can think of that @Israel_B and @Mangochin didn’t cover are ‘kusotare’ (asshole, literally shit person), ‘busu’ (ugly), ‘kusogaki’ (shitty brat, there’s that kuso again), ‘debu’ (fatass), ‘ama’ (bitch), ‘uzendayo’ (shut the fuck up, but literally ‘[you’re loud and] annoying’), ‘kusokurae’ (eat shit). Edit: Can’t believe I forgot ‘konoyaro’ (bastard, literally ‘this guy’, but impolite).

So really, just add ‘kuso’ to anything. And typically Japanese, kuso + x can be super mild or super rude depending on context.

Oh right - the worst possible thing is getting called ‘kimo~~~(i)!’ by a young girl - creepy, disgusting, i.e. nearly every guy over age 30.



  1. Belgium

Reminds me of the scene in Bleach when Renji can’t beat Ichigo in a fight and Renji screams kuso for about ten minutes straight.

And yeah direct swearing isn’t all that impactful at least in anime. But calling someone a creep or perverted seems to have horrible and devastating power.

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But what if you’re not just trying to be offensive, what if you’re trying to let off some lexical pressure from pain, such as closing your hand in the car door? Please tell me Japanese folks have a way of stringing together profane threats at such offending inanimate objects, or at least have an equivalent to something mild, like “Jesus-tap-dancing-Christ”?


Good question - I’m not an expert on that, not around too many people in serious pain, thankfully (just rude people), but for mild cases I’ve noticed they like ‘kusoooooooooooooooooo’ (the swiss army knife of cuss words) or ‘iTAtatatatatatatatata’ (‘itai’ is ‘pain/it hurts’, now imagine putting that pain into the ‘ta-ta-ta’ while you dance around holding your hand). Or ‘aaah, zukizuki’, which is throbbing pain (also used for migraines), so they like focusing on the repetition, also lots of sucking air in between teeth. I haven’t noticed anything resembling our profanity except kuso.

This study, for example, found that Japanese speakers using ‘kusokusokuso’ could extend their time in cold water like English speakers saying ‘fuckfuckfuck’: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877886017301544


There are quite a few languages where dropping into the informal pronouns is bad enough. Most of the Indian languages for example. They are what you’d use to address a child, an animal, or a very low caste. SInhala has polite and impolite verb forms, too.


Everyone I’ve known has gone the Itai(repeat ad nauseam) route for most painful accidents.

For really bad things, what I’ve heard is a intentional repeating sucking air sound, almost hissing (because you can’t even say Itai)…

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  1. (oh) deer. It’s the worst to call anybody.
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