Language Matters: C-Words of Difference

A while back, I had a facebook chat with an American friend who left the US about a decade ago and settled in Costa Rica. It went something like this:

Her: So, now you’re in Spain… how’s your Spanish coming along?

Me: I’m getting there. Curious though that no sentence seems to be complete if it doesn’t contain either culo*, mierda** or coño.

Her: What is coño?

Me: Uhm… CUNT.

Her: ?!?

[*arse **shit]


The fact that my American friend, who’s certainly no prissy, had not encountered this term, despite having lived for many years in a Spanish-speaking country (and being fluent in Spanish), speaks volumes. Latin Americans, on the whole, aren’t given to peppering their soft, mellifluous language with expletives.

The Spanish, on the other hand, have a reputation for being straight-talking and potty-mouthed. Since I’m quite partial to this communication style myself, I fit right in, but, I must confess, even after four years in Spain, I’m still a bit shy of the c-word.

I should get over myself. Cunts get dropped into conversation left, right and centre. It’s no big deal. You could be showing someone an infected mosquito bite and they’d exclaim, ¿Qué coño es esto? – What the hell is that!? Or you might have had a glass of wine too many at the expense of coherence when your still relatively sober drinking buddy confronts you with ¿De qué coño estás hablando? – What the hell are you talking about? 

¡Coño! as an exclamation by itself can mean a million different things, like “Are you shitting me?”, “What the hell were you thinking!?”, “WOW!” and “FFS!”. You get the idea.

If something’s “a big bloody hassle”, then it’s a coñazo – literally: a BIG CUNT.

So, there you have it. The Spanish are comfortable with their cunts.

Until they move to an English speaking country and discover that not everyone else is.

A Spanish friend of mine, who’s been living in London for more than two decades, avoids the ubiquitous little English word “can’t” at all cost.

The subtle differences in English vowel sounds are a real coñazo for Spanish speakers. Spanish only has five vowel sounds, while English has more than twenty. For Latin Americans living in the US, this is not so much of an issue in this particular case, but in British English pronunciation, can’t and the ‘unmentionable’ are dangerously close. Too close for comfort for my friend, who painstakingly resorts to “cannot” instead.


You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here:


69 thoughts on “Language Matters: C-Words of Difference

  1. expatlingo

    Yes, the British can’t does sound very similar to cunt, doesn’t it? I hadn’t thought about that.

    I was told that something I said in Dutch (I can’t remember what now) sounded dangerously close to something that was horrifyingly vulgar. But I couldn’t hear the difference myself and then I forgot which word it was anyway. Context must have tipped people off, but I may have given some native speakers a good laugh.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. expatlingo

        Hahahah! Maybe inserting this kinds of mix-ups on purpose is a good way to extend what could be short, simple transactions into longer mini-language lessons as the native speakers try to explain what you’ve done wrong. Might even be a marketable language-learning method?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. BerLinda

    I had a friend at uni who totally demystified the cunt for me. EVERYTHING was ‘cunt’ in one form or another. She used it as an adjective, adverb and pretty much everything in between. Cunt, cunty, cuntish… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Anna

    The Russian ‘cunt’ equivalent is also a LOT more widespread here (ahem), usage-wise (double-ahem) than it is in the US. It used to startle me… but those quaint days are over 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Pecora Nera

    I have to be careful in Italy when I go shopping at the green grocers, because garden peas are piselli, and a penis can be called pisello, and who in their right mind wants to buy 1/2 a kilo of penises in a brown paper bag??

    Liked by 1 person

  5. camparigirl

    Surprisingly, in British English I found the use of “cunt” to be fairly prevalent. Here in the States it is a big no no. In Italy, the word “figa” gets tossed around as much as it does in Spanish, totally demystified.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. barbedwords

    Yes, it’s definitely not one to slip into conversation here. After drunkenly using it at a dinner party, I had to ring all the guests the next morning to apologise! I stick to ‘See You Next Tuesday’ now 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Charlotte Steggz

    I love this kind of linguistic “debate”. In the UK, we’d say “fanny” as a euphemism, but who was it who decided that the word “fanny” is ok and “cunt” isn’t? I don’t drop the “c-bomb” myself, but I don’t avoid swearing, unless I am around sensitive ears. Words have power but I don’t see how one should feel restricted.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Kim G

    In Mexico, “chingar,” and all of its various derivatives serve as all-purpose swear words. I even have a book called El Chingonario which is filled with all the various forms and uses of chingar. It’s a totally multi-purpose word, but is loosely based on “fuck,” though that’s only part of the sense of it.

    But coño? I don’t hear that one much at all in Mexico. Maybe it’s just the circles I run in.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    A donde estamos chingados porque no podemos comer hoy debido a una cita mañana con el doctor. Coño!


    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      ROFL! I need El Chingonario 🙂 You’ve got to investigate for me re. coño in Mexico.. let me know what you find out… hope you won’t have to dig too deep 😉 Pobrecito con lo de la cita…un día sin comer – ¡impensable!


  9. Jenna

    Oh, I do not like that word, though as more and more people have revealed their true colors, I’ve actually become more comfortable with it. And it’s funny, because if you hear it with a heavy Irish brogue, it’s not so bad….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. patrymr93

        Tengo que ir a Alemania. La historia pone los pelos de punta (como la española) y los paisajes, según he visto, son geniales. Tengo un amigo trabajando allí.


  10. Pingback: Language Matters: Gender Benders On The Rampage | Lady Of The Cakes

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