Croats and Swearwords

Total Croatia News

Teacher, what does this mean? I keep hearing it in the street! – a student of mine asked a few years ago and pointed to his notebook where some… well, words unlikely to be taught by any respectable Croatian teacher at a Croatian course were written.
My face changed colours as I mumbled something that sounded like:
-Oh, that one…well…I’ll tell you later, it’s slightly complicated. Moving on!

I remembered this event the other day while I was taking an extremely crowded tram to work. I left my headphones at home so, instead of relaxing music, I was forced to listen to everyday chats on the tram and I got to the conclusion that, man, these Croatians really like swearwords.

So, I decided to write a few words about it. Without using a single swearword. Which is quite a challenge.

We’re all aware that there’s a secret link between Croats and swearwords. Every now and then a sensationalist newspaper headline declares that Newest research shows that Croats are the third nation in the world when it comes to swearing.
As if it needed any research! Just go into the first tram taking tired Croats back home from work in the afternoon and you’ll hear everything that a decent Croatian teacher will never teach you.

Honourable exceptions do exist. Take me, for example. Well, I might not be the best example because, being a true Croat that I am, I mumble an occasional swearword to myself when I’m angry.

But I know some people who truly never swear. Never ever have I heard a swearword come out of their mouths. And good for them! Except when they’ve had one too many pints. That’s when swearwords enter their vocabulary and they fit in with the rest of the crowd nicely.

The truth is, all exceptions aside, we really love our swearwords.
Businesspeople talking on their phones, teenagers scrolling on Facebook on their phones, moms yelling at their kids at the park – you can hear all of them swear at one point or another. Even kids!

I caught my five-year-old, frustrated because he can’t build his Lego set, swearing to himself.

Where did you hear that? Was it at the kindergarten? – I lashed out.
We don’t use those words in this family! – I began my lecture – Tell me right now where you heard it?
I heard you say it when you were speaking on the phone yesterday.

I start thinking and remember that my son did in fact interrupt me while I was on the phone the day before.

Mom, don’t say that! Teacher Višnja said that that’s a bad word.

And there we were. I feel like teacher Višnja from the kindergarten is the only Croat who doesn’t swear.

When do we use swearwords?

We use swearwords when we’re angry, which is understandable. But sometimes we use them when we’re happy. Or surprised. Resigned. When we’re talking to the help desk assistant. When we see our electricity bill. And in most cases we use the same exact word, which I won’t write down because I’m a polite Croatian teacher. The only thing that changes is the pronunciation and our facial expression.

So, what’s our excuse? There are several theories. Let me present two of them:

1) It is said that swearing is a sign of a limited vocabulary.
I heard the following statement while I was talking to a foreigner recently: I’ve travelled the world, but nowhere have I heard swearwords similar to those in Croatian.
Take any Croatian dictionary and you’ll see that there are plenty of words in Croatian and that any adjective could be a great substitute for the “j” word.
So, I think it’s safe to say that Croatian vocabulary is not limited.

2) We don’t use that many swearwords! It’s not only Croatia! People swear everywhere, just look at the movies on TV!
This statement always reminds me of a famous Croatian tennis player, unmatched when it comes to the number of destroyed rackets and rage outbursts, and his match, aired on CNN. He lost the match, threw the racket and uttered a vast array of famous Croatian swearwords for the whole wide world to hear. CNN anchorman tried to convey a semblance of translation of what the tennis player was saying and then he just gave up and said:
I have no idea what he’s talking about!
And every Croat could clearly read his lips: the *** judge didn’t *** give him a point and that the *** racket was *** bad and… Ok, you get the picture.

So, what’s the conclusion? What’s this secret link between Croats and swearing? My favourite theory is this, number three:

3) Croats are simply – passionate.
The best way to spot this is if you happen to stumble upon a car accident, not the serious kind, but the one that happens daily on the crowded roads when a car bumps into a car in front of it. The drivers step outside, slam their doors, hold their heads – and everyone starts their unique set of swearwords and the tension rises.

Is there going to be a fight? Should I call the police? No, just hold on.
If you wait five minutes, the two men will shake hands, pat each other on the back and calmly exchange phone numbers. Sometimes they’ll even grab a rakija or two at a nearby bar. To settle the misunderstanding. And defuse tensions.

Croats are just passionate and have a hot temper
We love talking a lot. And we love being right. And we don’t really like being told that we’re not right. We like to face our opponents here and now. Settle things right away. Not hold back. Tell it like it is. With the use of choice wording.

So, don’t hold it against us if we sometimes use bad words, our hearts are mostly in the right place.

I’ll finish this article as soon as possible… because I just got a call from my mobile service provider’s technical assistance – something’s not right with my phone bill.

I’m afraid you might hear a word that no polite Croatian teacher will teach you.


Looking to learn a little Croatian from a VERY polite teacher? Check out Mihaela’s language courses at CroToGo.



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