Swearing in Croatia: 10 Things to Know About the J-Word

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Every time I’ve picked up a new foreign language, one of the first things I did after I’ve learned the basics was looking up a list of the most common swearing words. Not because I had a burning desire to go around and show off my newly acquired talent for cussing, but I thought it useful to be able to understand all the delightful phrases people might be throwing my way. No laughing at this foreigner’s expense.

Jokes aside, some languages have a more colourful vocabulary than others, Croatian being one of them. Swearing is an integral part of the way we communicate around here, and even though it might seem distasteful or uncivilised to some, keep in mind it’s not always meant to offend – in fact, deliberate offences make up only 10% of our all-around swearing habit. Regardless of our manners, our education level or the way we were raised, we’re all guilty of dropping a couple of F-bombs every now and then.

To be more precise, even though we do occasionally resort to some English expletives, we’re way more fond of our own: the J-words. Simply put, the Croatian equivalent of to f*ck is jebati, and we have a long history of using the root jeb [yeb] to produce as many entertaining and versatile variations of the word as we could possibly think of. It would be impossible to list them all in a single feature, so we thought it best to ease you in with some of the most frequent J-words you’ll hear in all parts of the country. Master these ten expressions, and you’ll be the life of the party every time you try to engage in a conversation. Just make sure it’s a friendly one.


1) Jebote

Translation: f*ck
Meaning: oh c’mon / what the f*ck / I can’t believe this / are you hearing this?

One of the most basic words in the J family, jebote also stands as one of the most universally applicable swear words in Croatian. It’s simple, catchy, and more than capable of conveying various subtle nuances depending on the context. The literal translation for this one is actually closer to get f*cked, but as we have a nice palette of other J friends to get that particular message across, we use jebote as a more neutral one when we want to express emotions such as…

Frustration: Jebote, if my boss makes me work overtime again, I swear to God…

Shock: He got fired?? Jebote!

Worry: How is he going to pay the bills now, jebote?

Sympathy: That sucks, man, he’s the sole provider in his family. Jebote, in this economy…

Contempt: Capitalism, jebote!

Surprise: He got an offer two days after getting laid off? Jebote!

…to cite just a few. You can also use jebote to convey anything from resignation and hopelessness to enthusiasm and glee. As far as swearing in Croatian goes, if you’re just starting to grapple the basics and you’re worried about hitting the right tone, this is your safest option – neutral on its own, it will blend seamlessly with the rest of your statement 98% of the time. If you want to add some colour to your verbal prowess, you can’t go wrong with jebote; use it to open a sentence, as a finishing touch, or, for some extra effect, go for both options at once.

In situations when your response to an issue really needs to pack some added punch, you can build on jebote with other accessories, such as certain members of the fauna: jebote pas, which translates to get f*cked by a dog, doesn’t have anything to do with your attitude regarding canines, but works nice when you get really shocked or exasperated upon hearing certain news. There’s also jebate led – get f*cked by… some ice? Yeah, I’m afraid I can’t explain the reasoning behind that one. Accept it, embrace it, and move on to…

2) Jebemu

Translation: f*ck it
Meaning: this sucks / I’m so sorry / hang in there / sh*t. 

Another staple of our swearing vocabulary, jebemu comes in handy when you need to reply to a statement that leans towards the negative side of the spectrum, usually to express sympathy or disappointment. Someone you know got dumped by their SO? Jebemu, I’m so sorry. You didn’t win the lottery yet again? Jebemu, better luck next time. You didn’t get that job you wanted? Jebemu, but your time is coming. 

As mentioned at no.1, dogs had their day with jebote, but there’s no shortage of animals we can pair with expletives: jebemu miša, which translates to f*ck a mouse, works nice when you get really bummed over something. There’s also jebemu sve, f*ck all. Self-explanatory.

3) Jebiga

Translation: F*ck it.
Meaning: eh / what can you do


Yet another local favourite, jebiga is a close relative of item no.2, to be used when reacting to an undesirable outcome. The two are basically interchangeable, but have a slight difference in tone: whereas jebemu works well whenever you have to express sympathy to someone or share your disappointment, jebiga is a perfect solution in any case where nothing can be done to amend the issue at hand. Your project didn’t get the funding which you desperately hoped for? Jebiga. You were too late to buy a ticket to see your favourite band play, and now they’re all sold out? Jebiga, lesson learned. You got invited to a party but have to wake up really early tomorrow and go to work? Jebiga, skip the party or hate yourself in the morning.

4) Jebemti

Translation: F*ck it!
Meaning: oops / ouch / sh*t / oh no / rage!

Now that we’re all warmed up, it’s time to expand our swearing vocabulary to include intense emotional states: when the situation at hand is frustrating or worrying, but also calls to be infused with some bitterness or flat-out fury, the trifecta above just won’t cut it. Here’s the simplest solution: jebemti, a nice catchy J-word to be used when you’re taken aback by something, mad at someone, mad at yourself, or just unpleasantly surprised by a certain occurrence.

Out of all J-words, this is the one you’re going to mutter to yourself most often. For example: you stubbed your pinky toe on a pesky piece of furniture? Spit out a jebemti to relieve the pain. You dropped a carton of eggs on the floor? Oh, jebemti. Forgot about an impending deadline and are about to face an all-nighter? Jebemti, exclaim to no one in particular, and get yourself a cup of coffee. (Jebemu works nicely in this case as well.) You promised your wife you were going to pick up the kids from school today, but got distracted by work and kinda forgot? Jebemti, whisper in horror when you hear the phone ringing. Your husband forgot to pick up the kids from school today and you had to hurry off to get the poor little bubs waiting out on the street? You’ll want to drop a couple of jebemti bombs when you make that call, and no one will blame you for it. 

A legitimately dreary situation calls for jebemti’s first cousin, jebemti život – f*ck life. We’ve all been there.


5) Zajeb

Translation: f*ckup

Meaning: see above

For a quick neutral intermezzo, let’s give some love to zajeb, a short descriptive term for something that went really wrong really quickly. Knocked a cup of coffee over a drawing you’ve been working on for days? Zajeb. Got stuck in traffic on your way to an important meeting? Zajeb. Accidentally popped a bright red idem of clothing in the washing machine along with a load of whites? Zajeb. Got lost in thought and reached for the wrong gas pump? Zajeb. (A dangerous zajeb. Please don’t do this.)

6) Jebi se

Translation: F*ck you.
Meaning: see above

Very straightforward and one of the rare J-words with an appropriate equivalent in English, jebi se doesn’t really call for an elaborate explanation. It’s so simple, yet so satisfying: you don’t like what someone has just said to you? Someone’s behaving in an unappealing way? Put them in their place with a jebi se – but make sure it’s not a) your boss (impending unemployment), b) a clerk in a public office (trust me, I’m with you, but it won’t get you anywhere), or c) a drunken idiot in a bar (unless you’re sure you could take him on in a fight).

There’s also one other side to jebi se – an amicable one. The opportunity usually arises when you’re talking to your friends and someone’s playfully mocking you. In this case, jebi se can be used as a term of endearment. Just make sure you’re all on good terms; if you’ve just met the person and are trying to make friends, they might not take to a jebi se that lightly.

7) Odjebi

Translation: F*ck off!
Meaning: see above

Simply put, a sibling of jebi se – its threatening, protective older brother. Whereas jebi se works well as a self-explanatory response in most situations, if someone’s really getting on your nerves or keeps annoying you incessantly, it’s time for an odjebi. Whether it’s a flying insect in your room that gets you hopping around trying to swat it, or a guy pestering you in a night club even though you politely shut down his advances four times in a row, you know what to say. (The latter also works the other way around, as a noun – got turned down by the object of your affection? You were just served with an odjeb.)

8) Jebo ti pas mater

Translation: may a dog f*ck your mother
Meaning: F*ck you, followed by three exclamation marks

With dogs being one of the best things to ever happen to this world, I really don’t know what they’ve done to deserve such a prominent place in our cursing vocabulary. It is what is, though, and in this case, their guest appearance serves to show you’re really, really angry at someone. Whatever they’ve said or done must have provoked you, hurt you or annoyed you to such an extent, you’re willing to metaphorically subject their mother to an… unnatural experience, to say the least. (Want to offend further? Replace the dog with a horse.) This one actually comes off as very rude when said seriously, and I can’t really vouch for a favourable outcome if you use it in a conversation. What you can do, however, is to keep it to yourself as a replacement for no.4 – if that stubbed toe hurts really badly, feel free to let out a jebo ti pas mater scream in an empty room. Same goes for spilled liquids, broken glass, burnt food, and other similar inconveniences life tends to serve us with on the regular.



9) Nemoj me jebat

Translation: don’t f*ck with me
Meaning: quit it / get off my back / seriously? / no way!

We’re reaching the end of our top 10 list with an ambiguous example that reflects all the nuances of cussing in Croatian. While that translation provided above might sound a bit threatening, nemoj me jebat actually comes off a bit softer, lined with sarcasm, annoyance or surprise depending on the context.

To start with the more literal use of the phrase, let’s say someone has been asking you the same question over and over again, or has annoyed you to the point of breaking – when you feel you’re going to snap, serve them with a nemoj me jebat! Not a productive solution in the long run, but at least it’ll make them shut up for a couple of seconds or scuttle off all offended. Problem solved. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, there are surprise and disbelief: when you get some mind-boggling news and want to convey your incredulity, it’s time to drop a nemoj me jebat and then continue to muse over this surprising piece of information with whomever you’re talking to. As long as you’re with friends, no offence will be taken.

10) Vukojebina

Translation: where one goes to f*ck with wolves (or is it where wolves go to f*ck? nobody knows)
Meaning: middle of nowhere

I’ll resist the temptation to make a dances-with-wolves joke and say this instead: a bit awkward to translate at first, this one ends up being self-explanatory when you think about it. Okay, you obviously wouldn’t want to get in any kind of direct contact with wolves (especially not the kind suggested here), but where do the wolves run free? Far from urban areas or any other populated place, that’s where. So, when talking about a certain part of town/country/continent/etc and want to paint a picture of a desolate, miserable wasteland using a single word, you’ll call it a vukojebina.


Bonus round:

11) Jebeno

Translation: f*cking great!

Meaning: awesome! / cool! / fantastic!

Almost forgot this cult item! Unforgivable. In case you simply want to state you’re very pleased with something, look no further then jebeno, which can be used as an adjective/adverb or stand on its own. You had a great time at a certain event? It was jebeno! You really like that new record? Jebeno! High on life lately? When someone asks you how you’ve been… jebeno!


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