In Lithuania, Swear Words Are Imported Goods

Lithuanians brag about the mildness of their native language. So in order to keep it clean, they simply use either Russian or English whenever they want to say something particularly naughty.

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Nicolas Cage as himself in HISTORY OF SWEAR WORDS
Nicolas Cage as himself in the Netflix series HISTORY OF SWEAR WORDS. Photo: Adam Rose / Netflix

The subject of cursing has made a short but brilliant career in recent years. Its peak might have been a Netflix series called “History of Swear Words” hosted by none other than Nicholas Cage, who, in a luxurious setting, sitting in a Chippendale armchair by the fireplace, taught us f*cks from c*nts.

How Lithuanians domesticated curse words

But, according to some (we admit, uncredited) opinions around Lithuania, this show was best watched in English. Lithuanians claim that their language is famously mild and curses are no stronger than rupūžė, meaning toad. And if they want to shout at someone to STFU, they go for “stop barking like a mad dog.”

Why is that, you ask? Well, the problem is there’s no easy explanation. What we can give you instead is that it, in a way, doesn’t matter. As one Internet forum user remembers, when she was a child, her “father would often say ‘rupus miltai’ in a very angry tone, which [she] assumed was something horrible.”

You can imagine her mixed feelings upon realizing that the phrase actually means “coarse flour.” Coarse, sure, but not as coarse as it gets when people start to swear. And, obviously, every language has some mild form of strong words to avoid the sin of blasphemy, if not anything else. This is why some English-speaking people chose “dang” over “damn.” But then again, the reason one would use the word “dang” is to function as a fill-in swear word for the word “damn” itself, which makes it kind of damning and blasphemous in its own way.

Borrowed swear words

So what if there were a language, say, in Central Europe, that could not produce a proper bad word? Well, at least in today’s language economy, it could just borrow. And that’s what Lithuanians apparently do. Because, you see, Lithuanians never claimed they didn’t swear. They just don’t swear in ancient Lithuanian. Instead, they borrow words from languages that influence them most.

So, the F word in Lithuanian is ‘blet’ – easily recognizable to anyone speaking a bit of Russian. Some other words may also sound familiar to anyone knowing some slogans that Ukrainian soldiers would use against a famous Russian warship (nachui). And, out of sincere decency (and maybe some Internet algorithms), we will not quote the English ones, but believe us, they happen.

Be careful with the knowledge you get from Lithuanian swear words 101 above. You wouldn’t want to sound like a toad, would you?

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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