Did you know that children learn at least one swear word before they learn the alphabet? And that 0,7% of the words we use on a daily basis are swear words? But how is verbal profanity present (or not present) in other cultures? First of all, let’s talk about the amount and diversity of bad words in English and other languages. I was incredibly surprised to learn that the profane vocabulary of an average English-speaker is incredibly basic. Everyone is more or less familiar with those five to ten words that I won’t list in this article, but have you ever realised that putting these words together in many different combinations to create a more diverse rude vocabulary is simply an effective illusion? Believe it or not, if languages were ranked by the diversity of their vocabulary for swearing, English would be in quite a low position.
A few years ago I accidentally came across an official research which suggested that the language which is known to have the most swear words in it is my mother tongue, Hungarian. The amount of different ways we can refer to certain things is simply unimaginable! Despite my great effort, I didn’t manage to find this report on the internet, although some sources make references to it and agree that Hungarian should be given the gold medal. Others mention Russian, Polish and Cantonese as possible rivals.
It’s time to have a look at the other end of the list and ask ourselves the question: does the concept of swear words exist in every language? In order to find the suitable answer, I would like to direct you all to this page of The Guardian’s ‘Notes and Queries’ section. Here, quite a few people mention Basque (which is known to be the most complicated one) as a language with absolutely no swear words. A contributor from the Basque Country explains that “insults are usually borrrowed from Spanish.” Others argue that the belief according to which Japanese has no rude words is a myth. But how do we know what counts as a swear word? All languages have words for the genitalia, for example! A swear word is a term that could be used to insult another person. Are Basque and Japanese people never insulted? Ladies and Gents, this is a real mystery!