Grandmothers have the best curse words

The World in Words
curse word

This week on The World in Words podcast we talk about swear words from around the world and the bad words our grandmothers teach us. 

We hear from swearologist Stephen Dodson and author Marilyn Chin. Plus, Nina Porzucki interviews her grandmother about the meaning of a Polish word.

Podcast Contents:

00:30 Nina shares a Polish curse word that she learned from her grandmother: cholera jasna

01:20 Patrick shares his least favorite Danish swear word, which translates literally to “cancer devour me”

02:49 Beginning of an interview with Stephen Dodson. He blogs at He’s also the co-author of “Uglier than Monkey’s Armpit,” a book about swearing around the world

03:58 “Half the fun of a well crafted insult is the sound of the words,” says Dodson

04:21 Curses are regional. The “Buttocks Belt”

05:00 In Quebec, many curse words are religious in origin

06:12 Do new swear words develop after new geopolitical events?

07:50 Is there a language in the world that doesn’t have curses?

08:18 “Russian has one of the most vivid, wide-ranging and powerful of curses,” says Dodson

08:42 Swear words are held in a different part of the brain

09:30 An anecdote about the “s-word”

10:34 “Don’t call me stupid” — A Fish Called Wanda

12:55 An anecdote from The World’s Marco Werman about a curse word his Dutch grandmother taught him

14:00 Nina’s first story for the podcast from 2009, about a Yiddish word her grandmother taught her — “dafke”

18:14 Patrick speaks with poet and novelist Marilyn Chin. Her first novel is “Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen.”

19:00 Chin grew up speaking a dialect of Cantonese, Taishanese

19:23 Chin would speak with her grandmother in this dialect

20:00 Chin is the oldest of her siblings and the only one who has held on to her native tongue. She speaks with her siblings in English

21:09 How has multilingualism affected Chin’s poetry and writing

24:00 Chin speaks about her grandmother cursing and things she’d say in dialect

26:31 Tongue twister in Taishanese

27:30 Tweet us your favorite curse words from your grandmother — @lingopod

Will you keep The World spinning?

Donations from listeners like you are absolutely crucial in funding the great music and human-centered global news you hear on The World. Recurring gifts provide predictable, sustainable support — letting our team focus on telling the stories you don’t hear anywhere else. If you make a gift of $100 or pledge $10/month we’ll send you a curated playlist highlighting some of the team's favorite music from the show Donate today to keep The World spinning.