International Swear Words to Love and Use: Russian Style!

These books don't look nearly as much fun to read as Russian "mat" is to use...
These books don’t look nearly as much fun to read as Russian “mat” is to use…

As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my love of profane language from all around the globe. My current contribution regarding foreign-language swear words focuses on an expansive country that straddles Europe and Asia.

This nation’s macho, bare-chested president (while on horseback, anyway) has been in the news for endless weeks, months, and years now. (But who’s keeping track?) I felt it was time to delve into the land of fatalistic literature, revolution, samovars, caviar, and (dead) czars/czarinas: Mother Russia.

Fear not, this isn’t a political rant. It’s a post about learning how to say more in Russian than da and nyet whenever you need to express anger or frustration (without offending your English-speaking comrades).

I’m not sure either Lenin or Stalin would approve of this blog post, but I suspect Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky wouldn’t mind in the least. Neither would the Beatles, even though they “had a dreadful flight…”

But First, Let’s Take It to the (Russian) Mat: Here’s a quick history lesson regarding Russian profanity. There is cursing, and then there is mat, a term that designates certain words as heinously offensive. All true mat words seem to originate in references to sexuality and genitalia.

Mat is considered a type of underground slang most common in prison and on the streets. There is a current public ban on its use in Russian culture and the arts. (I’m not exaggerating–it’s also censored in the Russian media.) But despite all this, mat happens a lot.

Would you believe the word itself somehow ties back to Russian motherhood? Per Wikipedia, one possible (and not quite confirmed) translation of mat is “to scold someone’s mother.”

And here’s a bit of blini from a 2003 New Yorker article mentioning one of Russia’s most famous authors:

“Dostoyevsky claimed that a Russian could express the entire range of his feelings with one word, which he dared not write. That word is khuy, a term for the male sexual organ, which along with pizda (“c*nt”), and blyad’ (“whore” or “bitch”) and the verb ebat’ (“to f*ck”), are the cornerstones of mat…”

What the Blyad Were You Thinking, My Little Cossack?: Per numerous websites (and the above quote), this word means “whore,” but it’s most often used in the contracted form, blya. It’s uttered as an all-purpose insult, whether you’re male or female (how egalitarian). The phrase Ty chyo blya? means “What the f*ck are you saying/doing?” This is considered typical profanity in Russia, and probably one of Pussy Riot’s favorites…

Don’t be a Mudak When Walking Near the Kremlin–Hide Your Passport: The literal translation of mudak (moo-DAK) is “testicle,” but no native Russian says it with that intent. Common meanings include “a**hole” and “dickhead.” In other words, bark this one out with much disdain toward someone you feel is most disagreeable.

Dermo Happens in Gorky Park Around Midnight: Any way you process it, excrement happens in a most universal way. Although this word isn’t considered part of the mat glossary, Russian citizens say it plenty. A variation of dermo (der’-MO) is govno (gov’-NO), a more literal translation of your digestive tract’s end-product.

These words are used by many hapless Russian citizens when they stub a toe or forget to pick up their children from Uncle Vanya’s dacha after work. In your deepest, most vodka-infused voice, bellow out either version as an exclamation (or as a reference to a person or thing). Gulag-grade toilet paper sold separately…

As the Rolling Stones Would Say, “Love, It’s a Suka (Alright)”: Yes, suka (SOO-ka) is a female dog, but if you’re referring to someone of the male persuasion, the more accurate interpretation would be “scumbag.” In fact, the word suka is quite popular with the male population in Russia, especially those involved in the tattoo-covered underground world of Russian mobsters and their gangs.

For more information, check out the glorious history of the Suka Wars. Variations of bitchiness include suka staraya (old bitch or old woman) and suchka (little bitch).

Move Your Zhopa, or You’ll Miss the Next Moscow Metro Train: Go ahead, startle your English-speaking co-workers (or your children) by using this word when you need them to physically relocate (their individual derrieres) from one spot to another. Zhopa (ZHO-pa) also works as an insult if you notice someone acting like a pompous buttock. Remember: When cursing in Russian, a strong, commanding voice adds a little bite to your bark.


How do you feel about testing out these Russian curse words on your unsuspecting friends and relatives? Do you know any native Russians who could help you practice? Listen to the online snippets available via this great post from therussianblog for assistance with proper pronunciation.

Please be careful when using Russian mat and other Soviet-style verbal artillery–I would hate to be the one responsible for you getting your zhopa kicked from St. Petersburg to the Ural Mountains. As a friend of mine from Georgia (no, not the one in the U.S.) might say, that would be yolki palki.

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing or educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or email By All Writes LLC at  for a no-obligation project quote today!

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