Knowing your 'cazzo' from your 'pannenkoek': What are the best European insults?

What are the best European insults?
What are the best European insults? Copyright vectorpocket - canva
By David Mouriquand
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Warning: This article contains profanity and language that some people may find offensive.


Last Sunday was National Insult Day.

Yes, we know we’re a few days late but, with kindness, as the French would say: Allez vous faire foutre. We’re making a week of it.

In the spirit of embracing the joys of humorous insults and the wealth of language on this fair continent of ours, join us as we take a short, non-exhaustive and foul-mouthed trip around mainland Europe to treat you to some of the most colourful jibes that will make you sound like a local. Or get you into trouble.

Be warned: some of these are NSFW and please take care to treat others with kindness and not insult their ancestors. The goal of National Insult Day (sorry, week) is not to be mean-spirited or hurt anyone, but to appreciate the varied ways in which we spout abuse and trade barbs.


Wave back if you dare
Wave back if you dareBBC

German insults are brilliant, mostly due to the fact they love a good compound word.

Many common insults revolve around cars and road rules, including Sonntagsfaher (a Sunday driver), revealing the German hatred for those who don’t act accordingly and drive too slow on their beloved Autobahn, or Schattenparker, someone who parks in the shade. While this practice seems immensely sensible and doesn’t appear to be an insult, you’re apparently a coward if you hide from the sun and fear getting into your kiln / car. Go figure.

Two favourites when it comes to compound word insults are Backpfeifengesicht (literally, 'a face that invites a slap' – with 'backpfeife' meaning a slap across the cheek and 'gesicht' meaning face) and Arschgeige (literally 'an arse violin', referring to someone who can’t perform a particular task very well). We warn you that no good will come of trying to restring that particular instrument should you decide to introduce it to your posterior. In case you were wondering.

The winner though is – deep breath - Teletubbyzurückwinker , meaning 'one who waves back at Teletubbies.'

Mouthful though it may be, you’d do well to introduce this one into your vocabulary if you’re referring to someone who deem isn’t too bright or is weak. Plus, it’s fun to picture someone (besides kids, naturally) waving back at the screen and giving Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po a genuine greeting.


I'm dealing with them...
I'm dealing with them...J. Scott Applewhite/AP

“I love the French language... It's a delightful language, especially to curse with. It's like wiping your ass with silk.”

You can thank Oscar Wilde for that one, who knew a thing or two about the riches of French when it comes to a fantastic insult.

A common trend goes back to food (mais bien sur!), with several foodstuffs utilised to put someone down. Andouille (an intestine sausage) is a good one to call someone a moron; Boudin is a blood sausage but when used as an insult refers to an ugly woman – and originally, a prostitute; Vas te faire cuire un œuf ('go cook an egg') is useful if you want someone to stop bothering you; Occupe-toi de tes oignons ('deal with your own onions') is the French equivalent of telling someone to mind their own business; Sale thon ('dirty tuna') is a less than flattering expression for someone considered ugly; Tu as le QI d’une huitre ('you have the IQ of an oyster'); and who could forget T’es une couille dans le potage ('you’re a bollock in the soup'). Bon Appetit.

However, after much consultation with some of my French colleagues, there’s one heartless insult that will destroy your sparring partner and which has nothing to do with food. Anything to do with mothers ('Ta mère...') will get you into trouble, but T’as été bercé trop prêt du mur ('you were rocked too close to the wall') will shut anyone up.

As a cheeky bonus, there’s another superb feminist insult that is doing the rounds at the moment and has even been registered as a trademark by activists: Bois mes règles (literally: drink my period). Genius.


Where are you putting that?
Where are you putting that?PAUL CHINN/San Francisco Chronicle/ AP

A general trend you’ll observe with Spanish swearing is the proclivity to mention excrement.

Put simply, an angry Spanish person will want to shit in or on a lot of things – Me cago en (fill in the gap with either your mum, the number ten, and of course, you and your head). A favourite here is Me cago en la leche que mamaste, which literally translates as 'I shit in the milk that you sucked.'

While insults like this won’t get you invited back for breakfast, there are others that will go down well at the dinner table, as they are – like the French - food related: Que te folle un pez ('get fucked by a fish'); Que te la pique un pollo ('I hope a chicken pecks at your dick'), Eres tan feo/a que hiciste llorar a una cebolla ('you’re so ugly you made an onion cry') and a personal favourite Estás más perdido que un pulpo en un garaje (‘you’re as lost as an octopus in a garage’ - referring to someone who thinks they know what they’ve talking about but in reality doesn’t have a clue).

Our favourite however combines both the Spanish penchant for the scatological in their swearing, as well as delicious foodstuffs: Chupe mantequilla de mi culo, which literally translates as ‘suck butter from my ass!’.


No elaboration needed...


And you thought a traditional slap was bad...
And you thought a traditional slap was bad...Istock - Getty

If Germany has word length, France the silk, and Spain the excrement, then Italy has the verve.

It’s a genuine joy hearing Italian swearing, which runs the gamut from outright blasphemy to passionate exclamations.

There are so many that it’s hard to choose. Some common standouts include Che cavolo vuoi? ('what the cabbage do you want?, which is a mild way of insulting someone without using the word ‘fuck’); Stronzo ('turd'), used in a playful way to denote an arsehole in your midsts; and Cazzo, which comes from the Latin 'capitium' (which means 'little head') referring to the male genitalia, used to express your anger or calling someone a dickhead.

But with verve and passion comes creativity, and brace yourselves for these next two. 


Budello di tu ma’ cane ladra rincorsa dai fascisti! ('your thieving dog mother’s guts, ran after by fascists'). Ouch. And then there’s Cagati in mano e prenditi a schiaffi: an invitation to shit in your hand and slap yourself repeatedly.



Leave ant alone!
Leave ant alone!SAM CRANSTON/AP

If you’re either speaking French or Flemish, you’re bound to have some lovely crossovers and a few gems in your insult arsenal.

Here goes.

Viswijf: A woman who sells fish, an insult often used to describe a loud woman who frequently gossips, or a man who needs an Italian shit slap.


There’s also the taut and slightly Latin sounding Snotneus (literally: 'snot noses'), used to denote an annoying pipsqueak.

But the prize goes to Mierenneuker, which means an ant fucker, in reference to someone who is annoyingly obsessed with details. It’s the equivalent to the Finnish Pilkunnussija, which translates as 'commafucker' – a pedantic nitpicker of the highest order.

Spare a thought for those poor Belgian ants though.


What did you call me??
What did you call me??AP Photo

While a great many insults in the UK, for instance, tend to revolve around sex, Dutch insults mainly focus on diseases and calling someone disease-ridden. 

Seriously, it’s everywhere, and some are nasty and border on misguided.


Usually, add Kanker ('cancer') to other words to form new damaging combinations.

To give you a taste: Kankerlijer ('cancer sufferer'); Kankeraap ('cancer monkey'); Kankerlekker ('tasty cancer') - don’t ask; Kankerhoer ('cancer whore') - the worst of the bunch.

They also branch out to other diseases with Tering (tuberculosis), Klere (cholera) and Tyfus (typhoid), which can also be added to words to make the likes of Tyfusslet (Typhoidal sexually liberated woman), Krijg de klere ('get cholera') and Krijg de pest ('get the plague').

While these can put into question whether the Dutch know what an insult is, there are some good’uns in there. Especially Pannenkoek, which means 'pancake'.

Bit mild, especially after all the ailment chat, but when said with the proper inflection and a patronising tap on the head, it’s a damning way of calling someone a simpleton. And it’s a lot of fun to say.



You want to see my what???
You want to see my what???LYLE COX/AP

We move further north now with Norway’s love of Faen.

It’s the cornerstone of Norwegian insults. Similar to the English ‘fuck’, it also refers to hell and works in most scenarios - Fy faen ('fucking hell'), Hva faen (‘what the fuck?’), Faen ta deg (‘devil take you’), Jeg gir faen i det (‘I don’t give a fuck’)… The list is endless.

Elsewhere, two trends appear: complementing hell is the frequent use of Satan, used as an exclamation or to emphasize the point; and the tendency for Norwegians to use animals in their profanity. Favourites here include Forbanna hestkuk, which means 'fucking horse dick' and Pikkantilope og firkant raev, which literally means 'dick-antelope and square arse'.

What it really means is beyond us...


Keep the grandfathers out of this
Keep the grandfathers out of thisPavel Golovkin/AP

As much as we’d love to spend more time in the Scandinavian territories, we’re off to Iceland for our final pitstop. Yes, it’s not part of mainland Europe and we’re cheating here, but it’s just such a lovely place, with lovely insults that you should be made aware of.


From an anglophone perspective, a lot seem quite mild but they are, I’m assured, offensive in the extreme.

Helvítis hálfviti is calling someone a halfwit, and Helvítis aumingi seems to hit hard as 'bloody weakling', especially in a nation which values physical strength.

You’ll also find plenty of religious undertones to Skrattinn ('Satan'), Ansans ári ('devil’s demon'), and Mannfjandi('man-devil').

Then there’s the solid Drullusokkur which means 'toilet plunger'; the direct and to-the-point Afatottari which moves away from the French obsession with mothers and translates as 'grandfatherfucker'; and our favourite, Hilandbrenndu, the equivalent of saying ‘screw you’ and which literally translates as ‘may you burn from your own urine’.


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