Russel thought it might be a good idea if I took his place for a day, so here I am. Hope you’ll forgive him if I disappoint. Both Russel and I write fairly hardboiled material, so I thought I’d try to write an article quite different from anything he’s likely to produce. The topic is as the title of the post says. Think of it as some of the “sordid junk that goes through a writer’s brain.”
Puerto Rican cursing is almost an art form in its own right – every curse comes in a dozen varieties and stringing them together can be the work of a master. Here are some basics.
“Oye Cabron!” Now that’s rude. Not the rudest thing you might hear a Puerto Rican say, but still not the way to greet a friend – except that times are changing and teens are now saying it – think of it as the Puerto Rican equivalent of “What up, bitch?” Except that instead of “bitch” cabron denotes a man so dumb he doesn’t realize his wife is sleeping around. This strikes at the core of so much of Puerto Rican cursing – it’s much more focused on sexual insecurity than American cursing.
“Hijo de la Gran Puta” – Son of the Great Whore – a reference to the Great Whore of Babylon mentioned in the book of Revelations and associated with the Anti-Christ. Also a knock on yo’ mama. Puta, of course, means prostitute. Puto – male prostitute. “Hijo de la Gran Ramera” means the same thing, but “ramera” is a bit obscure, so you’re probably foaming at the mouth if you’re angry enough to trot that variation out. “Hijo ‘su Mai” is shorthand for “Hijo de su Madre” – Son of your Mother.
“Carajo” – Might have had a sexual connotation to it once, but now just an impolite way of saying Hell as in “Where the Hell are we?” Or “What the Hell are you doing?” – Que carajo haces?
“Pendejo” – Idiot. Don’t know the root (pubic hair doesn’t sound right), but it’s impolite.
“Coño” – Literally, a woman’s hoo-ha, but now used as an interjection like “damn,” as in “damn, what a pendejo…”
“Puñeta” – Literally a man who pleases himself by hand, but usually a really strong way of saying “jerk.” Did someone just cut you off on the highway? The offense might merit rolling down your window to shout this.
And finally, “Maricon” – A man who pleases other men orally. This is about the strongest personal insult you can launch. Still, while powerful, it’s lost a good deal of its original meaning in the same way one of the stronger English curses (rhymes with “other-ucker”) is literally about incest, but no one thinks of it that way anymore.
Note that this is all specifically Puerto Rican – in other countries, these words may be thought of as more or less offensive than I’ve depicted them here. Some may mean very little indeed. “Chingado” which is quite naughty in Mexico, is a word I’ve never even heard in Puerto Rico. Maybe I just don’t hang out with the right crowd.
Steven Torres was born and raised in the Bronx, but has lived in Puerto Rico, Upstate New York, and now Connecticut where he shares his home with his wife and daughter. He's the author of a hardboiled novel called THE CONCRETE MAZE and the fiction editor at CRIMESPREE MAGAZINE.