The Worst Japanese Curse Word

The Worst Japanese Curse WordYou can admit it. When you first start to learn a language, you can’t help but be a little curious about what kind of bad words that language has. And of course, coming from English, with the king of curse words, you might wonder how the super polite Japanese handle such a situation. I mean there is a lot of bowing. Bowing doesn’t go with cursing.

Some people like to try to defend Japanese. “They don’t have any curse words! It is a pure and humble language, full of rainbows and zen gardens.” This obviously isn’t true, and I’m not sure where this idea comes from. They don’t have the same curse words, in the same usage, but they definitely have their share of curse words. After all, curse words are just societal unacceptable words that often express emotions of anger or hate.

I’m not here to give you a list, as cursing excessively isn’t really my style, but if you are interested, try checking out this site which put together a short compilation.

So curse words exist.

But does the F word exist in Japanese?

Sort of.

For those of you new to Japanese, when you first hear the phrase,

ファックスします (fah-kku-su shimasu) – I will fax (this)

if you foolishly made the same mistake I did in my beginner days, you think you just heard the F word. This is because to a beginner, the su and shimasu are kind of blended together here in the spoken language. Leaving you hearing the phrase above minus the defining su.

Saying the F word with actual Japanese pronunciation (which is the above phrase minus the す), will be understood by many (younger) Japanese people. But the reaction will be more of a “is that the legendary English F word I just heard?” You might scare some people. Except for amateur Japanese rappers trying to be bad-ass, it is not often used.

Now asking for the general equivalent of the F word is kind of a difficult task, because the F word is used in an infinite number of ways and situations in the English language.

However, what most people are curious about is the main way the F word is used. One of its original, in your face, showing hate and anger towards someone ways.

And while this is highly up to debate, I believe the closest equivalent is:

死ね (しね – shine)

No. That can’t be right? 死ね is the command form of 死ぬ, which means die.

So 死ね literally means “die!”

Now I know you’re thinking telling someone to “die” is pretty nasty, but it’s no F word. It is commonly used to your evil enemy in Japanese anime right before you are about to destroy him.

But in real life, I’m looking at the features and the cultural background to make my conclusion why this is the worst word in the language.

Some thoughts:

1. Kids are taught from a young age not to use this word. Say this in front of an adult, a parent, or a teacher and there will be 28-days-later-like rage.

2. If you’ve ever seen a TV show or movie that involves brutal bullying, the word 死ね is usually scratched into their notebook somewhere in big letters.

3. It is used in situations of hate and anger.

4. See the reaction of a Japanese person being told this seriously.

Worst word in the language?

It at least comes close.

What do you think? Not as bad as I’m making it out to be? Or do you think there are worse contenders out there?

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


The Worst Japanese Curse Word — 24 Comments

  1. Maybe it isn’t used much in real life, but I often see it used on sites like 2ch, written as 氏ね.

    • That’s the first time I’ve seen it, but I don’t know much about 2ch, and they do like to have a bit of their own language.

      • Yep, they like to censure sensitive words with different kanji. 基地外 (気違い) is another example. It was pretty funny when I read a book recently where I think author wrote 基地の外 instead of 基地外, because of the similarity to that word.

  2. What about 殺す? I think I remember seeing that used in the same way as 死ね. Like going “kill kill kill kill!!!” type of thing. So what’s the second worst insult in Japanese? Is it ばかやろう haha

    • 殺す’s intensity depends on context and tone a lot. But it definitely can be used for hate and anger like a typical curse word.

      Add a ぶっ for more intensity, ぶっ殺す!

      Not really sure about a second worst insult.

  3. This word actually impressed itself on my memory long before I started learning Japanese. As I remember there is a chapter of Detective Conan about a Western man who loves a Japanese girl and that girl also loves him back. However, they can’t really communicate due to language barriers.Before the man returns to his country he writes her a note which says that she “shine” brightly in his heart. Unfortunately, that girl takes “shine” as 死ね and thinks that she is hated by the man she loves most so she commits suicide. Now you see how serious 死ね is :)

    • I remember walking around in costco and seeing a giant picture of a lady smiling showing off her white teeth and it saying “SHINE” underneath her in giant letters and being caught off guard thinking it said 死ね for a moment.

  4. *gasp!* Squidward! >:O

    On a more serious note, it’s interesting to compare how a Japanese person would react to “die!” to how an American person would react to “die.” We’re told not to say the f-word when we’re young but then I feel American kids aren’t taught enough that telling people to die is a pretty big thing and should never be done.

    • I personally haven’t, but maybe in the future a writer on the site will cover this topic with some recommendations.

    • I’m actually pretty big into VNs, it’s one of the reasons I want to learn the language! I still haven’t really cracked into the language though, so I’ve only read them in English, but my favorite is by far Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Steins;Gate comes out in a few days as well. A couple of other good ones I’ve read have been G-Senjou no Maou, Saya no Uta, Kikokugai, and Swan Song. Additionally, the Zero Escape Series (Nine Hours Nine Persons Nine Doors, 極限脱出 9時間9人9の扉; and Virtue’s Last Reward, 極限脱出ADV 善人シボウデス) are basically VNs with the addition of ‘escape the room’ puzzles, and their stories are FANTASTIC. The same writer (Kentaro Uchikoshi) wrote VNs such as Remember 11, Ever17, and Never7, I believe.

  5. I asked my Kagoshima friends if “eta” was really such a bad word. Judging by their immediate gasping reactions, it is.

  6. When I was in Japan I was even told when you knock on their door not to knock 4 times. Either 3 or 5 because of course, “shi” could mean 4 or death ….its a superstitious thing. Thats how it was in Okinawa but it could be different in Mainland

  7. Only tangentially related, but following one of Adam’s links in the article led me to this really cool Japanese FAQ, which looks like it was compiled from old Usenet posts:

    A lot of random stuff in there, not all of it useful, but I certainly got lost in it for a while. And learned some cool stuff!

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