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I've heard two expressions which at first I thought were kind of offensive, because of the specific words in them:

Mucha mierda!

de puta madre

It turns out both are actually nice things to say: good luck and fantastic. I know they are quite popular in España (or at least I think so), but what about the other hispano países? I don't really want to get in an awkward situation one day :)

How socially acceptable is to use those within everyday conversations? Is it OK to use such expressions when talking with your family, with your friends, people at your age? And then in what situations are they totally NOT OK?

Also, can you give some other examples where such "bad" words actually imply good things? I wouldn't want to back off and shut down just because I didn't get the real meaning behind them.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 1 down vote accepted

You have come across two different examples here.

"Mucha mierda" is slang for Theatre people. There is superstition among them that it is actually bad luck to wish "Good luck" to someone, which would be "Mucha suerte" in spanish. So, to avoid saying "Mucha suerte" they have come to "Mucha mierda" as a substitute, as it is, on first sight, exactly the opposite, so they try to avoid the Fate that way.

So, "Mucha mierda" is common among actors, and uncommon, but not unheard, out of that world.

On the other example, "de puta madre" means "very good", "fantastic", "brilliant" or some other similar sentence, based on the context. It is usual in all but the most formal spoken situations, and in almost none of the written ones (except chatting), but in any case it is kind of vulgar, and there are plenty of substitutes that do not sound bad.

Both sentences use offensive words, but both are coined phrases that do not carry the offensiveness of their nucleus word.

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We have the same theater slang in English, too... we say "break a leg" to mean "good luck." –  Flimzy Aug 4 at 12:15
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De puta madre could be translated to English as "fucking awesome" where the vulgar verb is converted into a "mere" intensifier. –  guifa Aug 4 at 12:59
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Just to add to the good answer: "Mucha mierda" comes from ancient times where a shitload in front of the theatre would mean that a lot of carriages has stopped by the theatre and left their passengers, so in that times "Mucha mierda" implied a big attendance to your spectacle, this is why theatre people used it to avoid "Good luck" –  Bardo Aug 8 at 11:36

I think you are confused because you are mixing two completely unrelated concepts.

  1. The concept of "bad words" or vulgarities is a social concept, which varies greatly from region to region, and can often be influenced by local laws (i.e. certain English words cannot be said on broadcast television or radio in the US). This is true in any language.

  2. The concept of positive or negative statements. This is a grammatical concept, and is also true in any language.

These concepts can be mixed together, and this seems to be where you're confused. It is possible to use "bad words" in the sense of #1, to make either positive or negative statements. Whether it's socially acceptable or not depends entirely on the social norms as mentioned in #1.

If it's socially unacceptable to say "mierda" in one context, then using the word "mierda" is unacceptable, regardless of whether it's making a positive or negative statement.

If it's socially acceptable to say "mierda", then it is also socially acceptable to say "mierda" regardless of whether it is making a positive or negative statement.

Let me provide some examples:

If you are in a family setting, where saying "Mierda!" would be considered offensive, then you should not say "Mucha mierda!" either... because "mierda" is offensive to those around you.

The same thing happens in English (or any other language).

If it is inappropriate to say "fuck" in front of your mother, then when she asks if you want dessert, you won't respond by saying "Fuck yeah!"

"Fuck yeah" is obviously a "positive" statement, but you won't use that word in that context, because the positive or negative nature of the statement is completely irrelevant to the appropriateness of that vocabulary in that context.

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Thanks for the answer @Flimzy. I see your point and it makes a lot of sense. I think getting to know and even experience a foreign culture is really helping learn the language faster and easily. –  Nat Naydenova Aug 4 at 13:50

You are using "good" and "bad" in two different ways here.

The words you present are offensive to some people, regardless of whether or not the opinion conveyed is positive or negative.

The degree to which listeners will be offended depends on the country, the social class, and whole lot of other factors. Learning when to be "socially correct" and when not to worry about that is part of learning how to function within a given culture.

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I don't believe I've used them, or heard them, before today. I inquired my coworkers on them, and their answers essentially match the connotations other answers have given you, so far.

What I would add is that both are phrases you would only use with those close to you, and that the fact that they rely on 'bad words' doesn't change the nature of such words in even that more immediate context. You would do well to identify the context where they're used, and the specific purpose they serve there, before using them: I still find that some expressions I use/know change their meaning as close as 100 KMs from my city.

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Just to add more info to your question. You can find that, in different places, and depending on the situation and to who are you talking, bad expressions could be pretty well received.

For example, on the north of Spain it's not uncommon to hear friends referring themselves with expressions like:

"Ven aquí, cabronazo" -- Come here, bastard

or

"Serás hijoputa" -- You, son of a bitch

There's a surprising minimization of bad words and expressions that could be extremely insulting on other regions.

I don't recommend to use it if you're not sure about what your interlocutor is going to understand, as you can get involved in a very ankward situation. You can pay attention to the speak of the people around you and start using them when others did it before you.

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Thanks @Bardo, that's really good to know –  Nat Naydenova Aug 8 at 12:47

In Spain, but I don't think in the Americas, another phrase which is used a fair bit, with similar meaning to de puta madre is:

es la hostia

which the Real Academia Española tranlates as muy grande o extraordinario, or simply hostia on its own which expresses surprise or admiration, see other meanings of hostia. As the original meaning is the wafer used during Catholic Mass, presumably, at some point this would have been considered somewhat blasphemous -- though I have no idea when these non-religious usages become common.

A few years ago, it was common to see T-shirts with "de puta madre" written on them, at least, where I live, Barcelona. However, Barcelona is probably one of the more liberal parts of the Spanish (these days Catalan predominates) speaking world, so echoing Walter's comments, these sorts of phrases will depend on social context. My experience of travelling round the Americas is that swearing is generally less common in everyday language than in Spain, though this is, naturally, a huge generalization based on my own observations, and I certainly heard some extremely colorful language, particularly in Mexico and Argentina.

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