I was reading the book Lingua Latina, Per Se Illustrata by Hans H. Ørberg, and I often saw scenes in which persons were angry. In the book, the writer doesn't use any swear words or anything to that effect. Did the ancient Romans use any swear words and, if so, could anyone give an example of a Latin swear word?

  • 6
    Latin translations have frequently been "bowdlerized" to remove "bad language", sometimes to the great detriment of accuracy.
    – pjc50
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 20:28
  • This is a vague memory from years ago, I had a good friend who was a pro at Latin and had me read a book written by an aristocrat of the time, language of which was Super vulgar - pretty much 50 shades of grey multiplied by Nero. You'll really have to dig into the subject.
    – seems
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 16:59
  • @seems I'm guessing this is either Petronius's Satyricon or Apuleius's Metamorphoses.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 19:18
  • @seems Maybe you could give some more information? Like sources, (if possible) more memories, etc.
    – L. Peters
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 21:47
  • @seems That sounds like the Satyricon, but there's also the Priapeia which is the most "vulgar" Latin I know of (in the sense of obscene, not the dialect which became Romance).
    – Draconis
    Commented Dec 17, 2016 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


Yes, they used swear words all the time! There's actually a whole book on the subject, The Latin Sexual Vocabulary by J. N. Adams. Cinaedus (a pejorative term for a 'bottom'), mentula (male genitalia), and cunnus (female genitalia) are perhaps the most common and dirtiest insults and are generally You can see on Wikipedia a larger list, too.

There's actually a nice little poem—Catullus 16—containing a quite a few of these swear words, two powerful ones in the first line. Catullus was a Roman living in the first century BCE, and so was a contemporary of Cicero and Caesar. Here are the first four lines:

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo,
Aureli pathice et cinaede Furi,
qui me ex versiculis meis putastis,
quod sunt molliculi, parum pudicum.

This can be vulgarly translated so:

I will fuck you in the ass and in the mouth
Cocksucking Aurelius and Butt-boy Furius
You who think that I, because my verses
Are a little soft, have no shame.

You can read the whole poem on Rudy Negenborn's site: Catullus 16.

That these words would be considered obscene by the ancients Romans is verified by Martial (3.69) and Cicero (Fam. 9.22.3), the latter of whom alludes to cunnus and mentula as words Romans avoid saying, even to the point that they won't make a diminutive of menta (the Latin word for 'mint'):

Socraten fidibus docuit nobilissimus fidicen; is Connus vocitatus est. num id obscenum putas? ... ‘ruta’ et ‘menta’ recte utrumque. volo mentam pusillam ita appellare ut ‘rutulam’: non licet. belle ‘tectoriola.’ dic ergo etiam ‘pavimenta’ isto modo: non potes. viden igitur nihil esse nisi ineptias, turpitudinem nec in verbo esse nec in re, itaque nusquam esse?

Socrates was taught the lute by a very celebrated player whose name was Connus. Do you think that obscene? ... Take ‘ruta’ and ‘menta’; both all right. But if I want a word for ‘little mint’ corresponding to ‘rutula,’ I can’t have it.

Cicero goes on and names more, but funny enough, he was actually writing on how ludicrous Roman sensibilities toward obscenities were; even here he doesn't fully say the two words he alludes to.

  • 5
    The poem also has its own Wikipedia page.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 19:49
  • "Passer deliciae meae puellae" (Great translations, btw;)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 21:44
  • Latin cunnus derived directly into Spanish coño 'cunt', quite a dirty word. Interestingly enough, it also derived into cunnilingus, a very polite word today for 'oral sex applied to a woman' even though its dirty origins.
    – Charlie
    Commented Jun 4, 2018 at 9:09
  • French con, conne, connard, connasse.
    – Quidam
    Commented Nov 28, 2019 at 17:56

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