9 Things You Didn't Know about Russian Swear Words

A man in Russia
A man in Russia | © Pixabay
Larisa Smirnova

Russian is such a flexible and potent language – it’s only natural that swear words become an essential part of it. Like any part of the language, the swearing lexicon developed over time. The history of swear words is so interesting, even native speakers are not aware of it all. Read on to find out more.

They have been around a while

Some theories blame the existence of swear words in Russian on the Mongol yoke, claiming most of them have Mongol-Tatar origins. Despite this widespread belief, history tells us otherwise. The first mentions of swear words in Russian are found on 12th-century birch scriptures, well before the Mongolian invasion.

They were considered holy

Many swear words were considered holy and were used in rituals. It was the only time in the year when they were allowed to be used. According to beliefs, certain swear words had the power to summon ancestors.

Pagan altar

There are a lot of them

Although there are not too many “base words” there are so many derivatives. Some estimates calculate as many as 10,000 words that you can create using the already existing words, not to mention all the possible combinations.

They have ranked third in the world

Although Russian has a lot of derivatives of existing swear words, there isn’t much original vocabulary to work with. Russian ranks third in the world for its number of swear words in the language. The first place was taken by English and the second by Dutch.

Winner medal

They have changed over time

Not all of the words now considered rude and vulgar were always seen as such. For example, certain words referring to genitalia were not considered rude and had common usage. Now they are definitely to be avoided in polite conversation.

They are forbidden by law

There is actually a law in Russia forbidding people from swearing in public places. The fine is 500 roubles. Not a particularly frightening prospect, nor a well-informed law. Russian swear words can still be heard all over public places in most cities.


A teacher tried teaching them

A scandal broke out when a Russian language teacher in the Saratov region decided to integrate them into his classes. Parents were surprised when their children brought home essays on the usages of swear words.

Russian politicians

Allegedly, Communist Party General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev often used expressions not appropriate for public figures. Once in a modern art gallery, he gave his verdict in the most profane manner: “The paintings are sh*t, the artists – *ssh*les.”

Nikita Khrushchev in 1959

Russian poets were no strangers to swearing

Many Russian poets throughout the centuries weren’t shy using the most jarring profanity in their work. Among them are Pushkin, Mayakovsky and Esenin – all three of whom are considered Russia’s greatest. Safe to say those particular poems didn’t make the textbooks.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article