Putain: degree of vulgarity?

Discussion in 'French-English Vocabulary / Vocabulaire Français-Anglais' started by floppydream, Aug 7, 2006.

  1. floppydream Senior Member

    New York
    English US
    Moderator note:
    This thread combines several threads on "putain" in several contexts.

    I have now viewed various threads pertaining to vulgarity and I'm struck by seeming lack of consensus among francophones about the degree of vulgarity of putain. I was under the firm impression that putain was at the level of fuck, which remains an extreme vulgarity in english even after all these centuries. To be precise, I thought that putain was maybe not exactly as crude (after all, slang runs deeper in the blood of the French), but at the same general level.

    What gives?
  2. Lizamichael Senior Member

    French - Français
    I think it all depend with whom you're talking. "Putain" will go unnoticed among younger generations and can be used fot good or bad events.
    but I thought it was the same with "fuck", I thought I saw in a play something like "I love my fucking life!"
    how to handle a language is really... an art!
  3. pieanne

    pieanne Senior Member

    Nice Hinterland
    As was said in another thread, "putain" is now often shortened to " 'tain!", which seems to cleanse it from all/some vulgarity. I hate to say it, but my 10 year old son sometimes uses " 'tain!", and then I say "Hey, you shouldn't say that! Say 'Punaise' instead!"
    I think there's a difference between "putain" used as an interjection (which, alas, is fairly common, and "putain" used linked with a noun (which I find quite rude): "J'ai pas vu ce putain de camion!" - "Putain de merde, tu fais chier!" - "Qu'st-ce que c'est, ce putain de message que tu as reçu?"

    Yet, I'm rather sure other members will have a different opinion on this subject...
  4. floppydream Senior Member

    New York
    English US
    It's quite possible you saw a play called "I love my fucking life", but I can guarantee you it never went on Broadway. I once saw a play with a fully naked orgy scene, but you know, these days, even in puritan America, you can get away with anything in certain kinds of theater. But what I'm speaking of is the mainstream of culture, what the French might call la petite bourgeoisie. Fuck is of course extremely common, and becoming more so, but it remains the benchmark of vulgarity in english (or AE), in polite society.

    Thanks for your input
  5. Lizamichael Senior Member

    French - Français
    Is it, like, something that you might say under certain circumstances, but that you won't write -except in a play ;-) -
    and that word would always be the expression or a will to be aggressive, is that it?
  6. Texas Heat Wave Member

    English, USA
    The "f-word", as it is often called, is very strong in English, whether written or spoken, as floppydream suggested. It, along with "shit" are not permitted on network TV programs. You will hear people say frigging or freaking instead, but it is still not considered appropriate for polite conversation. But I must admit that I am rather conservative in these matters.
  7. bernik Senior Member

    Brittany - french
    "Putain" will go unnoticed among younger generations "

    Even among younger generations, I think most people won't use the word.
    In the south of france, the word seems to be very innocuous, and they add a "g" at the end. (putaingue!)
  8. Lizamichael Senior Member

    French - Français
    Sorry, I am not from the south. I'm not sure you hang around with young people... at the age of adolescence, "Putain" or "'tain" is as common as cigarettes, unfortunately.
    some might lose both bad habits entering adulthood...
    I knew a girl who had to "vouvoyer" her parents who used the "p-" word when she was out, certainly by reaction to a too strict education but she was still using it...
    Anyway, as long as we treat each other with respect, I don't really care if one needs a "putain" to express his frustration, as long as he didn't use this word just to shock me, I don't mind, of course I would prefer people to use the French Language to its fullness but it would be reducing to pretend that people don't use it. Then why would we be talking...?
    I think the "debate" shifted from "do people use it?" to "Should people use it?" and on this last issue, I am quite sure we would all prefer people to use the most beautiful language possible... but reality is on our side...
  9. maddief24 Senior Member

    English, Pennsylvania, United States
    I've spent some time in the south of France (near Marseille) and while "putain" is still far from polite (my school students were DEFINITELY not allowed to say it in class), it's almost more of an interjection than an actual curse word.
  10. anangelaway

    anangelaway Senior Member

    Yes, well in my hometown Toulouse, it's not just 'putaingue' you will hear but quite often 'putaingue con'', even better. :D
    Where are the toulousains to disagree with me... ? :p
  11. mplsray Senior Member

    Perhaps you will agree that f-word is still stronger than the word shit. When George Bush was overheard using the term shit, it was censored ("bleeped") even on cable, including many CNN programs. However, on at least one CNN program, Larry King Live, the tape was run uncensored. I can't imagine that Larry King's producers would have left the tape uncensored if Bush had instead used the f-word.
  12. sanjuro Member

    "Putain" is vulgar, but so are the French, and many people don't give a f*** to use obnoxious language :p ; a good example is the insult that refers to sodomite (I don't even want to write it), it's a very, very vulgar word and yet, for some, his use has become quite natural; they feel no shame using it matter-of-factly. Personally I don't use the p-word except when very angry, it's an ugly word, uglier than "fuck" in intensity. Fuck is exotic and nice somehow, can be exciting too. ;)
  13. KaRiNe_Fr

    KaRiNe_Fr Senior Member

    France, Provence
    Français, French - France
    In my every day life, in a professional context, I never hear (nor say!) this word, even if I live in the south of France.
    I can merely use it joking with friends, but even not with my parents for instance.
    (Just to counter balance the "southerner" myth of the wide use of "putaingue"...)
  14. vittel

    vittel Senior Member

    french, France
    :D I was born and raised not far from Toulouse (Agen) and it is indeed used to ponctuate every sentences, between friends. Slightly more by guys than by girls. Of course you won't hear it in class or in formal conversations.
    And I admit I had the bad habit to say it pretty often. "putain(g)" used as a coma", "con(g)" used as a full stop.

    But now I study in the north and I realized people tend to be more shocked with people who swear, so I stopped talking like that.

    I agree with you, the use of this word always shocked me, and I heard it a lot during the first 18 years of my life. I hate it, and it's true, it's extremely vulgar, probably the most vulgar french word.
  15. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    I'm not sure there is more consensus among anglophones as to the degree of vulgarity of the four-letter word. I've seen a few threads (not including this one, I agree) in which English speakers didn't agree on that issue.
    It only goes to show that it's difficult to be objective on that matter and we easily shift, almost uncounsciously, from do people use it to should people use it, as Lizamichael rightly pointed out.
    Yes, many people use putain (in the sense of Hell!/dammit) in casual conversation, and they aren't even aware of it being "vulgar" (at he precise moment when they're uttering it, I mean) .
    No, you're not likely to hear it at work or in school.
    You might hear it on TV, though. A presenter or a journalist would never say it but TV channels regularly broadcast shows by entertainers or humorists who use it. There's a famous show called Les Guignols de l'info in which celebrities are impersonated by puppets and Mr Chirac's puppet often says putain.
  16. OlivierG

    OlivierG Senior Member

    Toulouse, France
    France / Français
    Et bien, cela a au moins le mérite de prouver qu'utiliser des gros mots n'est pas la seule manière de se montrer insultant. :mad:

    Sanjuro, il faut être conscient que "l'intensité" d'un mot varie selon la région. On peut ne pas vouloir l'utiliser, demander à ses enfants de ne pas le faire, mais en aucun cas porter un tel jugement sur toute une partie de la population.

    Les personnes qui utilisent ce terme ne sont certainement ni plus ni moins vulgaires que vous, elles ne partagent simplement pas la même définition du mot que la vôtre.

    Alors, bien sûr, il ne faut pas l'utiliser en présence de ses parents avant l'âge de 14 ans, ni à l'école, mais en aucun cas cela ne constitue une insulte, ici.
  17. Texas Heat Wave Member

    English, USA
    I think that swear words have a stronger impact to a native speaker because there is an emotional, cultural, and perhaps contextual connection that is not present to a non-native speaker. We would be wise to be sensitive to the impact a word might have to the native speaker, as well as to a speaker from a different region, where the word carries a stronger meaning than in our own region.
  18. panzemeyer

    panzemeyer Senior Member

    France / French
    Dans des conversations entre amis (en particulier entre mecs), "putain" n'est pas particulièrement choquant (sauf à être un peu cul serré). C'est d'ailleurs le seul mot qui exprime aussi intensément le sentiment d'exaspération. Les équivalents "admis" paraissent très faibles à côté : "purée" "punaise" "mince alors !" "dis donc !", etc.

    En revanche ce mot va virer au vulgaire s'il est employé à n'importe quel propos (pour exprimer un simple sentiment d'étonnement), dans n'importe quel contexte (dans un lieu public par exemple) et de manière immodérée (un "putain" toutes les deux phrases).

    En fin de compte, je pense que les Français emploient "putain" de la même façon que les anglophones emploient "shit".
  19. grgatzby

    grgatzby Member

    I totally agree with you panzemeyer.
    Though I would not define myself as a vulgar person, I must admit I can use the word putain with people of my generation during casual talks, and it goes unnoticed. I don't think I use it more than 2/3 times a month.

    When I talk with older people or kids I will definitely not use it and I would be shocked if I heard some people say it : I can't imagine my wife using it.
    When I talk with younger colleagues in their 20ish, I might use it cautiously keeping an eye at their reaction (they would expect me not to talk like that).

    I don't care if my teenage kid says it in the courtyard al long as I won't hear him.

    What about the vulgarity of F... in english? Gordon Ramsay the famous English chef who makes a regular TV show, uses it every other word, though he admitedly is a very respectable man.
  20. alisonp Senior Member

    English - UK
    About 20 years ago, I was living with a French family, and the père de famille routinely used "putain merde!" as a swearword, without seeming to think anything of it, so I picked it up. Perhaps I'd better be a bit more cautious about using it ...
  21. distille Senior Member

    France, french
    Putain definitely belongs to colloquial language. for many people (included me) it's often used as an interjection. I use it frequently when i speak with friends...or when i speak to myself! ('putain, c'est quoi ce bordel?' is probably something i say on an everyday basis).
    I would never use it in the professional context or with older people i'm not very familiar with.

    Used as an interjection, it's not particularly offensive as long as the context is the right one.
    In the south of France it's more frequent than in the north, and it's not considered as offensive (as long as it is used with the right persons).

    However it can be used as an insult 'tu es une p...' and then it becomes extremely offensive.
  22. Sli Member

    UK English
    Found everyones comments on the use of the word putain very interesting, having returned from weeks exchange trip to a small village in Belgium.

    Me and the other English students were shocked by how much this word is used, taking into account its actual meaning. The Belgian teenagers we stayed with seemed very polite and in no way intending to shock or cause huge offense with their language. The girl I stayed with used 'Putain' all the time, even in front of her parents, who were fine with it.

    A couple of other students said the primary chool children they were working with used it all the time, which makes me think maybe its become less strong- more on a par with 'bitch' in England, which though insulting, would pass by fairly unnoticed. In fact, one Belgian student even called his mother 'Putain'.
  23. LV4-26

    LV4-26 Senior Member

    Are you sure (s)he was really calling his/her mother that way? Keep in mind that, in its everyday use, putain is not a form of address but just a swear word. It is used in just about the same way as the English use "bloody hell" (or maybe rather "f***ing hell")
  24. Lizamichael Senior Member

    French - Français

    If I agree with you on the fact that people nowadays use it a lot, I still find strange when you explain that one of the belgian student used it meaning his mother... Unless his mother slapped him just after, I think he might have use a sentence with the word "putain" in it but used as an exclamation and not meaning the original sense of the word...
    And that's the thing; it lost its meaning: used as an exclamation, it doesn't mean "whore" but something to comment on a situation close to "shit, ....!" like as for example: "Putain, j'ai complètement merdé mon examen" "Shit, I totally screwed up my examination!" It is not used to describe a person but more to show how bad you feel about a situation...
    But I hope it's not the only memory you'll keep from your travel... lol
  25. kelliwisethebrave New Member

    USA and English
    anyway, to the topic of the thread, the word "putain"(sorry for typing it...:confused:) seems to be as serious as "crap" to some and a serious swear word to others. I've heard it while watching French TV on YouTube. A word of that "caliber" would be bleeped out on American TV, I think.
  26. viera Senior Member

    Paris suburb
    I find it offensive and avoid it, as I find it anti-feminist. Let the male chauvinists use it if they wish, but I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon. (I use merde a lot.)
  27. Dorsey Member

    Nebraska, United States
    (American) English
    :warn::warn::warn:Here's the statement:

    "So what of this girl, this putain. The king's whore."

    Context: Spoken by the great Peter O'toole in his role as a 16th cenury Pope on the American show "The Tudors."
    I was a little shocked to hear it because I saw it in a clip that ran on NBC's Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It seemed a little vulgar for network television. Plus, Did Popes ever talk like that?

    Main question: How vulgar is "putain" in that context? Is it just "whore."? or more like "dirty whore," or "fucking whore."?
  28. agnes50 Senior Member

    Oise France
    français France

    Putain is definitly vulgar, but in this particular sentence, I would say it's also patronizing... and yes, I guess Popes could talk like that. Some of them even had sex, had other people killed...etc...etc...
  29. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    Yes, Popes did. Have a look at the Borgia family:)...
    Now you seem to draw fine distinctions between dirty whore and fucking whore. Same with putain: the context is the key, more than the word itself, I'd say.
  30. Dorsey Member

    Nebraska, United States
    (American) English
    It's funny you say that, Agnes. In the very next breath the Pope says: "Why doesn't someone just get rid of her?"

    Anyway, so it's not all that vulgar in that context?
  31. agnes50 Senior Member

    Oise France
    français France
    putain IS a very vulgar, even in that context
  32. Dorsey Member

    Nebraska, United States
    (American) English
    Yes, Jean, I drew a distiction between dirty and fucking because the F-word is just about the strongest vulgarity we have in America. Dirty is more just like very (or very much in this context).
  33. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    As you can see from previous posts in this now merged thread, "putain" is very much like "fuck"/"fucking", as it can be used very offensively or very commonly.
    Apart from the exclamation "putain !", Putain, applied to a woman,has been used for: a prostitute; a married woman with a lover; a woman with many lovers; a woman using her physical attributes for a gain; etc.
    Context only can tell what the intention is when using this Swiss knife of a word...
  34. Dorsey Member

    Nebraska, United States
    (American) English
    Forgive me, Jean, if I seem to put too fine a point on it, but if it can be as offensive as "fuck" and as (relatively) mild as "whore," then how offensive is my Pope example? Would it be as inappropriate as the F-word?
  35. JeanDeSponde

    JeanDeSponde Senior Member

    France, Lyon area
    France, Français
    How could I tell?
    The British English of the XVIth century was not much influenced by the Political Correctness of today's America...
    Was the text written at the time? Written nowadays, but using same words and meanings? "Transposed" in modern language for today's audience?...
    Plus, are you sure that everybody would consider "fuck" as always very offensive, and "whore" as often mild?...
  36. Dorsey Member

    Nebraska, United States
    (American) English
    As far as I know, "Fuck" has been pretty offensive through the ages. That's why I said "whore" was relatively mild (most people don't consider it mild, but it's not as harsh as F---).
    I suppose it would be good to know if Pope Paul III actually said that, but I don't.

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