Once upon a time, many years ago, I had just moved to the lowlands and was taking my newly purchased bike for a ride around the big city of Amsterdam. Overwhelmed, I happened to accidentally, but fairly dramatically, cut-off another Dutch cyclist. The man was furious, stopped his bike, and began to curse and yell loudly at me in Dutch. Not speaking any Dutch at this point, it sounded mostly like a mass of angry guttural sounds, but one word in his tirade jumped out at me…SYPHILIS! WTF?!? Was he talking to me? Did he just tell me I had syphilis?!? Huh?? What?!?

I got back on my bike, confused, and headed to work. Over lunch of karne melk and sandwiches with hagelslag I told my Dutch colleague the story. He stared at me blankly and said “You  made him angry so he wished syphilis on you”.


Go wash out that dirty mouth of yours!

Dutch people swear with diseases. Often with old dreaded diseases from the past. In fact, they go so far as to make angry bold statements wishing these diseases upon you or cursing you with a particular deadly ailment. The more serious the disease in question, the more seriously you have clearly angered them.  If you are going to live in the Netherlands for any amount of time, you had better brush up on your knowledge of rare diseases from years gone by. Typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, small pox, the plague and more modernly, the Big C (kanker), are all bound to rear their ugly heads. Perhaps with that lot of dreaded diseases, a curse of syphilis wasn’t so harsh…

This “swearing-by-disease” is in fact a unique Dutch trait. No other language has similar curses. It’s odd and it’s strange, and quite frankly pretty darn harsh (“I hope you get smallpox and die” – certainly doesn’t beat around the bush, does it?!?)

Of course Dutch people also have an array of other dirty swear words comparable to other languages. You have your trusty standards like klootzak (scrotum), pisvlek (piss stain) and godverdomme (god damn), but nothing is quite as shocking as “Sterf aan kanker!” (Literally: Die of cancer).

Now, now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Dutch people go around all day randomly telling people to drop dead of a certain ailment. But, if you are lucky unlucky enough to be witness to a serious argument you may happen to hear some 16th century diseases make there way into the fight! Now go, f!@#-off and catch herpes! ;)


187 Responses

  1. Gido

    Know the song from the Ciske de Rat musical/movie? “Krijg toch allemaal de kolere, val voor mijn part allemaal dood!” Everybody get cholera and for all I care drop dead! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vww8Nczhx4 Klere or kolere/kelere is dutch slang for cholera.

    • chiara

      well but that child is seriously neglected… “i am only child, i can’t do it all alone, if i had just one person to love, two soft arms to give me a hug and protect me… I feel so damn alone” I mean i get his point, he is like 9 years old or something!

  2. Gido

    But then again all these diseases are considered curses back in the days so that we use these words for curse-words isnt that strange.

  3. Invader_Stu

    I remember when I first arrived in Holland and my co-workers were trying to teach me to swear in Dutch. I thought they were joking at first when they started using illnesses but then I started hearing it being used for real in situations like you’ve mentioned. Even now all these years later it still seems strange to me.

    • cootje

      Yeah, I’m Dutch myself and could never get used to the cursing with diseases either! I still think that’s a terrible habit, and I hope one day it will be over!

      • JeMoeder

        then maybe you should leave :P

      • jonny

        i totaly agree. im from the Netherlands alsoo and this is one of the things im realy ashamed about.

  4. dekselrk

    To add to this:
    The way dutch Hip-hop group ‘De Jeugd Van Tegenwoordig’, have managed to use cursing with cancer in a loving manner is quite incredible in itself. However, these guys somehow tailored this foul-mouthedness in such a way that they have been asked to do the titlesong and the voice-overs for the dutch translation of the Smurfs: They became a role-model for our children. Wow.

  5. Dutchmanjoel

    To be quite honest, there is an explanation for this. The point is: the most sensitive letters for a Dutch person to curse with are the G, the K and the T. Therefore, there a a lot of Dutch curses that have these letters in them, like ‘Tering’ (Tuberculosis), ‘Godverdomme’ (God Damn it) and ‘Kolere’ (the only translation I can find is ‘Fucking’ xD). I personally prefer ‘Kak’ (Poo) over ‘Kanker’ (Cancer), but it’s true that a lot of people curse with these hard words. Quite a shame actually, as we actually do have quite a big vocabulary.

    • Gido

      Same goes for English cursewords too. Fuck, shit, cunt, ass, piss, cock. You can really say it in a aggressive way. Thats why people say kanker a lot. Its the worse curse to say but it can really vent the aggro in you away. Too bad its linked to that terrible disease. A good example that sound has a lot to do with it is the disease aids. You cant swear with aids. It doesnt sound like an aggressive curse word. I never heard anyone here in Holland curse with syphilis btw. And I like to know all cursewords (and Im dutch) but syphilis is not really one of the major Dutch curse words. I only say ‘kanker’ when I’m really mad, pissed or after I hit my thumb very hard with a hammer or something like that. People in Den Haag (the Hague) use the word ‘kanker’ too often I think. There its part of the street language. Oh and btw Dutchmanjoel. Kolere stands for cholera.

      • Mark Mardin

        aidslijder, yes, we use aids in cursing

      • Dominic Van Der Meij

        Ik leerde mijn Amerikaanse dochter krijg aids & sterf. (I thought my Amiceran dochter Get Aids & die in Dutch.

      • Sharon

        We do curse with Syphillis. ‘Tyfus’ in Dutch. Just saying

      • cloggy

        Gido, did you know there is a dutch swearword dictionary ?

    • Hans

      Kolere or klere is slang for cholera. (Don’t confuse klere with kleren though, that’s clothing. If you’re really unhappy with your clothing you might speak of “klerekleren”. ;-) )

    • Corine

      Actually ‘godverdomme’ is also a funny dutch curse (although most religious people don’t think so). It doesn’t actual mean ‘god damn it’, but ‘god damn ME’.
      Btw, dutch people don’t scream to you that they wish you will get a certain disease or that you might die form it, but accuse you of being a sufferer of a certain disease. Suppose it come from the time that people of a contagious disease where being separated form the healthy population, so accusing someone of having a thyfus wasnt very nice (obviously it still isn´t). Perhaps it also comes from out calvinistic background. If you have a nasty disease you must have done something to deserve this punishment from God.

      • M

        It does mean god damn it, not me. It may sound that way because you could read it as verdom me, but verdomme is actually a subjunctive form of verdommen, which isnt used anymore nowadays. It means sort of like i wish itll be damned, or god please damn this damn thing,

      • Jan

        “M”: you’re wrong! It is derivated from God verdoem mij, which does mean God condemn me…

      • Lor

        “Krijg aids” or “krijg de tering” are quite common curses around here (Nijmegen). People do wish diseases on you so to speak, instead of implying you actually have it.

      • cloggy

        “God verdoem mij als ik de waarheid niet spreek” in full
        Think of “Dat is toch godverdomme zo ?”
        Doesn’t mean “god damn it” there is no “it”
        You mean “godverdomde” as in “de godverdomde hagelslag is op !”

      • Michael Beijer (@michaelbeijer)

        Hi Corine,

        I think they (make that: ‘we’; I’m 1/2 Dutch, 1/2 American) do. How about:

        ‘Krijg de tyfus!’ (‘I hope you catch typhoid fever!’)
        ‘Krijg de tyfus val toch dood.’ (‘I hope you catch typhoid fever and die!’)


      • Geert de Jonge

        It sure means “May God damn…(you, my stupidity, whatever is arousing my anger.)” The counterpart is “God zegen…” or more old fashioned “God zegene…” like “May God bless…(you, me, whatever I’m happy with.)”
        “God zegen de greep!” meaning “Here goes nothing!”

    • John Deer

      Kolere is coming from the word ‘Cholera’

  6. Mirella

    ‘make their way’ (another typically Dutch thing: nitpicking, or: mierenneuken (fucking ants))

  7. Edel

    You’re absolutely right about this strange habit, but I need to say one thing: the majority of people don’t swear by using the word kanker (cancer). It is considered the roughest and most offensive curse ever and everybody who has developped some level of decency will always avoid this word.

    • Erika

      Well… they definitely don’t. At least in Rotterdam, it’s the most commonly used.

      • John R

        That’s because Rotterdam, with the large harbour and all, is a city typically inhabited by seamen and labourers, and other members of a lower socio-economic group, known to frequent the use of harsh language; not only in the Netherlands but everywhere in the world.
        Additionally, among youngsters, adolescents and young adults, being rowdy and foul-mouthed is presumed to give you a certain degree of ‘respect’. This is in part caused by the rise of the rap/R&B/punk scene and is also observed in other parts of the (western) world.

      • Jeroen

        Every region has more or less its own diseases. The Hauge its Tering (TBC). Harry Jekkers (Comedian) once made a joke that even the trams in The Hague say Teerrring. In Rotterdam its cancer.

      • Simon le Bon

        In the Hague ‘kankûh’ is sometimes used like the English word ‘fuck’….
        It is used more meaningless, to fill the gaps in a sentence.

        Furthermore curses are often combined, like ‘godverdomse tyfus pleuris kankerzooi’ in no specific order….

    • piet

      oh comon dutch youth especially use this word for everthing like: oh the bus left, KANKER!!, u suck KANKER much!!, what the Kanker are you doing, dirty kanker ho! much more!!

      • Pieter

        Yup, the youth in my neighbourhood havent said a real sentence when it doesnt have the K-word in it…

    • cloggy

      Oh you’re in for a surprise !
      I heard some guys say “Dat is kanker grappig”
      roughly translated “Funny as cancer” I can’t see the fun in that.
      I prefer the food swearing types also with G’s K’s and P’s “Hé Pannekoek !” “gehaktbal !” “Krotenkoker !”

      • Erica Jackson

        That certainly shouldn’t be translated as “funny as cancer”. The accurate translation would be “that is fucking funny”. ‘Kanker’ can virtually be placed anywhere in a sentence to mean ‘very’, the same way ‘fucking’ is used in English.

      • anno

        it is like ‘thats fucking funny”

  8. Anna

    I don’t know anyone who would say “I hope you get […] and die”, or at least not in such a sentence, they mostly say kankerlijer (cancersufferer) or things like kankerhoer (cancerwhore), although I would say it’s only really foulmouthed people who say stuff like that to others, I don’t know anyone who’d say that. Sometimes people do say kanker when something goes really wrong (like Gido said when you hit your thumb with a hammer or something like that, but in those situations less foulmouthed people would probably say kut, kak or godverdomme). Never heard anyone say syphilis though.
    Saying something with cancer is probably comparable to calling someone a cunt in English, it’s the worst thing you can say and has the same effect. Maybe to foreigners it seems more harsh because the disease is so horrible but when said it’s not meant that literally (I mean when you say cunt you don’t actually mean someone is/looks like a .. you just want to say the worst thing possible). I think in traffic most people would rather say klootzak or kutwijf (comparable to resp. asshole and bitch).

    Anyways after all these foulmouthed words above I would like to stress that saying those things in traffic/public or to someone is not considered normal! I would (like to) think that it’s only a certain kind of people who’d do that and who shouldn’t be considered as representative for “the Dutch”.
    What helps me when I get sworn at in e.g. traffic is to still think the best of people, for example I’ll think the swearer probably just got a scare from almost having a trafficaccident or crashing into you and the swearword is an outing of the scare but not meant that harshly. Might be a bit naieve but it prevents me from getting cranky or ruining my day.

      • Ish

        No it’s not.. it’s true they are both diseases caused by infection, but syphilis is an STD (SOA) whereas typhus is not. Also, I believe there are different kinds of typhus.

      • Michael Beijer (@michaelbeijer)

        Fun facts:

        • tyfus = typhus (Juridisch-Economisch Lexicon)
        • tyfus de (m.) = typhoid (fever) (Van Dale NL-EN)
        • tyfuslijder de (m.) = typhoid patient / sufferer (Van Dale NL-EN)
        • tyfuslijer de (m.) = filthy bastard, shit-head​ (Van Dale NL-EN)
        • tyfeuuze koorts = enteric fever (Woordenboek geneeskunde E-N/N-E, 3rde druk; P.L.M. Kerkhof)
        • tyfus abdominalis = enteric fever, ileotyphus (Woordenboek geneeskunde E-N/N-E, 3rde druk; P.L.M. Kerkhof)

        Van Dale Groot woordenboek van de Nederlandse taal (14):

        • tyfus:

        besmettelijke ziekte die van zware koortsen, bewustzijnsverlies en aandoeningen van het darmkanaal (diarree) vergezeld gaat, veroorzaakt door de tyfusbacterie, zetelend in de darm
        ook als eerste lid in samenst. als de volgende, die tot het vulgaire stijlregister behoren, ter aanduiding dat het in het tweede lid genoemde hoogst vervelend, onaangenaam is

        tyfusgriet, tyfushoer, tyfusvent

    • cloggy

      Agreed while “Cunt” or “Kut” is about the softest swearword in the Netherlands !
      (even my girlfriend calls hers that)

  9. Hanneke ten Hulscher

    When I watched this documentary about road rage here in the US a long time ago, where this guy actually likked two people with a crasbow (…) I vowed to try to keep my patience in traffic. (Not that it always works..) I agree with Anna, never really heard the kanker-thing too much and don’t use that myself. However, ‘klootzak’ en ‘kutwijf’ work really well for me, if I have to curse. And think about it, fuck? Really? to say ‘neuk’ or neuk off-can’t really find a translation for fuck off- when something happens like smash your thumb or walk into somthing and stub your toe really bad.. ‘kolere’ feels better to say than ‘neuk’. If you’re agains cursing, don’t fake-curse with the goshdarnitdagnabbit stuff, since really your saying the same thing as goddammit anyway

  10. Miriam

    I also don’t know many people that say kanker a lot, it’s considered very bad. Most of these illnesses are long gone, a good reason to use them as it’s not offensive anymore. Whereas many people have lost somebody to cancer – probably the reason why it’s considered the worst.

    Btw I’m surprised nobody here has mentioned the cursed Bond tegen het vloeken – their goal is to make people curse less, but the posters they spread to persuade me to curse less, always make me curse at them :D Anybody else has that? The one poster always comes back, it reads: cursing is like being a parrot, are you a parrot? How stupid is that? Language itself is tought by copyng, just like cursing – it’s no different. So I always think what’s your point klootzak? :P

    • Gido

      Exactly! Bond tegen het vloeken annoys the hell out of me and makes me more rebelious against it. But thats just a christian organisation that wants to force things down your throat with their ads. People should curse. It relieves. But not too harsh.

      • jasper

        “Godverdomme, weer zo’n kutposter van de teringbond tegen het klerevloeken. Wat een eikels.”

        I have read “krijg de sief” (referring to syphilis) in old books, but it’s kind of fallen out of use.

    • cloggy

      What will the people of ‘Bond tegen het vloeken’ when they bumb their little toe ?
      “Groene Gregorius !” or something ?

  11. Adriana

    There are more cultures where they curs you with a particular deadly ailment. But I use the T-word ‘tering’, The K-word I’ve used, usually combined with the T-word, mongool (retard..I know baaad),
    But I also swear a lot in English, fuck and any type of variation of this word, damn it, motherfucker, bitch etc.

  12. j

    Hi there, I love the blog! Of course it’s all stereotypes (I’m dutchie and I hate karnemelk etc) but still :) I have to agree with Edel though,
    kanker is NOT common or considered normal to curse around with. If I’d do so, I’d be out of the family, I guess.

      • Shirley

        But it feels so good to tell/yell at someone who is behaving like a butthole to go get heart valve cancer! We dutch also have come up with the excuse ”smijten met je eigen vleeswaren” with roughly means…if you had it, you can curse it!

  13. j

    Oh @ miriam, I actually like those posters. I think ‘praat liever met elkaar’ is a very well thought out :) Don’t know if they work though.

  14. Joost v S

    Actually, cursing using one particular disease was fairly common in English: the Pox. A pox on you, poxy whore, etc.

    But indeed, other than that, as far as I know, we’re the only people to extensively curse using diseases.

  15. Michele Geller

    As a 12 year old English girl moving to the lowlands, “Godverdomme” was the first word that everyone wanted to teach me on the first day of school! 34 years later, “Scheisse” is probably the most gratifying one to utter, and now, instead of using “a@@hole” in traffic in front of my American kids, I’ll be sure to now use “Klootzak” again! Thanks for the reminder! :-)

    • Jay

      34 years later you still confuse the Netherlands with Germany?

      • bart

        Scheisse is also used in the netherlands, not just in germany.. I know I do..
        Maybe more in limburg then in the rest of the netherlands..

  16. Raoul

    For all you expats, I can recommend “krijg de vinketyfus” warm-heartedly. It just sounds good, and the disease is so unknown it can hardly be taken seriously. ;)

    • djoeke

      Yeah, as said above, we don’t actually wish diseases upon someone, except for saying ‘Krijg de… tyfus / tering / pestpokke’. Funny thing is that young people actually use tyfus (typhoid) as a verb now, by making it into ‘optyfen’ (f*cking off), as in:

      ‘Tyf een eind op joh!’ (‘F*ck off dude’)

      • djoeke

        Oh, and they do the same with cancer, saying ‘Kanker een eind op joh!’
        But as said above, swearing with cancer is VERY offensive. I don’t have any friends who do that, except for friends from The Hague, where it’s pretty common. I know a lot of people who would not want to get involved with people using that word in swearing.

    • Henny Kok

      “Krijg de Vinketering” sounds even better.

    • chiara

      i just love “klootviool” i have really no idea were that came from (kloot=scrotum, viool=violin) but just love the ring of it and since no-one has any idea what the hell it is…

      • cloggy

        On the centrepage of “Ut Groen Geile Boekie” they teach you how to speak “Haags”
        The page says only one word a couple of times “Kan-kah” which of course is haags for cancer

    • Shirley

      I always thought it was ” krijg de vinkentering” instead of vinkentyfus?

  17. Tim M

    My brother gave me a book on my birthday called “Krijg de Vinkentering”.
    It is a list of 1001 curses with background information. Most of the curses mention a diseas, but there are also a lot that are somewhat funny.
    One of my favorites was: Krijg eeuwige jeuk en te korte armpjes. (Get eternal itching and short arms)

    • J

      As funny as it might seem, ‘krijg eeuwige jeuk en te korte armpjes’ is never really used in real life. Too bad there immediately goes a tweet about this, because it’s getting a bit out of proportions this way.

    • cloggy

      Krijg de roodkoperen tering dan kan je je de tyfus poetsen !

  18. Sijmen

    Over the past few years these illness-expletives have made it into positive adjectives, much like ‘fuck’ in ‘fucking nice!’. For example, ‘kankerlekker!’ means ‘fucking tasty/sweet’. Most often used amongst youth and certainly not in polite company.

  19. Erika

    What about “kanker lul”? (sorry are we aloud to mention this word here?). So they are telling that you are a penis with kanker LOL

  20. David Corner

    My wife is Greek; cancer is such a bad word there that they NEVER use it. They use “apo ‘tho” which means “away from here” whenever they would otherwise need to say cancer. I am talking about actually talking about cancer here; I have never heard them use cancer as a curse. It is a word that they just do not like to say.

    In English we use “pox” a lot; calling a woman a “pox-ridden whore” is a somewhat old-fashioned but still extremely offensive insult. And we do say “drop dead”.

    In Greece, they curse all the time and most of their “regular” curses, like malaka which means masturbator, are used so often they have no punch. So they have special curses that they use when they are really mad that involve suggesting the person they’re cursing should become sexually intimate from various characters from christian mythology. They would translate into something like “go F*** Jesus” and “go F*** the Virgin Mary”, which are so offensive to American ears that not even my American Jewish friends would utter such things.

  21. Wil

    We need input from Cantonese speakers. Apparently, there is no better language to swear in…

    • Joost v S

      Cantonese is quite varied, a lot of genital and family stuff.

      And to hestravels: swearing with cancer might be deeply offensive but it by no means ridiculous (or completely unique for that matter); the whole idea of swearing is to express thoughts of an offensive nature, to wish something terrible upon someone.

      Fuck off and die might not specify what the person should die of, but if one looks at it rationally the expressed thought it isn’t a great deal less offensive than kankerlijer.

  22. hestravels

    The Dutch sure are a strange breed when it comes to cursing. I myself, being Dutch, never swear with Cancer and tell people off for it. I travel a lot and have never been able to completely explain the nature of Dutch cursing, when people ask. The expression you see on peoples faces when you tell them in your country people swear with Cancer is ridiculous and reminds me, that it is in fact rather ridiculous.

    • Gido

      It’s mainly because of the sound of it. Kut, cunt, cock, klote, pik, fuck. They all have the sound of k in it and kanker even has 2!

      • jasper

        In The Hague, kanker even has two ka sounds in it.

    • hpjd

      hehe, i’m now traveling for more then a year, I’m getting tired of all the foreigners who try to impress me with “neuken in de keuken”. i learn them most of the time kankerlijer. just cuz it is so impossible rude… i never gave them the explanation though, they have to find them for them self gheghe!!.. always fun, language barriers

  23. Robert Zweistra

    Has nobody ever seen blackadder.
    the english make a complete alinea to swear at you although they might not use extreme diseases i will never forget the el icho di batardo i hope you get …. you poxridden idiot from a retarded mother and a dwarf father with syphilys etc.etc.
    we (the dutch ) only use one word or a sentence get this or get that or you are a whatever.

    If you really want to have a laugh go to amsterdam leidseplein to boom chicago which is an amrican improv group. they used to do a piece about ajax and feyenoord and the fact that ajax footballers get called yews and worse but that it is ok because that is their heritage. this actually explained this topic in a way.

    p.s. someone said something about rotterdam it has nothing to do with sailors and that. I come from a good rotterdam neighbourhood and even we use the bad language.
    you just pick it up from peers and you also pass it on. I think it works the same as fashion now adays all grownup women walk around in those very ugly trousers with 3/4 leg and those stupid pants with their crotch between the knees. our parent told us what not to wear and what to wear and now you are the parents walking around looking like dickhead and twats. that evolution for ya :)

    • cloggy

      Hey Robert, never heard of
      Over het paard getilde-lauwtoffe-godgloeiende-pestpokke-volautomatische-gaskamerbrede-teringtouwtyfus-blafkanker-koleertige-kut-Amsterdam ?
      And then of course say it as fast as you can. I though it was from Jules Deelder who is from rival city Rotterdam.
      (sorry A’dam)

      • cloggy

        I know PLENTY of these word but never use them !
        a simple AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAggggggghhhhhhh will do just nicely

  24. Joris

    My favorite curse phrase is ‘kankerkutzooi’ which loosely translates into ‘cancercuntmess’, and it’s the first thing I learn to foreigners. It alliterates so beautifully :)

    • Maaike

      I must say that a string of curse words relieves the most. Kankertyfusteringzooi (with multible Ks and Ts) helps a lot when you’ve hit your toe against a table or something. BUT I only use the kanker-bit when I’m by myself – and even then feel kinda ashamed, ’cause it’s too harsh and not normaal ;-).

      • cloggy

        Just watch Jules Deelder on YouTube a clip called “Pleuris Amsterdam”
        I’ve got nothing against A’dam but this guy sure knows how to swear

  25. aj vosse

    Sommer net lekker! I think the Afrikaaners of South Africa may once in a while wish evil by way of sickness on their foes… maybe a habit from their past Dutch roots? Goed-gaaf! ;-) Usually to do with the unmentionable organs becoming infested with lice and then your fingers turning to fish-hooks… ;-)

  26. Laura

    I’m Dutch and I know a lot of my compatriots use this frequently, more so probably in cities.
    I definitely strongly dislike this – always have and always will.
    I think it’s extremely rude and offensive, and people doing this clearly have no idea how awful a thing it is that they are wishing someone in that moment. :(

  27. Tom

    I´d like to add to this whole cursing topic the fact that every single word can be prefixed with ´kut´ (cunt).
    If a car wont start or is not a particular good car, it will be called a kutauto
    If a person isnt nice, its called a kutkerel or kutwijf, but litterly every thing that is wrong in some way or another can be prefixed with kut and every dutchy will know what you mean. I´ve even read a slogan about this which goes something like: kut past voor alles (cunt prefixes anything)

    The spanish do the same, only difference is they will suffix their words with ´de mierda´ (damned) , e.g. bad person; mujer or hombre de mierda, bad car; coche de mierda, bad weather; tiempo de mierda.. ah well you get the idea.

    Taking it one step further, in some regions of holland ( in Utrecht most certainly ) if something is small like take for instance a car (yet again) you can just say ´klein autootje´ (little car) but it´s also common to refer to it as a ´klein kutautootje´ where the word kut doesnt necessarily mean the car is bad or anything, but just that its really really really small. I guess us dutchies like to use the word kut alot.

    • Marcos

      @Tom “de mierda” actually means “shitty” literally “(made) of shit” (mierda=shit). It’s a good comparison though.

    • lososunos

      Funny cus we do exactly the same in sweden, jäkla fittbil (fucking/goddam cunt car) but swearing like dutch people, swedes don’t. The harshest swearwords are adapted english ones or refering in swedish to bodyparts, prostitutes or being homosexual.

  28. Cras

    Sodeflikker godverdomme een teringeind op!
    Aaah, that’s better. My most common way to vent some cropped up anger. I have a whole array of swearwords that string together nicely when I need them, but only in anger or frustration. Mostly I try to avoid kanker, but the kids today use it in their everyday language. Ever noticed the two letters kk in dutch youtube/hyves/facebook/twitter comments? They stand for KanKer and are used and abused by the kids like there’s no tomorrow, including really bad grammar (deze is egt een kk liedje! = These is a really cancer-song –> tried to translate the grammar ;)).

    I’d like to end with an old Dutch poem my dad used to recite every now and then:
    Stik, verrek, verrot, verteer
    donder op en flikker neer
    Krijg de kouwe kippenkoort
    Waterpokken enzovoorts

    (choke, , rot, digest
    get lost and fall down
    Get the chickenfever
    Waterpox and what not)

    There are many variants but this is the one I have in my head atm. Verrekken is hard to translate, can’t think of an example right now.

  29. Diny Jansen

    As kids the word Godverdomme was the worst swearword we knew but we were allowed to say:Potverdomme. Changing one letter made it the word much more acceptable, I still use it!

  30. Why? « Oh, You Poles!

    […] (therefore there are articles on Sinterklaas and Gezelligheid), but this is compensated by truthful articles about Dutch character treats that I wasn’t even aware of […]

  31. Elma

    The most evocative one I’ve ever heard was ‘ Kankermongool!’ (cancer patient with Down’s syndrome). Screamed at my American boyfriend who had had the audacity to punch a guy’s windshield when he ran the red light and cut us off. I will never forget the bemused look on his face when I explained what the guy had yelled at him.

  32. maikel

    when I was young, the worst curse or rather insult was “ingeblikte piemelvlees” (canned penis meat) … go figure …

  33. Deeds Timea

    not only nation.romanians curse with disease too.

  34. Remy

    You probably won’t hear the curseword ‘kanker’ in any slightly formal setting, but be aware of the word ‘kankeren’. That verb means ‘to grumble’ or ‘complain’ and is used more widely and it is not really associated with the disease. My parents use it sometimes and they hardly ever curse.

  35. Anonimo

    Also Italians wish an ass-cancer or other bad diseases to people they hate.. on this one you’re not unique Dutchies! ;)

  36. Joris Driepinter

    As it is said before, that ‘kanker’ (cancer) has two hard k-sounds in the word helps a lot too. For a lot of average Dutch blokes “Kanker!?” is just the equivalent of “Fuck!?” or “Shit!?”

  37. Jan Mulder

    People also use these expressions in a not offensive caracter, like if you play a joke on someone, he will swear at you with one of the above, but not to offend, but to show his acceptance that he was fooled.

  38. Rick

    I have to add that not disease that is said also means that you want the person to have it.. I sometimes use it to make a word stronger altough not everybody can appriciate that ;)

  39. Evelien

    Shamefull.. but it’s true. Although I never use these kind of swearwords, I do hear them a lot around me. The first Dutch word my Irish bf learned when he came to Holland was the Big C-word and ‘Moederneuker’. He was just as suprised as you were. Now all his Irish and Israeli mates know these words. Great..

  40. Diego Quagliarella

    Dutch curses are too gay ¡¡ and I love neederlands ¡¡ BY THE WAY HOW DO YOU SAY ——————->- THIS IS FUCKING GREAT¡¡¡¡¡ & ———> GO TO HELL¡¡¡¡

  41. Tammam Aloudat

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing this. However, I can assure you that there are other languages that have disease swears. In my mother tongue, Arabic, and in the Syrian accent, you could swear at someone hoping they’d get fever or tuberculosis!

  42. mantodistelle

    Yes! exactly anonymous, the Dutch are not the only one to disease swear! We, Italians, also use them but since we are less direct we often leave the last part out, of course everyone knows how it would end: “ti venisse un …” means “I hope you get a …” guess what? :))

  43. eli3l

    This one is weird too:

    “Sterf met een gezwel aan je kontgat!”

    Translation: “I hope you die from a tissue mass/tumor on your anus!”

  44. Ferdinand

    The Dutch trait I’m the least proud of and especially the thing about “cancer”.

  45. Chantal

    For me, living in a family that had a few losses to cancer, I do not swear with cancer.

    Where in the US the words bitch and cunt are shocking and sooooo not done, they are more used in Rotterdam.. Sometimes you can use kutwijf without being slapped in the face.. Also trut and bitch are quite common.

    When I had a little falling out with my US dragon in law, I got called a bitch.. I did not care.. My husband threw a fit over it, haha!

    I use the words kolere, tering, kut, shit and fuck most of the times.. And if I hurt myself I can yell out ” god-god-godverdegodver-auwww-kut!”

  46. Femke

    Cancer and aids are commonly used by young people, that frankly in my opinion have no idea what they’re talking about and it is very frowned upon! A lot of people hate it and if you do use it, people will never respect you! As for Kolere, Tering etc. I dont think most people realize that it is a decease, and are words that have lost their meaning over time, because it is not a common thing anymore. Not proud of this habit… I have never heard anyone scream Syphillis though!

  47. Ellis

    Well, i hate swearing with diseases. I always tell people they shouldn’t say: kanker” as a swearword. But i know someone with cancer, and that makes it worse.

  48. Robin en Sindy

    If we are angry, we like to swear too. It’s actually not good because it became a bad habbit. We don’t like to swear diseases, we respect them. We are not interfering with the people that swear it’s their life.

  49. Matthijs

    The word ‘kanker’ is at this moment the most popular yet controversial of the moment. And is beginning to have a bigger context. Big Dutch artists and musicians using it frequently, which makes it sound normal. The best examples might be De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig and Hans Teeuwen.

    The bigger context, as adverb:
    Dit broodje is kanker lekker = This sandwich is cancer nice (doesn’t really work, right?)
    Die disco is kanker vet = That disco is cancer fat (neither doesn’t work.., mention the ‘fat’, haha that’s also Dutch)

    Well, people don’t worry, it’s considered as slang. So well-mannered people won’t use it like this.

  50. Quessekesse

    @Blogger; I think these kinds of comments speak for themselves. A suggestion for a new topic to post about; debate/discussion and/or objectiveness/soberness in general. Prime time programs like De wereld draait door are proof of this.

  51. G

    Romanian language has also the same type of swearing, for example (word by word translation): I wish plague will eat you ! (by using the imperative form of the verb)

  52. Ronny

    But just so you know, it’s not normal here to swear with “kanker”. Most people think it’s really rude and disrespectful. Most of the teenagers here say it though, which irritates me to hell.

  53. Lettertjes

    We don’t only swear with deadly diseases. ‘krijg de griep’ (get the flu) and ‘krijg de hik’ (get the hiccups) are also used.

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  55. Bert

    Swearing is mostly done by things we don’t want or are ashamed of. “Taboo words”.
    In a densly populated country as the Netherlands these were; diseases. In victorian England it was sex…

  56. Bells

    But really… all this talking about funny dutch swearing and nobody thinks anything of the common American Motherfucker > moederneuker… really? ;-)

    (I love the word douchebag though, so very… accurate!)

  57. Scylla

    I’m Russian, and we also have some swearwords that mean diseases (like “holera” — cholera, “chooma” — plague” or “zaraza” — a disease in general) but they sound really old-fashioned and are not often used. If anyone wished cancer or any other “new” disease on someone else that person most probably would take it seriously.

    • Shirley

      Kanker leip ouwe (litteral, in sentence: This game is ”Cancer crazy, old man”) This is one very good example of how we Dutch (over 22) do not use the word ”kanker” in a sentence discribing something fun or good. It’s ridiculous to use the word kanker like that but it’s ”modern” and ”cool/chill” with the younger genarations (the name smurf explains it all). It’s a harsh word and that’s why we use it to really emphasize our frustration, anger , pain (cussing helps relieve pain) and yes it has to do with the K & T letter theory. It just rolls off your tongue and and packs a punch! We haven’t heard TeringSmurf met je klotetaaltje yet ;P

  58. Floris

    Most diseases we use in the Netherlands to swear are ancient. I have seldom heard anyone using ‘aids’ to swear. ‘Cancer’ (Dutch: kanker) is much more common; though it is a very foul curse. Many people disapprove of using ‘kanker’ as a curse (it is thought as very offensive, which I totally agree with), but nevertheless there are still millions who use it regularly.

  59. Astrid van der Wal

    I once heard an Englishman say “go get cancer”… does this mean our habit is spreading like a bad disease, too ??

  60. Bertine Centen

    I actually only use these words when I stub my pinky toe really hard (tears in your eyes hard), and uttered as one word, and only when I’m alone, even with my husband present I wouldn’t.
    When I curse at people, I usually just use things like ‘klootzak’, ‘lul’, of ‘trut’, and never any of the diseases.
    When something goes wrong I use Pooh’s “bother” or the English “bugger” (even though I’m Dutch).
    My father thought it was hilarious to teach his two young daughters this: Verroest verrek verrot verteer, donder op en flikker neer, val op je knieen breek in drieen, BARST!
    Rust, starve, rot, decay, get lost and fall down, drop to your knees, break in three and CRACK!

  61. maaike

    in the army they say K.U.T. and I taught it my kids as well.
    sounds as ‘cut’ in English, fairly innocent.
    we don’t mean ‘cunt’, see the periods between the letters. it is an abbreviation of ‘kwalitatief uitermate teleurstellend’. hahaha!

    in lots of countries people swear by insulting each others mother or sister (s.o.b.) the dutch are too feminist to do so, I guess

  62. Marjan

    Verrekken means dislocate or stretch and might refer to the time they hung drew and quartered people. Anyway English language just love swear words relating to the sex organs, the Dutch use diseases, which one is worse?

  63. jaap van der oort

    Not all swears are directed at another person. for example, when you are trying to accomplish something and it does not quite work the way you want it to, or if somethign happens that you did not expect, you might utter ” Krijg nou de kolere” or ” krijg nou wat”…..I guess you could compare it with the American ” well I’ll be…”

  64. liza

    I’m Afrikaans and I picked up a really rude word while living in the Netherlands, which I even use now instead of swearing in Afrikaans. Kut, in dutch it means cunt but their word for but/cat is what we use – akward. Thus nobody in SA knows I’m swearing when I say “ag, kut” which I use instead of most Afrikaans swear words. Sneaky. Oh and nobody ever called me diseases, I realized early on that if I fiets into someone, I just apologize in Afrikaans and they think I’m either a retard or foreign.

    • Shirley

      Yeah, cussing a retard is a stretch to far,….even for us Dutch hihihihi!

  65. crystalclog

    I can get that cathartic feeling of a good curse just like anyone, but I have my limits. I don’t blaspheme (I like those to serve a higher purpose than blowing off steam) I don’t do diseases (compltely tasteless) and only in private or at people who are really rotten to the core. Breivik class rotten.

    Especially cancer I find to be foul to use as a curse.

  66. Paweł

    Wow thats amazing! In Polish we use cholera quite similarly, e.g. “O cholera!” (oh shit!) and “żeby cię cholera wzięła” (wish you get cholera). However, the latter use is perhaps less offensive than in Dutch, as if everybody knows that the person speaking it does not mean it. It might be even used in a friendly conversation, just like “damn you, you got me again!”

    BTW, I came here because I wanted to know what “Kankergezellig” means and kinda know now

    • Shirley

      Nobody under 22 and who wants to be taken somewhat seriously says the word ”kankergezellig”…it’s kiddy bullshit and makes no sense what so ever and i’m ashamed of it! You know we can’t translate the word ”gezellig” and you know what C means,……seeing the stupid yet?

  67. lise

    I’d like to clarify that when people use the word ‘cancer’ they don’t actually wish for you to GET cancer….and i’m saying this as a person living in the hague (the city that’s using the word cancer the most). for example, when someone says: ‘kankerwijf” (cancer bitch), he doesn’t mean that that bitch should get cancer but it’s more like the word ‘fucking’, a magnification…like ‘fucking bitch’

  68. dark_man_x

    I did actually silence a room by referring to cigarettes as ‘kankerstokken’. I was told by one person that it was an inapproptiate word, and complained at by another that their grandfather died of cancer. I had no idea that use of the word was so sensitive, despite losing both grandparents and an uncle to cancer, it really doesn’t offend me.

    • Tijs Roodenberg

      i feel exactly the same, my grandma nearly died of cancer, and i still think that as long as you don’t literary say “get cancer and die” nobody should be hugely offended, and even if someone says that, i still would think, alright, i said something wrong to that “klootzak”

  69. Tijs Roodenberg

    i’m dutch and i swear with diseases, but not to wish people to get it, more as something like “you are almost as bad as {disease}”

  70. Martijn

    I agree with Tijs, when most people swear with a disease, they dont wish you to have the disease, they more or less compare you to it.

    I live in the hague where people are actually known (by the rest of the country) for using “kanker” (cancer) as swearing (way to often, I sometimes hear conversations between people using 3-6 cancers in each sentence), but it’s not used as a swear that often actually, more as a filler like ‘fucking’.

    Kankerzooi, wat een kankerlijer ben je als je zo’n kankerstreek uithaalt, kanker!
    loosely translates to:
    Fuck, what a fuckface are you, pulling a fucking prank like that….. Fuck!

  71. Rudy

    If you go to a party you go ‘langs de tering, onder de tyfus naar de kanker’
    in other words I will get focked up tonight, drink too much, go to bed like 9 or 10 in the morning etc..

  72. lllaurens

    It is indeed all about the sound. I myself use “hoerenkots”, since it has the harsh sound, but lacks the possibly offensive diseases. It translates as whore’s puke.

  73. harley

    Hi! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Keep up the superb work!

  74. Iemand

    I love it when Dutch people cause drama when you use “cancer”as a swearword. Such hypocrites.

  75. D.Korthout

    This is not just a Dutch thing, no matter where I’ve been, people always tried to teach me the most horrible cursus and like the Dutch, they all thought it was funny, so shame on all!

  76. Marthe

    Don’t forget the brilliant suffix “-lijer”! (Translates roughly as “patient” or “suffering from”)
    kankerlijer, klerelijer, teringlijer.. Endless possibilities!

  77. DJ

    I live in Groningen (the north of Holland) and here people actually don’t swear often with cursus like ‘teringleier’ or ‘krijg de kolere’. I think those are mostly used in the south and the big cities like Amsterdam. It happens here also but not nearly as often as words like ‘klootzak’ or ‘butje’.

  78. TL

    Hahahaha so bad but I truly recognize myself in this post. I always use aids or scheurbuik (scurvy) which is way better because everybody gets confused when I say it. WTF? Did he just say scheurbuik?

  79. can it be all so simple?

    haha it’s so funny how so many people are acting ‘schijnheilig’ (pretending to be holy) claiming they never use cancer. Even stating that people who use kanker are un- or undereducated etc. Come on folks?! I’ve got a university degree and I swear with kanker. Growing up in Amsterdam, spending a lot of time outside and picking up a lot of slang doesn’t make me stupid or uneducated! foulmouthed.. perhaps, but I guess when it comes to feeling we all feel the same degrees of anger in certain situations and a word like kanker is one way to express it.. it sounds hard enough to express what you feel about something or somebody. So for all you people who want to feel superior.. please go check your feelings from time to time and swear to god you never feel like KANKER sometimes in your life….

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  81. Vivid

    What should be clear is that in different parts of the country different words are used for the same situations, Kanker for example is more common in the western parts and even more in the larger cities. The example of hitting the thumb with a hammer might bring someone in those parts to yell, kanker kut kut kut, while in the catholic south-east someone will rather say nondenaokendeju (name of the naked god free translated) or kutgodverdomme (cuntgoddamnme). In Rotterdam someone might say to you krijg de pestpokke (get plague and smallpox) while an inhabitant of Eindhoven would probably simply say val kapot (drop dead) or stikt erin (choke on it). Somewhat more friendly someone from Amsterdam may call you pannekoek (pancake) while the guy from Eindhoven would say frikandel (curry sausage). So there are some distinctions in swearing in different parts of the country…

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  83. brainlessdev

    Besides swearing with cancer you may also find that many people use the word to emphasize a word. If something is funny you might hear “dat is grappig”(that’s funny) or if its even funnier: “dat is kankergrappig”(that’s cancerfunny” – looks incredibly silly in English but ok)

    Some people take all this too seriously though and often tell people not to use cancer as it is a horrible disease. (ofcourse it is and thats what makes it’s name so powerful to use)

  84. agathe

    I am not going to raise my children in Holland. They may not learn horrible cursing words and rude manner like other wild brutal kids here. They’ll only come back here to teach the rest of this society a more civilized way of life.

  85. OBOM

    Yup. We do. And we do like to do it. But it’s more known in the west and the big cities, especially Amsterdam and for all: The Hague! They make it a real ‘artform’ to curse you with al kinds of disseases and are really creative with it as well. I’m from Amsterdam myself and am brought up with it, like my grandpa used to say: ‘krijg de kanker diep achter je hart, zodat de dokter d’r niet bij ken komme!’ ( ‘get cancer deep behind your hart, so the doctor can’t reach it’) He was from the ‘Jordaan’, a deeply religious man but boy could he swear and rant! I myself use the ‘cancer-word-swears’ a lot, even though my mother died a horrible death by it. Still, I think nothing of it. It’s somehow, as you stated, part of our ‘culture’. Strange phenomenon and I can relate to the fact that it must be shocking to a (relative) forreigner. Sorry for that.

  86. howcanthisnolifedisepeer

    I never really heard “sterf aan x”. “Krijg de x”(Get (the) x) and “xlijer”(xsufferer) are more common I think. Replace x with tyfus/kanker/klere/tering (typhoid/cancer/cholera/TBC). We also like to combo diseases with races, without it being intended as racist.

  87. Howard Boss

    Their use of ailments isn’t always aggressive. One I have heard frequently over the past 30 years of living in and around Amsterdam is “krijg nou de cholera”, which translates, literally speaking, to “Go and catch cholera”. It is often used to express surprise at something and has more in common with English sayings like “Well, I never” or the old American “well I’ll be danged”.

  88. Ben van Bergen

    “krijg de pest-pokke-kelere-tering in je kop” used to be one of my favorites…

  89. Joshua

    i do not like swearing. especialy with deseases. this site is crap! talking about our country hah! Dus je moet je bek houde jonge! :D

  90. Pete

    Like Eric Burdon said “I Put A Spell On You”.

  91. Minou

    Swearing with cancer is a thing that a lot of Dutch people don’t like too. But everyone swears with ”tering” and ”tyfus”, a lot of them use ”aids” too.

  92. Lotte

    Most Dutch people swear with diseases but some are harsher than others. Like they make a bigger deal out of it when you swear with kanker (cancer) than tyfus (typhus). That’s probably because cancer is more common.

  93. Yogi Beer

    But nothing beats the good ol’ “Ga toch fietsen!”
    (Translates as “Go ride your bike”, which is the dutch equivalent of “take a hike!”)

  94. Michel

    After a few years in Poland I noticed that Cholera is not unique to the Netherlands (anymore?). Some other fun fact about the swearing here is that they actually use Hollener (Dutchie) whenever something isnt going as planned, especially when it involves people. Had to get used to that one…

  95. Emmy Cooper

    I am Dutch but don’t live in the Netherlands. I grew up in a home where there was not cursing or bad language ever, and I cringe when I read all these stories. I watch BVN , but if the language gets nasty I switch to another channel. Do the Dutch have to swear and put ugly things onto other people. Why is it that when they are in the presence of people with class that they can behave themselves, just shows me that this whole way of cursing is just showing off. Wish they would learn to respect others.

  96. Ellis Hall

    Ik heb nog nooit bezocht Holland of Nederland, maar ik heb een aantal ernstige twijfels aan de inhoud van dit artikel .

  97. Evie deJong

    When I was a young child growing up in Holland I’d hear my Father say at times “krijg de Kolere!”( catch Cholera!). To my young ears it sounded like “Krijg de kleeren” meaning to me…”I hope you receive a lot of clothes.”…I thought it was very nice of my Father to wish others “a lot of clothes”!

  98. Bartolo Polkakitty

    > “Sterf aan kanker!” (Literally: Die of cancer)

    Interesting. Today, I learned that the Dutch invented Twitter, centuries early.

  99. David van Dijk

    I hate it when other people swear with these diseases (especially the fatal ones, like cancer, typhus etc.) I’m a Dutch person myself and i horribly hate it when people do this. I can’t wrap my head around the thought of wishing somebody such a painful life/death. I’ve never experienced Cancer or anything like this myself, but i know it isn’t a thing to make fun of. I try to act nice to people who do and tell them to please stop swearing with diseases and that i’d appreciate it if they actually do listen. To fellow other Dutchies: “Cancer etc. is horrible. Don’t swear with it even though you’re used to it. It can really hurt someone from the inside if you mindlessly yell out stuff like this.


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