May 30th marked the 51st anniversary of the assassination of Rafael Trujillo, longtime President and dictator of the Dominican Republic. Ambushed by gunmen outside the Dominican capital, Trujillo, just before he fled his limo to fire back at his attackers, was reported to have uttered the Spanish expletive “¡Coño!” followed by, “I’ve been shot.” He died shortly after with his country’s most popular cuss word on his lips.
Coño: A single word with many meanings
No other “bad” word in Spanish has such a variety (as well as shades) of meanings as the word ¡Coño! The fact that El Presidente Trujillo uttered it under such stressful circumstances (i.e., while riddled with bullets) is a good indication as to its versatility and usefulness as an economical expression of just how he felt.
The word as an expression may be as mild as “damn it” or as bad as any “f-bomb”, even a vulgar reference to the female anatomy. It can also be used as a statement of fear, anger, surprise (as a heavy object falls on your foot ¡Coño!), or even joy (Coño, te quiero).
How the Spanish slang word coño is used throughout the Spanish-speaking world
It depends on what part of the Spanish-speaking world you’re from as to exactly how coño is used, as well as how “bad” of a word it is. For example:
In Spain, coño is a vulgar slang word for the female genitals. It is the Spanish counterpart to the English “c-word.” This usage also exists in several Latin American countries (Cuba and Venezuela, for example).
As previously mentioned, in the Dominican Republic it is the versatile expletive that roughly translates to the idiomatic American usage of the F-word. (People tend to use it when they get shot.)
In Cuba and the Canary Islands (Spanish islands off the west coast of Africa), look for coño to be pronounced coñó (accent on the final syllable) and frequently shortened to ¡Ñoooo! Not particularly offensive, it means “darn!” or “wow!” However, it does have one particularly insulting use in Cuba and among Cubans in Miami: “Me cago en el coño de tu madre.” (Cago is the first person singular [I shit] of the verb cagar, which means “to shit.”)
In Venezuela, coño is used as an extremely offensive insult in the context of “mother fucker.” It also appears as a coñito, referring to an unruly child.
Again, in Venezuela also look for the noun variation coñazo, which means a hit or blow. It also has an idiomatic use in the expression “de coñazo” meaning “all of a sudden.” Both uses may sound innocent enough, but they are still considered vulgar, considering the root word coño.
In Chile, coño is a slang word for “Spaniard” (definitely not a flattering term, if you’re a Spaniard, that is).
Also in Chile and Equador, as an adjective coño means “tight-fisted” or “stingy” (including Spaniards, apparently).
In Mexico, a coño is a rap on the head given by one’s knuckles (as in Homer Simpson’s “Doh!”)
So the best advice to avoid offending someone simply stay away from the expletive, noun, and adjective uses of coño (or coñazo) when visiting Latin America. You could, as they say in Mexico, “molestarse con un coño” (find yourself in trouble and get a rap on the head with knuckles).
Check out these other Spanish Slang Word articles.