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How Swearwords Became a Weapon of Resistance for Ukrainians
How Swearwords Became a Weapon of Resistance for Ukrainians
Content swearwords as weapon of resistance for ukrainians

Swearing attracts so much attention since it involves using taboo terms and implies a strong emotional response. Bad language may be related to things that people consider uncomfortable to talk about in public such as bodily functions and parts, sex, diseases, death, various fears, and so on. Why do people use swearwords so much? And how the hell can those words be treated as a weapon?

Functions of Swear Words

Wait, was that sentence an impolite version of the simple question? Yes, indeed. This is what swearwords add to the language: more possibilities to express emotions or intensify the meaning. Great surprise in this particular case, since swearwords were never associated with the resistance of the entire nation before. Understanding what major functions are performed by strong language will help to explain the phenomenon of “weaponized swearwords” in the Ukrainian context.

  • Expletive: words like “sh*t!” used in sudden or intense emotional situations
  • Abusive: curses and other unpleasant words or comments used to offend or hurt a person
  • Humorous: swear words are used as the means to create the comic effect such as in Les Podervianskyi's works
  • Relaxing: people use swearing in difficult situations to deal with stress, anger, and other strong emotions
  • Stylistic: some swear words are used to add a certain flavor or intensify the specific attitude, like in “Yes, I will buy those bloody curtains!”
  • Social: the use of swearwords indicates belonging to a certain group as the specific manner of friendly communication within it or the way to show solidarity with the group when it faces outsiders.

Swear Words Weaponized by Ukrainians

The unique situation with some swearwords and rude expressions that became a weapon of resistance for Ukrainians is that they united the majority of all these functions in a few words. The complexity of the situation that is a reality for the entire nation, the successful use of a phrase that completely addresses it, and a certain captivating effect of the easy and familiar combination of words allow the viral spread across the Ukrainian nation. And in many cases, around the world, which only adds value to the “weaponization” aspect.

“Putin Khuylo!”

This slogan is derived from a football chant performed by the Ukrainian ultras in 2014 and can be vaguely translated to English as “Putin is a d*ckhead”. This characteristic of Russian president Vladimir Putin became widespread firstly throughout Ukraine and then among people who oppose the Russian regime across the entire world.

It bears a strong social function as it represents the protest of the Ukrainian nation against Putin’s decision to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It is short and catching, which adds to expletive and relaxing functions – many Ukrainians actually sing this song as a response to air raid sirens warning of Russian attacks to deal with fear and stress and show their attitude toward aggressors. The strong personal abusive aspect of this phrase significantly affected Putin’s reputation in the entire world. Finally, this phrase allowed creating of multiple deriding memes and mocking pictures of Putin. Laughing at a strong enemy reduces fear and increases the will to resist.

“Russian warship, go f*ck yourself!”

Already legendary phrase is another embodiment of this principle. When border guard Roman Hrybov responded this way to the Russian cruiser Moskva, he and his brothers-in-arms didn’t have any chance to survive the bombing of Snake Island in February 2022. And yet, they mocked and offended the enemy. So, this phrase became a true weapon and the rallying cry of resistance because it represented the entire nation’s refusal to surrender.

Social, abusive, and relaxing functions of the phrase get the additional effect that can be characterized as a humorous one. On April 12, 2022, Ukrposhta issued postage stamps commemorating the brevity of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The next day, the very same Russian warship Moskva was actually hit by Ukrainian missiles and sunk. This gave Ukrainians the additional possibility to demoralize the enemy using this phrase because Moskva was treated as a frightening factor by Russian propaganda. It is hard to impose fear while resting at the bottom of the Black Sea though.

“Nehuy shastat’”

This quite rude informal expression doesn’t have a specific birth date or event. Though its widespread use in multiple jokes in Ukraine is a great way to represent the attitude of Ukrainians toward Russians as well as infamous Russians’ lack of desire to understand other people’s languages. In this case, laughing at the enemy covers abusive, relaxing, and social functions of swearwords at the same time.
The phrase “Nehuy shastat’” (Ukr. “Нехуй шастать!”) exists in both Ukrainian and Russian languages and can be approximately translated as “There is no place for you here, you f*cking go away”. The irony is that the Ukrainian expression “Нехай щастить!” (Nehay shchastyt’) sounds almost similar to Russians while it has a completely different meaning (“Good luck out there!”). These phrases are practically homophones for Russians and Ukrainians often use the second expression that actually means “good luck” instead of the first rude phrase but with the same meaning – “there is no place for you here, Russians”.

This completely different meaning of two phrases that sound alike in Ukrainian actually highlights how Ukrainians and Russians are different.

Why Ukrainians are Special?

Russians use strong language too; in fact, they take pride in the abundance of swearwords in the Russian language. Ukrainians often use the same words and expressions. Both sides might use the same strong language during wartime, but Ukrainians, being incredibly outraged by the full-scale invasion of their country, can make swearwords commonly acceptable symbols of resistance. Russians’ use of swearwords, on the other hand, only intensifies their nature of foul-mouthed barbaric invaders, murderers, and plunderers.

Finally, there is another, probably the most demoralizing effect of using swearwords in this war. Ukrainians use Russian swearwords to tell Russian invaders to get lost. They are not afraid of using the enemy’s language to make the message as clear and painful as possible. At the same time, Russians are even afraid of using the word “war” itself, using euphemisms instead.

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