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‘Puta’ Defined: ‘Narcos’ Stars Debate the True Meaning of TV’s Most Popular Spanish Curse Word

"It's a very transcendent word," star Pedro Pascal said about the curse "puta," which is just one of the words that the "Narcos" team tries to make sure they get right in translation.

NARCOS

“Narcos”

Juan Pablo Gutierrez/NETFLIX

There’s no limit on the language that Netflix’s adult dramas can use on screen — something that “Narcos,” which just premiered its third season, has fully embraced. This means that one of the most common words heard on the bilingual crime drama is “puta,” which is used an awful lot, in a variety of ways. But while non-Spanish-speakers reading the show’s subtitles will note that the word “puta” is typically translated as “motherfucker,” there’s no consensus on the direct translation of the swear word.

IndieWire asked cast members Pedro Pascal and Arturo Castro, as well as executive producer Eric Newman, how they personally defined the term — and why getting the use of swearing right was important to nailing the show’s authenticity. “I took it to mean ‘whore, slut, bitch,'” Newman said. “But not always sort of with a pejorative feminine connotation. It’s one of those sort of catch-all insults. I think that there is a version also is sort of an affection version of it too.”

Pascal, who plays DEA agent Javier Pena, had his own explanation, comparing it to “the way that we use ‘motherfucking’ — ‘This motherfucking car doesn’t work.’ It’s ‘that puta coche no funciona.’ So technically puta is ‘bitch,’ and yet put into a sentence it is more suited to ‘motherfucking.’ Even though it doesn’t mean fucking your mother.”

Castro has a more direct translation: “‘Puta’ literally is ‘whore,’ but you use it for when you stub your toe — you’re like, ‘puta’! It’s an expression, it can be a surprise. You can engulf a lot into ‘puta,'” he said, adding with a laugh: “’50 Shades of Puta’ by Arturo Castro, a memoir.”

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“Narcos”

Juan Pablo Gutierrez/NETFLIX

“My character curses like a sailor,” Castro added. “It was really fun to do. It’s weird with translation sometimes. I think they do a great job of getting the idea behind it but some of these, ‘mi patio hijo de puta,’ all these things are just now hard to translate. You just feel it.”

Castro might be best known to American audiences as Jaime, Ilana’s effeminate roommate on “Broad City.” Not only did playing David Rodriguez, the ruthless son of a Cali cartel kingpin, offer him the chance to take on a very different role, but it gave him the chance to act in Spanish for what he said was the first time in his professional career.

“It was so organic,” he said. “There’s something about your native language and how it connects to your body that is so pleasurable to do.”

Of course, Spanish isn’t just universally Spanish, especially when it comes to cursing. As Pascal pointed out, “The way they curse in Columbia is completely different to the way they curse in Mexico to Chile to Argentina. It’s all regional.”

In approaching Season 2 of the show, Newman said the writers aimed to “bring real authenticity to the language,” and that with Season 3 they’ve gotten closer to that. Spanish-language scenes are originally written in English, and are then switched to Spanish by the show’s Colombian translator, Andrés Baiz. (Baiz also serves as one of the show’s directors, credited with nine episodes throughout the series run.)

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Newman described Baiz as having “really been my creative partner on this show… He oversees that part of the process [the translation] so that it’s authentic.”

But there’s one extra step: “We work a lot with the actors and given that it’s another language, we defer to them: ‘Is this the best way to say this?’ It’s a pretty fluid process, but for me, it’s really always about the intent,” Newman said.

For Pascal, what the subtitles say do match up with his personal definition for the word “puta.” “It floats out very naturally on my tongue as ‘motherfucker.’ That is correct. I hope that’s not too offensive.

The fact that the show is devoted to creating a truly bilingual experience has had had a real impact on the cast in general. “I feel very lucky about it,” Castro said. “I was able to do a show in Spanish that I know people in the English speaking world will see too. A successful bilingual show and that’s very rare.”

Whatever “puta” might mean to them, one thing was clear — no matter what language you’re doing it in, swearing can be a lot of fun. “I love fucking swear words,” Pascal said, when IndieWire initially apologized for bringing up the subject. “I love them.”

“Narcos” Season 3 is streaming now on Netflix. 

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