How to insult in Klingonese?

We don't exactly know what the insults mean. On the Conversational Klingon tape the creator of the language, Marc Okrand, gives a few hints and tells us that if we spend some time with Klingons, we'll hear them often enough for the context to make their meanings clear.

Well, no Klingons living next door, I decided to find out how the insults have been used on screen. This is what I have found out this far, with some speculation on the meaning. You will notice that I'm familiar with only a few of the occasions these insults have been used, though I know the episode titles of many episodes where cursing occurs. There might be more. Keep an eye on the episode titles and see if you can help. I shall be thankful.

I don't think the production crew really cares, so any consistency is coincidental. That's why I try to fit-in only occasions that should fit in. That is,

1) Anything from Okrand
(Including the phrases in the movies.)
2) Occasions in TNG, DS9 and VGR.

There are five listed epithets in the Klingon Dictionary. The Klingon in Trek episodes is often very badly formed and pronounced. If I have a clue of what reads in the script in the place of the insult, I give it so the reader may make his/her own judgment on whether I've categorized it under the right insult. It might be that as far as the production crew is concerned, pathk and patahk are different insults. I also make it known that TKD didn't contain any epithets prior to 1992, no new ones have been given since, and the production crew doesn't care about the Klingon Language even deeply enough to pick up the phone and call KLI for charge-free translation help.

I'll also tell you what the components of the words mean, but don't expect them to have anything to do with the MEANING of the term itself. These things are complicated. Did you know that the common emphasizer "bloody" originally means "By our lady"? Well, I didn't before I heard.

Here goes.

petaQ [pe-TAKKH]

pe-  command to you(plural)(prefix)
taQ  be weird(v)
=> As a sentence, literally "be weird, you all!"

TNG:Redemption 2; "baktag"
TNG:The Defector; "pathk"
Romulan admiral Alidar Jarok sees Worf and says to Riker "Get this Klingon petaQ out of my sight"
TNG:Sins Of The Father; "patahk"
TNG:Aquiel; "P'tak"
Worf says there's evidence of a Klingon having been abroad a Federation outpost, where messages have been stolen. Klingon governor Torak isn't pleased: "You still try to blame us!" "Have the courage to admit your mistakes - or are you a lo'Be Vos*?" (see below for unknown entries) "At least I don't wear the uniform of a petaQ!"
* see below for unknown entries
VGR:Faces; "petaQ"
The "Klingon" B'Elanna rescues the "Human" B'Elanna from an unpleasant situation and tells her to "Get up, petaQ" when she regains consciousness.
TNG:The Chase; "pah-tak"
TNG:Rightful Heir; "pahtk"
Kahless, the Klingon messiah, has apparently returned from the dead. Gowron, Head of High Council, is not a believer. As he is transported to Enterprise, Picard is there to welcome him. "Welcome aboard, Gowron." "Where is he, Picard?" "I assume that you're referring to Kahless." "I am referring to the filthy petaQ who's using his name!"
TNG:First Born; "P'tak"
DS9:House of Quark; "pahtak"

My interpretation is that this refers to a weak individual who doesn't carry the Warrior Spirit within. Someone acting non-Klingon.

toDSaH [tod-SAKH]

toD  save, rescue(v)
SaH  care about, be concerned about, be present(not absent)(v)

Okrand tells us this could be said to one not in best of terms with.

TNG:The Defector; "tohzah"

taHqeq [takh-KEK]

taH  go on, bear, endure, be at a negative angle(v)
qeq  practice, train, prepare(v)

Okrand tells us this is a classic insult.

TNG:Mind's Eye; "tah-keck"
Vagh, a Klingon governor, whom Picard failed to convince that Federation isn't supplying weapons to the rebels, loses his temper and shouts "You speak the lies of a taHqeq!". Picard responses by shouting all the Klingon swear-words he knows, {Qu'vatlh qhuy'cha' baQa'} (his pronounciation is Bad.) Guess what: Vagh is impressed. "You swear well, Picard. You must have Klingon blood in your veins."

This must a serious thing, probably the strongest insult of all. I suspect it directly insults the honor of the one said to, calling him "one who fails to take responsibility of his actions", "one who can't be trusted", "one who has no honor". A taHqeq tells lies, that's evident; Kahless fought his own brother for twelve days and nights for telling a lie. As Okrand says: If you call someone this, stand back!

yIntagh [yin-TAGH]

yIn     life
tagh    lung
yIntagh life-support system
TNG:Redemption 1; "yIntagh"
"I will personally cut your tongue out, yIntagh!"

Qovpatlh [kkhov-PATL]

Qov    <still unknown>
patlh  rank(military, governmental)(n)

Ha'DIbaH [KHA-di-bakh]

Ha'DIbaH animal, animal meat
Kruge, whose gunner destroyed the target (failing to merely disable it), called him an animal before blasting him.
TNG:Sins of the Father; "Ha'DI'bah"
TNG:Reunion; "Ha'DIbah"
DS9:Blood Oath: "Ha'DIbaH"

This is not listed as an epithet. It is, however, in the section of useful phrases : "Animal! - Ha'DIbaH". Therefore, I think it indeed has something to do with animal qualities.

Other insulting words

The few first to come in mind are nepwI', liar; nIHwI', thief; nuch, coward; qoH, fool.

nepwI' was correctly used in A Matter of Honor. The sentence was yIHarQo'! nepwI' ghaH!, Don't believe him, he is a liar. nuch has also been used, although incorrectly, in Sins of the Father.

Following is a list of some verbs that could be used in an insulting manner. They can't stand alone, but you can suffix them with -wI' to make a noun out of them or prefix them with a correct verb prefix for a ready sentence. Soy', to be clumsy; chech, to be drunk; tlhaQ, to be funny; yuD, to be dishonest; lutlh, to be primitive; Huj, to be strange; moH, to be ugly; puj, to be weak.

Unknown/Uncertain entries

These are not like anything listed in The Klingon Dictionary, and are used only within single episodes. Few of them look more like descriptive terms or metaforas than the ones above, so I'll try to interpret them more literally. I'll also speculate on the correct spellings, but don't take my word on them.

TNG:Aquiel; "lo'Be' Vos"

Well, the Klingon spelling could be {lo'be' voS}. In that case, it would be a sentence meaning "A ..voS.. doesn't use.". However, it is my personal guess that this is a scriptwriter's combination of the words use-female-chin {lo'-be'-woS}, a pitiful attempt towards "One who uses a female chin" {be'woS lo'wI'}. After all, it was courage Worf was talking about and in The Quality of Life he told that to a Klingon a beard is a symbol of courage. Well, despite from undoubted possession of courage, Klingon women don't have beards. I can't recall a clean-shaven Klingon male.

TNG:The Chase; "Toh-pah"

This was used twice in [TNG:The Chase]. The cardassians fire on the Enterprise and Maht-H'a to disable them and thus gain an adventage on the chase. Nu'Daq, aboard the Enterprise, hails Maht-H'a: "Maht-H'a, status?" "(male voice) Minor damage to starboard nacelle. We will be operational in less than one hour." "WHAT! You incompetent Toh-pah! You were supposed to be prepared!". Later, at the planet where the puzzle is finally solved, the (female) cardassian Gul who tried to deceive both the Klingons and Federation, materializes. Nu'Daq shouts "You dishonorable Toh-pah!".

As for the Klingon spelling, {paH} "gown", is obvious. The first syllable is more tricky. Could be just {toHpaH}.

TNG:First Born; "ko'tal"

I'd transliterate this simply {qo'tal}. {qo'} means "world, realm", {tal} we don't know of.

DS9:Blood Oath; "You Ferengi k'pekt"

Too much consonants, very difficult to transliterate. My best attempt is {qepeqet} and it's not so good.

DS9:House of Quark; "You pathetic mak'dar"

I think it's {maqDa}. {maq}="proclaim(v)",{Da}="act in the manner of(v)"

A.C. Crispin: Sarek; "veQ-nuj"

This is from a novel. As such, it wouldn't be on this list unless the author had thanked Marc Okrand for inventing the Klingon words and phrases when they were needed. The sentence used was "I had to let those veQ-nuj handle me. I'm sorry now I just didn't kill them."

Well, {veQ} is garbage, and {nuj} is mouth. Thus, {veQnuj} is {garbage-mouth}. Beats me.

How to use the insults?

The easiest way is to choose a fitting term, point your finger at the target and let your mouth project the insult as powerfully as you can. Don't be afraid to discharge saliva - Klingons do that even with casual speech.

Or, you could append a proper pronoun to indicate who you are talking about. qoH SoH You are a fool, qoH ghaH, he/she is a fool and so on.

Notice that the pronunciation guidelines given in square brackets are very rough. For correct pronunciation I suggest you buy the language tape Conversational Klingon, or check what the KLI homepage has to offer for you.

Is insulting always that simple?

No. Cursing is a fine art among Klingons, and insults are not always meant to be taken personally. When visiting a Klingon bar, you shall probably overhear a game of mu'qaD veS, the so-called "curse warfare". The participants shall use more complex insults. In the competition the insults are not to be taken personally.

Will Terran insults work on Klingons?

Some would, others won't. I mean, try QI'DaS tuQ SoSlI' (Your mother wears army boots) and see if you manage to insult anyone. It's a cultural thing, really; use your imagination and knowledge of the Klingon culture when you form these things.

What about other Klingon languages?

The Klingon language created by Okrand was not the first of it's kind. In John Ford's novels, as well as in the FASA role-playing game, the Klingons speak a language they call klingonaase. It is not official, and we don't have enough grammar or vocabulary to form our own sentences, but some of the Klingon fandom have stuck on it (The Final Reflection is an excellent Klingon story, I hear.) and want to use the few phrases and words we have on it. In klingonaase, tokhe straav' (Willing slave) is a serious insult.

I'm just angry, not particularly at anyone. What do I say?

That isn't exactly within the scope of this project, but here are the few swear-words we have: {baQa', ghay'cha', ghuy'cha', Hu'tegh, QI'yaH, Qu'vatlh (sometimes abbreviated as {va})}. Want me to make a study on them? I might, if I first got some feedback on this page. This far I've received no letters.


One more time. If you have any of the episodes mentioned on tape, please re-watch it and do send me a letter describing briefly the situation leading to usage of strong language and the sentence used with the term, if any. Also notice that most of the Klingon language in the episodes is very badly pronounced. If you don't get to see the spelling, make a rough one yourself.

Qapla' (Success!)