Every culture has a curse word so vulgar, so base, so utterly crass that its utterance can cause a sharp intake of breath among even the saltiest of swearers. So imagine what happens when that word goes from being the proprietary epithet of construction workers and market traders to a mainstream slogan embraced by the elderly, women, and children alike?
That's precisely what's happened in crisis-ridden Ukraine, where the term khuilo has become one of the most patriotic rallying cries since "Yes We Can" or "Vive La Révolution."
The term—which translates roughly as the rudest variation on the male anatomy you can think of (opinions vary)—has appeared on banners, graffiti, and the lips of thousands of Ukrainians angered by Russian meddling and eager to compare Vladimir Putin to said body part. "Putin Khuilo!" has even been popularized as a boisterous song, chanted everywhere from Kiev's Independence Square to far-flung pockets of Ukrainian solidarity in Japan and California.
The phrase got an involuntary boost when Ukraine's acting foreign minister, career diplomat Andriy Deshchytsya, conceded that he, too, thought Putin was—well, you know. Deshchytsya dropped the kh-bomb on June 14 while trying to calm angry crowds who had gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Kiev to protest the downing of a Ukrainian military plane by pro-Kremlin separatists, an attack that killed all 49 people on board.
A visibly frazzled Deshchytsya repeated the slogan while privately attempting to persuade a protester not to storm the embassy. Unfortunately for him, the exchange was caught on video, where it has fueled indignation among Russia's suddenly very prim elite: