“Is some variant of motherfucker used all over the world?,” Nina Shen Rastogi in Slate asks:
Pretty much. While it’s not quite a universal insult, variations on the command to commit incest with one’s mother appear in every region of the globe. Anthropologists note that, across cultures, the most severe insults tend to involve a few basic themes: your opponent’s family, your opponent’s religion, sex, and scatology. Because motherfucker covers two of these topics—plus incest, a nearly global taboo—it’s a popular choice just about everywhere. In Mandarin Chinese alone, riffs on the basic phrase include Cao ni ma ge bi, meaning “fuck your mother’s cunt,” and Cao ni da ye, “fuck your elder uncle.” Given the Chinese culture of ancestor worship, Cao ni zu shong shi ba dai, or “fuck your ancestors of 18 generations,” may be the worst incest instruction of all.