The word puta means ‘prostitute’ or ‘whore’ in Spanish, but it has stronger connotations than the equivalent in English does. It also combines to form some common and potentially offensive phrases, so it’s a word you must know if you’re going to master Spanish.
For cultural reasons puta can be a very offensive word, though of course its register depends on how and with whom you use it. The Real Academia Española gives the following definitions for this word:
(De or. inc.).
1. f. prostituta.
puto, ta. (De puta).
1. adj. U. como calificación denigratoria.
2. adj. Por antífrasis puede resultar encarecedor.
3. adj. necio
4. m. Hombre que tiene concúbito con persona de su sexo.
Puta by itself can be used as a curse to express frustration, anger, or surprise, much as ‘damn’, ‘shit’, or ‘bloody hell’ are used in English (pick your phrase based on what part of the English-speaking world you are from).
Puta appears in a couple of very common imprecations or interjections of surprise or frustration which you’ll hear particularly from men, though women also use them.
• ¡Hijo de puta! (Son of a bitch!)
• ¡Puta madre! (Motherfucker! Fuck off!)
Note that although both these expressions can be used among friends without causing offense, they are otherwise very vulgar and offensive. Don’t use them unless you are absolutely certain of the people you are with, and even then be careful.
It is also used in several different ways. It can be used in its adjectival form and inserted with other words as an intensifier.
• Me quedé en la puta calle. (I got stuck in the damn street.)
• Ha vuelto a ganar. ¡Qué puta suerte tiene! (He won. He’s so damn/fucking lucky!)
• No me hizo ni puto caso. (She totally/completely ignored me.)
• ¡Ni puta idea! (I’ve got no fucking/bloody idea!)
There are also several common idioms using puta, in particular ‘de puta madre’, which can be both very positive or negative, as shown below.
• cocina de puta madre (a damn great cook)
• comida de puta madre (fucking lousy food)
Intonation and context will make clear whether a positive or negative connotation is meant, as happens in English when we use such expressions.
In more polite speech, the euphemism ‘pucha’ is used, much in the way people replace ‘fucking’ with ‘frikking’ and ‘damn’ with ‘darn’.
As with all curses, be very careful when using any form of puta. Even native speakers can cause offense, so non-natives are usually better off just avoiding them. But ‘puta’ and its accompanying idioms are so common that you have to know them.