Che palle! cries the Italian editor of Café Babel as she grabs her head. Iinternet is gone again, leading her to cry "What balls!" It’s not un common to hear Italians evoke a man’s private parts when things are going pear-shaped.

Us Germans do let slip with a Das geht mir auf den Sack (that gets on my scrotum) now and then. But the Romance languages win for the frequency with which they hallow the family jewels. Non mi rompere i coglioni or non mi rompere le palle (don’t break my balls) can be said quite casually. Another crunchy Italian utterance is maroni (chestnuts) – not to be confused with Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni. So when you say la rottura di Maroni (... still breaking the balls), it’s not about the rupture he brought to politics as part of Berlusconi's government...

Whenever you hear a comparison with something in Spain, it’s sure to be on a positive vibe. Therefore if something is cojonudo (from the Spanish word for balls, cojones), it’s brilliant. In fact in Spain you can get away with expressing yourself in various testicle-idiomed ways. You are a bit lazy if you have square "eggs" (tener los huevos cuadrados ) or are a huevón (eggs-man, weighed down by them) in Latin-American Spanish. You are scared if you have your balls like a tie (tener los cojones de corbata).

The French are just as macho. When you have big balls (être couillu) it means you are courageous. So take care not to go bollock-shaped (partir en couilles) in a situation which is getting out of hand.

Katharina Kloss (translation from the German by Nabeelah Shabbir)