What the Corruption Perceptions Index means in different languages

We will publish the 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index next Wednesday 5 December. Behind the scores are many different kinds of public sector corruption, all with their own impact on daily life. Our evidence is language. Every language has its own particular expression for abuse of power. Here are a few.

In English, we refer to a “brown envelope” a little old fashioned in a world of wire transfers and subsidiaries in offshore secrecy jurisdictions. Greek uses the word fakelaki, the “small envelope”, which on average holds more than a little money (€1406 on average).

Writing about bribery in French is always a challenge since you cannot “bribe” as a verb. You have to pour a cup of wine, verser un pot de vin. The Russian word for bribe is “vzyatka” derived from the verb, “to take”. In English, meanwhile, we have graft, embezzlement, collusion, sleaze, etc. Explore the subtleties in our guide to corruption language, and expand the corruption lexicon in the comment area at the end of the page.

A few years ago Transparency International  ran an advert with various words for bribe, and the Economist wrote about it too, noting how using these words attempts to avoid calling corruption what it is: a crime

The Economist wrote:

originally a Persian word meaning a tip, gift or donation. It still retains that ambiguous meaning: you’re as likely to be asked for baksheesh by a small boy who pointed you in the direction of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo as by a dodgy policeman. When it’s the latter, the ambiguity softens the illicit nature of the request.

In other words, they are euphemisms, an attempt to avoid the criminal implications of the act they denote. As long as the expressions are common, it means that people have accepted their very existence of the phenomenon and we have failed to tackle them.

While the words have been collected before, looking at which acts of corruption have popular slang terms reflects the biggest problems people face. In some countries petty bribery, in others, more subtle abuse of power, which the Corruption Perceptions Index also tries to measure.

Golden parachutes in Japan

A 2006 Transparency International report on Japan highlighted expressions used for worrying trends:

  • “kansei-dango” or bureaucrat-led bid rigging. According to the report, it is a “way of life” in Japanese business that is “rampant throughout the country”;
  • Amakudari, or “golden parachute” where senior officials approach semi-government and private corporations two to three times or more after they first retire for post-retirement employment at much higher remuneration; each time, they receive high lump-sum retirement allowances, sometimes even higher than that of the prime minister.

The report warned that “by nature amakudari is tantamount to bribery with promises of reemployment in return for favourable treatment of their corporation.” Japan, of course, is not the only country where the “revolving door” phenomenon has been noted.


In a country where one person in two pays bribes in their daily life, there are more than a few commonly used phrases in both hindi and urdu for asking for a bribe: Chai-Nashta (“tea and snacks”), Kharcha Paani (“commission”, or literally, “money to spend for water and food”) and Suvidha Shulk (a “convenience fee”).


A recent New Yorker article gives us some new phrases from China: Touliang huanzhu – robbing the beams to put in the pillars. And Maiguan, a new word in Chinese dictionary meaning: To buy a government promotion. Very significant that new words are emerging as a rapidly-changing China battles corruption. We can add this to “guanxi,” or connections, using the art of relationships.


Now we need your help for other languages. Italian?  Spanish? Russian? Hindi? Urdu? Thai? Lusophone countries?

Please share your corruption slang, and the stories behind them.

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Thomas Coombes

About Thomas Coombes

Thomas Coombes is Senior Communications Officer and speech writer at Transparency International.

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41 Responses to What the Corruption Perceptions Index means in different languages

  1. Manuel Pirino 29 November 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    In Italian, the word for bribe is “mazzetta”, like “a small bunch” (but not of flowers). It literally means a wad of notes. You can also say “bustarella” (a small envelope with money passed under the counter) or even better: “la tangente!”

  2. Sandra Ricciardo 29 November 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    In German, the word bribe is “Bestechungsgeld” which means the same as “Schmiergeld” literally meaning “smoothing money”.

  3. Judit Costa 29 November 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    In Hungarian “hàlapénz”, literally meaning gratefulness-money. It is used in the free public health care system, where doctors ask for money to perform procedures that should theoretically be free. Before or after the surgery, the doctors come see the family members to receive an envelope with thank-you-money.

  4. Rakesh 29 November 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    In India, especially in Hindi, corruption is also called as “Aarti chadana”.

  5. Sofia Wickberg
    Sofia Wickberg 29 November 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    In Swedish, corruption is “korruption” and a bribe is “en muta”.

  6. EMILIA_GR 29 November 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Another Italian expression is “Una mano lava l`altra”, literally translated as “One hand washes the other”.
    Bribe can be called “tangente´”.

    Which explains why the nationwide Italian police investigations into political corruption held in the 1990s, which implicated mafia, Vatican Bank and P2 were called ´Mani Pulite´- Clean Hands – and Tangentopoli, city of bribes..

  7. Sophia Coles
    Sophia Coles 29 November 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    A nice Swahili saying:

    Samaki huanza kuoza kichwani \\ Fish begin to decay from the head…

  8. Dao Nga 29 November 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    “Chạy” is a slang to imply a common form of corruption in Vietnam, which is “bribery”. You can “chạy” for many reasons and purposes: for a good job, for promotion, for admission to a “star” school or for impunity.

    There’s a growing public concern that “chạy” is going to become normalized, even a “culture” in the country.

  9. Juho Siltanen 29 November 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    In Finnish, the term for corruption is “korruptio” and the word for bribe is “lahjus”, which derives from the Finnish word gift/present.

    A recently emerged popular idiom for corruption is “maan tapa” which translates as “the way of the land” (not to be confused with custom law) which implies a state of acceptance or even normalcy in regards to morally questionable actions taken by political and financial elites.

  10. Randy Càceres 29 November 2012 at 9:42 pm #

    En El Salvador, para el soborno se utilizan las palabras: “mordida” o “canecha”, y el corruptor se describe como “el hombre del maletìn negro”.

  11. Saidou 30 November 2012 at 9:59 am #

    En HAOUSSA, la corruption est désignée par l’expression “TCHIN HANTCHI”, deux mots signifiant successivement “le manger de…” et “nez” pour dire que tout ce qu’on reçoit est destinée à ce qui est en dessous du nez c’est-à-dire la bouche, autrement dit, “si la bouche a mangé, les yeux auront honte”. Ceci pour dire que si vous avez corrompu une personne, celle-ci reste liée à vous par une sorte de contrat. Vous avez au fond de vous une sorte d’obligation d’agir dans le sens voulu par la personne qui vous a fait un geste avant ou après la réalisation du fait pour lequel il a décidé de s’appauvrir à votre profit.

  12. Soumya Saxena
    soumya 30 November 2012 at 11:40 am #

    there are like hundreds of such terms in India, thanks for all the languages and dialects and the prevelant culture of giveing bribe.
    the ones which I know are , ‘Khokha bhejna’ which means sending a box home containing over 100000 Rupees and ‘mithai bhijwana’ or sending a box of sweets.

  13. Olena Kifenko 30 November 2012 at 11:41 am #

    In Ukrainian “corruption” is “корупція” (pronounced as “koruptsiia”) and “bribe” is “хабар” (khabar); “bribery” – хабарництво (“khabarnytstvo”.)

  14. Magdalena 30 November 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Austrians, like Germans, call corruption “Korruption” – we do, however, have one very specific and hard to translate corruption-related word called “Freunderlwirtschaft” – the closest I can get in English would be “economy of friends” – with “Freunderl” being an Austrian and somewhat pejorative diminuitive of the word “friend”; what it refers to is a system where everything is done “between friends” – you don’t get a job or contract because you’re the best, you get it because you have the right friends and are willing to “play the game” – whatever that game includes..

  15. Marta Erquicia
    Marta 30 November 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    In 2009, more than 35,000 people joined Chile Transparent´s campaign: A Chile free of corruption: get involved! To raise public awareness of every day corrupt practices tolerated in Chilean culture. Citizens submitted online more than 800 examples of everyday slang describing corrupt practices. The campaign reached a wide audience, with advertisements in the national press and on public transport, billboards and the radio.

    As a result the chapter published the Corruption Dictionary http://www.diccionariodelcorrupto.cl, http://www.chiletransparente.cl/wp-content/files_mf/1350652588DICCIONARIOFINAL_260510_.pdf

  16. Natalia 30 November 2012 at 12:21 pm #

    In Romanian ‘to bribe’ would mean ‘a da mita’ and ‘to accept a bribe’ means ‘a lua mita’. More informally, people use ‘a oferi un bacsis’ for ‘offering a bribe’.

  17. Edgar James Momoh 30 November 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    We use the following terms to refer to corruption in Sierra Leonean Creole:
    under-hand-game (literally implying an invisible game)
    cold-wata (used in the case of bribery. It implies water to quench your thirst)
    yuki-yuki (euphemism/slang for corruption)

  18. Delia Ferreira 30 November 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    In Argentina, “COIMA” and also “DIEGO”. This last one is a reference to the 10% (DIEZ) that one has to give back in order to get a contract, a license, etc.

  19. Nuala Haughey 30 November 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    The Irish word for corruption is ‘Ceannach’. As a verb it means purchase or buy but as a noun it means corruption. ‘Ceannach agus breabaireacht’ means corruption and bribery.

  20. Roberto 30 November 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    In Spain “corrupción” means corrupcion and “soborno” means bribe; they have their respective verbs “corromper” and “sobornar”. You can also “comprar” someone (buy), which es equivalent to bribing. There are several expressions like “tener la mano larga” (having a long hand), which is equivalent to stealing when you’re in a position of relative power or “ir con la mano por detrás” (go with the hand behind you), which refers to someone apparently doing legal bussiness but secretly accepting bribes.

    There are probably more expressions that I can’t remember right now.

  21. Davide Del Monte
    Davide 30 November 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    The Italian translation is “corruzione”, but as Manuel Pirino wrote before there are several idiomatic expression…

  22. kaja 2 December 2012 at 11:35 am #

    In Esperanto the word for bribe is “subaĉeti” which means “under buy” (buy under the table), and to accept a bribe is “subvendi” “under sell”.

  23. TCGHIKO Mourad 3 December 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Nous vous remercions de nous donner l’occasion d’exprimer
    La corruption en Algérie est divisée en trois axes principaux
    Première corruption politique. Deuxième corruption morale. Troisièmement corruption financière.

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to express
    Corruption in Algeria is divided into three main axes
    First political corruption. Second moral corruption. Thirdly financial corruption.

    شكرا على منحنا فرصة لتعبير
    الفساد في الجزائر ينقسم لثلاث محاور أساسية
    أولا الفساد السياسي . ثانيا الفساد الأخلاقي . ثالثا الفساد المالي .

  24. Simona Habič 3 December 2012 at 11:14 am #

    corruption in slovenia is translated: “korupcija”
    bribe is translated as: “podkupnína” (something (money or service or other ) whatis given/taken for fast and easier solution to a problem- illegal)
    “pod-” means under and “kupnina” means money compensation (usually people used to understand corruption as a bribe (only money) but due to political situation in Slovenia (elite corruption, systemic corruption, politicians un ethical behavour, conflict of interest etc…) this understanding on the “corruption” and “bribe” context is expanding to other practices as well.

    If you need other translations, pls let me know,

    All the best,

  25. Jasper Cummeh 3 December 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    In the local Liberian street language, Corruption is referred to as “Gobachop” or “Chopping”, and most recently, “Eating”.

  26. Kanan Gasimov 3 December 2012 at 3:22 pm #

    Bribe is rusvet in Azerbaijan. But we mostly use “hormet” which means “gift”. And mostly officials says that they are not taking bribe, it is just gift :-)))

  27. Marc St. Trupriono 4 December 2012 at 4:55 am #

    You are all fighting a losing battle. By confronting the lowest levels of corruption, you are in the main driving it underground, or into the rather hazy places where business meets government.

    Humans are by their very nature self-serving. Most politicians and bureaucrats simply want the rewards of the private sector without the risk. So, instead of trying to stop what can never be eliminated, you should try to harness it for the good of society.

    After all, what is the difference between Western politicians promising redistribution of income in exchange for votes, and those in developing countries just paying out money to voters directly? Or, what is different when Western civil service unions bring government services to halt by striking until they get what they want, and public employees in developing nations taking bribes to perform tasks for which they are underpaid, the latter effectively creating a truly equitable “pay-as-you-go system” (something many Westerners desire)?

    Let’s face it, honesty in most countries is just a euphemistic word for a cleaner type of corruption. If we give the corrupt what they want in the smartest way, then all of society wins. In other words, we should be looking for sustainable corruption that benefits society.

    And so, this what I do – “smart corruption” – find ideas that both provide lucrative rewards for those in power, and assist the public in getting what it needs and wants – “If you can’t beat them, teach them.”

  28. Sophie 4 December 2012 at 10:21 am #

    In Thai a bribe is “sin bon” or “tea money”

  29. Transparencia Venezuela 4 December 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    In Venezuela words to speak about corruption are: “Guiso”, “Chanchullo”, “matraca”, among others. When a policeman or traffic cop wants to bribe you they usually say: “Dame algo pal’ fresco” meaning give me something to buy coke or “Dame algo pal café” which means give me money in order to buy a cup of coffee.

  30. Julián 5 December 2012 at 6:59 am #

    In Argentina, “COIMA” or its deformation “COMETA” (literally, it means “kite”)

  31. Hilda Ajeilat 5 December 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Corruption in Arabic is (Fasad فساد). It means misuse of power for private gain. There are different types and forms of corruption in Jordan.

  32. RODONNE SIRIBI Clotaire 8 December 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    The corruption in sango, national language of Central African Republic is ‘Goro’

  33. Inesa Hila 9 December 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    In Albanian, corruption is “korrupsion” and bribery stands for “rryshfet”.

  34. S. Haikal 9 December 2012 at 3:55 pm #

    In Indonesia, corruption is “korupsi”, it is softer than rampok, but has harder connotation that is rob and/or steal public assets/public fund as well as state assets/state funds.

  35. Dieudonne BIZMUREMYI 9 December 2012 at 8:13 pm #

    in Burundi ( central Africa) corruption is called : Igiturire and soemeone who ask bribe he/she will tell you vuga neza mean speak well or will use signs like 5 fingers wich mean 50.000 BIF

  36. Narayan Manandhar 10 December 2012 at 2:53 am #

    With the arrival of mobile phones, now in Nepal corruption is categorized into two – prepaid corruption and post paid corruption. There is a also a system of “recharging” now. Thanks to the inventors of mobile phones.

  37. J. Zavala Alcantara 11 January 2013 at 5:55 am #

    In Honduras, our most popular slang in which an official will request for a bribe will be by asking money “para el fresco”, literally translated to mean money for a soft drink. However, sometimes they will straight up give you a number for you to comply or at least negotiate.

  38. Erik 11 July 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    In the Netherlands a bribe is a “steekpenning” or to pay “smeergeld”. The verb “omkopen” (kopen=buy, om=around) is also used.

    The word “smeergeld” is similar to the German word Smiergeld. Geld means money, smeer means smear/grease/ oil. It is unclear if this refers to oiling something so it works properly or to the dirty substance you’re using for this. Perhaps to both.

    Does anybody know what the origin of steekpenning is?

  39. kuwaitia 14 September 2013 at 9:03 pm #

    corruption in kuwait made by persian-kuwaitis whom are very corrupted people
    and by the rulers ! ….it will come around and corrupt those people life!


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