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Translating Trump: A ‘dirty’ job but someone has to do it

Non-English language media outlets had to translate the president’s colourful epithet into local languages

Image Credit: Reuters
US President Donald Trump
Gulf News

Tokyo: US President Donald Trump’s use of the word “shithole” to describe some countries has sparked fury in some quarters and left many media scratching their heads on whether to repeat the slur.

But spare a thought for the non-English language media outlets that had to translate the president’s colourful epithet into local languages.

Here are a few of their efforts:

Japan: ‘Like toilets’

The famously polite Japanese media tied themselves in knots trying not to offend their readers, with national broadcaster NHK sticking to “filthy countries”.

The BBC’s Japanese-language service translated the term into Japanese with a phrase for a tank to hold excrement, which is often used as manure.

Newswire Jiji Press translated it as “countries like toilets”, using a colloquial but not necessarily vulgar term.

Meanwhile, the Sankei Shimbun added nuance by translating it as “countries as dirty as outdoor toilets”.

South Korea: ‘Beggar’s Den’

South Korean media largely took their cue from the country’s biggest news agency Yonhap, which rendered the term as “beggar’s den”.

But the @AskAKorean account on Twitter had its own alternative. “I still think the more literal translation of ‘shit bucket’ would have worked better,” it suggested.

Taiwan: ‘Birds don’t lay eggs’

The prize for the most roundabout translation has to go to Taipei’s CNA news agency who translated it as “countries where birds don’t lay eggs”.

Vietnam: ‘Rotten’

Some countries in Southeast Asia struggled to translate the obscenity because of a lack of verbatim terminology but also due to the term itself, which might be considered too vulgar to translate literally.

Local media in Vietnam varied in strength from “dirty countries” to “rubbish countries” to “rotten countries”.

Meanwhile, Voice of America’s Thai service, which is backed by the US, printed an explanation of the word itself in their article on the outburst, writing that “this English word could translate as a ‘hole of waste from excrement,’ which reflects that he considered [them] low-class countries”.

China: ‘Bad’

Chinese media were very guarded in their use of the term, with most picking up the story from the overseas version of the People’s Daily, which translated it as “languo”, meaning “bad countries”.

Philippines: ‘Shithole’

In the Philippines, whose mainly English-language media have become used to their own president Rodrigo Duterte’s foul-mouthed outbursts, newspapers were nowhere near as coy.

“Trump: Why allow immigrants from ‘shithole countries?’ headlined the Philippine Star.