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


U.S. President Donald Trump’s use of the word “sh-thole” 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 colorful 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.

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 ‘s— 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 U.S., 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: “Sh-thole”

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 ‘sh-thole countries?'” headlined the Philippine Star.

So did several media in the Netherlands.

Which hole?

There was some inconsistency in different countries’ notion of just what kind of “hole” Trump was supposedly referring to.

Greek media rendered the expression as “latrines,” while in Italy it was a case of “a—-hole countries”.

For the Austrian press, they were “rubbish holes.”

France, Spain and Portugal struggled to translate the notion of a “hole” altogether, settling on “s—- countries.”

“Testicle countries”

Dutch-speaking media were divided between coyness and straight talk.

The leading Volkskrant daily translated it merely as “backward.”

Throwing anatomical precision to the wind, Flemish media in Belgium resorted to the locals’ favorite swear-word, rendering the expression as “testicle countries.”

“Pigsties” and “dead ends”

Some other translations by country:

“The a——- of the world,” according to the Czech Republic

“Dirty holes,” in Germany

“Dead ends,” “pigsties,” in Romania

“Stinking holes,” “sh-tholes,” by Russia

“Dirty holes,” “A—e-end countries,” in Poland