U.S. President Donald Trump’s alleged use of the word “shithole” to describe certain countries, apart from sparking a cacophony of outrage, left journalists scratching their heads wondering how to translate it.
A look at international headlines reveals a striking variety of translations, ranging from the straightforward to the prudish to the downright obscure:
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, often used as manure. Newswire Jiji Press translated it as “countries like toilets.”
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.”
‘Birds don’t lay eggs’
The prize for the most roundabout translation has to go to Taipei’s CNA news agency, which translated it as “countries where birds don’t lay eggs.” Serbia media also employed an evocative local idiom from the natural world: “Places where wolves mate.”
Some countries struggled to translate the obscenity because of a lack of verbatim terminology but also due to the term’s vulgarity. Media in Vietnam varied in strength from “dirty countries” to “rubbish countries” to “rotten countries.”
Voice of America’s Thai service, explained that “this English word could translate as a ‘hole of waste from excrement,’ which reflects that he considered [them] low-class countries.”
Chinese media were very guarded in their use of the term. Most picked up the story from the overseas version of the People’s Daily, which translated it as “languo,” meaning “bad countries.”
Calling a ‘shithole’ a ‘shithole’
In some countries, a ‘shithole’ by any other name just does not sound as bad. In the Philippines, whose mainly English-language media have become used to their own president Rodrigo Duterte’s foul-mouthed outbursts, the Philippine Star ran the reported “shithole” quote in its headline.
So did several media in the Netherlands.
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 “arsehole countries.”
For the Austrian press, they were “rubbish holes.” France, Spain and Portugal struggled to translate the notion of a “hole” altogether, settling on “shit 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 arses of the world” – Czech Republic
“Dirty holes” – Germany
“Dead ends”, “pigsties” – Romania
“Stinking holes”, “shitholes” – Russia
“Dirty holes”, “Arse-end countries” – Poland