Around the world, journalists faced an unexpected dilemma Friday: How to translate “shithole,” President Donald Trump’s preferred choice of word to describe developing world countries.
While English language newsrooms debated whether or not to censor the word, in other countries the problem was compounded by the struggle to find an accurate synonym where no exact translation is available.
In El Salvador, one of the countries maligned by the president when discussing immigrant protections with lawmakers, newspapers went with the translation “agujeros de mierda,” which essentially means “holes of shit.”
Alex Segura, Washington correspondent for Spain’s EFE news agency, tweeted about the debate with his editors over how to translate “the pearl of the day from Trump.” Other options they considered for the phrase? “Shitty countries,” “unclean countries,” and “pigsties”, he said.
In the end, they went with “countries (which are a) hole of shit.”
In Haiti, another country insulted by the president, publications went with “trou a merde,” meaning “hole of shit” while Botswana, which demanded an apology from the president after being targeted by the insult, needed no translation for the slur, with English the official language.
In other African nations disparaged by the president, where Swahili is commonly spoken, Trump’s phrase would likely be translated into “Bongo land,” a term used to describe poor or uncivilized places, Jan Blommaert, a Belgian linguistic anthropologist, told The Washington Post. Considered offensive by many, it was banned by the British populist UK Independence Party after a European parliamentarian used it to describe countries that receive international aid.
The Quartz website has compiled attempts by the Asian mediaa, with varying degrees of success, to translate the word.
Haiwainet, a news portal of China’s state newspaper People’s Daily used “lan guo,” which means “countries that suck;” Taiwan’s Central News Agency tried “niao bu sheng dan de guo jia,” meaning “countries where birds don’t lay eggs,” while South Korean news portal joins.com went with “go-ji-so-gul,” meaning “beggars’ haunts.”
Japanese daily Sankei reportedly opted for “Benjo no yō ni kitanai kuni,” meaning “countries that are dirty like toilets.”
Some translations in Europe also left readers scratching their heads.
One Croatian newspaper went for “vukojebina,” meaning “the place wolves like to fuck,” tweeted Daily Beast reporter Andrew Kirell, while in Germany publications went for “dreksloch,” which is variously translated as “hellhole,” “sinkhole” or, indeed, “shithole,” while the Vatican newspaper avoided the word altogether.
Trump’s comments have long posed problems with translators, with his speech rhythms and repetitions rendering many translations incomprehensible.