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World media struggle to translate Trump’s slur

Updated January 14, 2018

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MIAMI (Florida): People join together to mark the 8th anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti and to condemn President Donald Trump’s reported statement about immigrants from Haiti, Africa and El Salvador.—AFP
MIAMI (Florida): People join together to mark the 8th anniversary of the massive earthquake in Haiti and to condemn President Donald Trump’s reported statement about immigrants from Haiti, Africa and El Salvador.—AFP

NAIROBI: President Donald Trump’s vulgar insult of Africa was a puzzle for many foreign media organisations, which didn’t have a ready translation of his epithet for their readers or listeners. Their answers ranged from “dirty” to, well, dirtier.

While meeting with senators on immigration, Trump questioned why the United States would accept more immigrants from Haiti and “shithole countries” in Africa, according to one participant and people briefed on the conversation.

His comments on Thursday revived racism accusations against Trump, roiled immigration talks and set off international outrage that left some foreign journalists wondering how to express the offending word.

“We have dozens of language services at the BBC which today are all discussing the right way to translate into their own language the word ‘shithole’ for their millions of listeners,” Paul Danahar, the editor of the BBC’s North America bureau, tweeted on Friday.

Japan’s Kyodo News wire service chose “kusottare”, which literally means “dripping with excrement”. The country’s no-nonsense national broadcaster NHK settled for “filthy”, while the Asahi Shimbun newspaper decided that a word meaning “outdoor toilets” conveyed the gist of Trump’s term.

Chinese media outlets are tightly controlled and have relatively little latitude when it comes to creative interpretations. The official Xinhua News Agency and other outlets translated the expletive as “fenkeng” literally “cesspit”.

In Africa, the continent that was the object of Trump’s insult, Tanzania’s Mwananchi newspaper translated his comment as “mataifa chafu” simply, “dirty countries”.

Taifa Leo, a sister Swahili publication to Kenya’s leading Daily Nation, chose “nchi za kinyesi”, a more or less direct translation that has a gentler word for excrement.

There is a more direct translation for Trump’s term in Swahili, editor Gilbert Mogire said. But, he explained, that would be “unprintable”.

Meanwhile, Trump offered a partial denial in public but privately defended his extraordinary remarks disparaging Haitians and African countries.

Trump said he was only expressing what many people think but won’t say about immigrants from economically depressed countries, according to a person who spoke to the president as criticism of his comments ricocheted around the globe.

Trump spent Thursday evening calling friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction, said the confidant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to disclose a private conversation.

Trump wasn’t apologetic about the inflammatory remarks and denied he was racist, instead, blaming the media for distorting his meaning, the confidant said.

Trump gets ‘excellent health’ report

Separately, Trump’s White House physician declared him in “excellent health” after the president received his first medical check-up at Walter Reed military hospital on Friday, undergoing a physical examination amid suggestions in a recent book and by his detractors that he’s mentally unfit.

Dr Ronny Jackson, in a statement released by the White House, said the examination “went exceptionally well. The president is in excellent health and I look forward to briefing some of the details on Tuesday.”

Trump spent about three hours at the medical facility in Bethesda, Maryland, outside Washington, for the Friday afternoon check-up, his first as president, before departing for Florida for the weekend.

Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2018