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Why do non-native speakers love to use profanity in their translations?

I just read a really well written article by a Japanese teacher who has great English. I noticed that she translated 3 Japanese phrases into English using the S-word and the F-word. The thing is, the phrases aren't profane at all in Japanese, and there are plenty of other options for phrases in English, so why use profanity?

Another example. A large number of swear words in the Russian language, regardless of how mild they are, are translated with the F-word in google translate. I'm not saying Russian doesn't have a lot of swear words, but come on. Surely there aren't 100 words that are equal to English's worst word. I mean, when you get to the worst word in Russian, do you have to translate it as a double F-word?

Anyway, I've noticed this trend for some time now. I find it fascinating.

Feb 10, 2015 6:39 AM
Comments · 24

You are wrong about Russian. The problem is that Russian has a lot of different swear words. They have a great amount of meanings and we have lot's of anecdotes connecting with that. You can use only 1 root to create the whole phrase and Russians will understand you. The most famous is "Нахуя дохуя нахуячил? Расхуячивай обратно!" Which means sth like "Why did you put here so many of these things? Put it back." But English in this case is very poor, or better to say succinct. The only word "fucking" is used to say anything. It happens so because Russian language creates the words with the usage of suffixes and prefixes. For example in the sentence above we add 4 different prefixes (let alone suffixes) and create 4 words with different meaning. Here was a discussion not so long ago about the word заебись which can mean several attitudes to the problem - from good to bad, but Google translate can't understand these verbal niceties. That's why all rich Russian swear vocabulary magically turns into the fucking only.

Hope this helps!)


February 10, 2015

Moacir says, accurately: "If you watch The Wolf of Wall Street you'll see that almost every phrase they say they use the word 'f---ing'. When I watch it for the first time and after 30 minutes movie it was so funny for me."


The Wolf of Wall Street was not a documentary, and it was not a reality show. It was an exaggerated portrayal--of a very small subculture.


I cannot say this strongly enough:


Yes, we all know the word. Yes, we all use it. Yes, you will hear it frequently in movies. Yes, you will hear it frequently on TV--(but not on major network TV during prime time when children are watching). Yes, I've heard it in business meetings. Yes, I've heard teen-aged girls use it. Yes, some people use it to punctuate their speech the way others say "um" and "er." 




Non-native speakers will be forgiven--just the way small children will be forgiven--because we understand that they do not know better. 


But knowing when it is all right and when it is not all right to use it goes to the heart of "the culture." Very few non-natives can get this correctly--certainly not just by studying the language and watching movies--and even fewer can get the right "tone of voice." 


If you think about your own culture I am sure you can think of details of language and politeness that are second nature to you, that non-natives do not get right.


February 11, 2015

For any non-natives reading this thread: it's fine to say "fuck" and "shit" in informal contexts, and it's not offensive at all. If it was really as taboo as some people on here would have you believe, nobody would turn on the TV, or go to the movies.


What it all boils down to is snobbery. Snobs want to be seen to be more "sophisticated" and "refined," not because they are, it's all about an image. Blinded by their own self-importance, they feel the need to differentiate themselves from the rabble that lies at the bottom of society, so they feign outrage and disgust at the utterance of "fuck" or "shit." Clever aren't they? What these pretentious clowns don't seem to realise though is that thinking "I'm better than you cuz I don't swear" is as primitive as you can get. And just like clowns, they elicit laughter everywhere they go.


Swearing in formal contexts though is a social taboo. For example, if you go to a restaurant that has a dress code, you shouldn't swear. Nothing is going to happen to you if you do, but it's considered rude.


However, in informal contexts, it's totally standard to use "fuck" and "shit." They're mainly used to express shock/surprise, annoyance/frustration, or as an intensifier like in HLRN's pizza example. Imagine for example, you're at a bar with a group of friends and you spill your drink, you could say "aw fuck," or "aw shit" and no one would bat an eye.


I'm not telling anyone to go and swear, that's a personal decision, I'm just trying to provide a more realistic picture than "swearing is repulsive behaviour for the socially unevolved." Which isn't accurate at all.

February 12, 2015

"Fuck" isn't English's worst word, and it's not even offensive for the overwhelming majority of people. 

February 10, 2015

Dan Smith, at some point non-natives will start using profanity as well. ;) It's never okay for anyone to use it, but people will and people do. I think it's just that when you hear it from a non-native whose English isn't that good it It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is. Perhaps it's the nativeness of swearing combined with errors in grammar and pronunciation.


"Why you no keep fooking hands off meh food?"

"These car ees sheet! Eet no faking work!"


Or, what might happen is that they literally translate swearing from their own language into English, but forget that it might actually sound a lot harsher in English since we're not used to that kind of swearing. For example, in Dutch a very common one is "kut". "Kut, ik ben te laat!" Now, "kut" is the equivalent of "cunt", since it refers to the female genitalia in a very rude way. But in Dutch it's so common (akin to saying shit) that while it's offensive it's not considered extremely bad. Whereas saying "cunt, I'm running late" just doesn't work the same way. Then again, we never refer to someone as "asshole" so an English person would be wrong to assume he can just insult people by saying "aarsgat". Instead he should go for "klootzak", or in other words: "nutsack/ballsack".


Profanity, I mean, sure, try to limit it, and don't use it when you don't actually "get it", but it is really interesting to compare differences in profanity.


De ballen! (Balls! = Dutch way of saying "bye")

February 12, 2015
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, Filipino (Tagalog), French, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai
Learning Language
Filipino (Tagalog)