Swearwords: a translation challenge

Swearwords are some of the most vital, vibrant and colourful aspects of a language. They remain an important part of our daily conversations, as it is our way of making people understand our attitude and feelings.

The purpose of using swearwords, as well as idioms, is to express yourself. Nowadays, you can hear swearwords not only in the streets, but also in the movies, and even read them in books. Due to their nature, sometimes it is complicated when it comes to translating them, either because it’s hard to find an equivalent, or because of the controversy that these words have.

Here I present some tips of how to translate these tricky words.

Find the best equivalent in the target language

Swearwords are often the equivalence of the culture, so it might be hard to find the same expression/swearwords in the target language. A useful way would be to find an equivalent that express the same meaning.

Never translate them literally

This is the worst way to translate a swearword. It won’t be 100% accurate, especially if the word has different meanings.

Never skip those words, only if necessary

I know some people consider swearwords offensive in general, but when it is about translating, it means, sharing the message from one language to another, and so you cannot omit them. It is not the same if you turn ‘bitchy woman’ from the original text into ‘woman’ in the target text. Here is a lack of intent and faithfulness!

The only time you’ll be able to skip them is if there is a censorship of ideas, expressions and words in the target culture.

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In conclusion, translating swear words can be difficult but not impossible – especially if you have a good knowledge and management of both source and target language. Sometimes translators must choose between translating the text as it is or adjust it to reflect the main idea.

Let me know what you would do in this case! 😉