Somewhere in Translation: 07

Literal vs. Liberal
Pt. 2 - Profanity

Heya Heya, it's DzyDzyDino again.

It's been a little while since my last update, and for that I apologize. In between getting perpetually sick and being really busy with other projects, I just had problems finding the time! But I'm back to pick up where I left off!

Last time, I wrote a bit about Literal vs. Liberal translations. Since then, it's something I've been even more aware of than usual while translating and reading. 

One area where Literal vs. Liberal really raises some questions is profanity.

First, let's talk shit. 

Shit. shit. shit.

What is shit? A "profane" word for fecal matter? A vulgar expletive? A casual word among perhaps younger and more "rowdy" people for "stuff"?

I'm taking a shit.

Oh, shit!!

Oh... shit...

Look at this shit everywhere.

You're in deep shit now.

Are you shitting me?

I don't give a shit.

This list can go on and on, and although in some cases, maybe it literally is referring to fecal matter, not always.

So the japanese dictionary equivalent for shit, くそ (kuso) doesn't fit in all these (or nearly any) situations. "Kuso" really just is a more vulgar term for feces that can be used as an expletive.

The pure English concept of profanity though doesn't exist the same way in Japanese. You can be profane and vulgar without using "kuso." You can be profane just by how you talk and who you're talking to.

I keep bringing up "kuso" for a few reasons. One, because that's the one people tend to know and is easily / readily available to look up online. Two, because, frankly, that's just about where the direct translations stop.

English can be a very colorful language, and when it comes to profanity, you could paint Picasso. Cockramming assmunching fuckmongering bitchfaced dickhole of a douche pirate.

I've heard colorful Japanese insults thrown around, too, around drunk and rowdy Japanese folk, but the word "kuso" was not involved among them. Calling people things like "Toxic Waste" and "Scattered Trash" and stuff like that. Ugly stupid octopus. etc.

If I was translating a serious Yakuza manga, and some tough gangster who'd seen some shit was really pissed off at someone... if he stood up, slammed his fist down on the table and said "Vanish! You foolish octopus!", what we'd have is a problem to communicate. Unless he was talking to the comic relief in the series, a magical disappearing cephalopod, this is the time for something like "Get the fuck out of my face, you... umm... douche pirate." 

You get the picture.

I keep coming back to "kuso" also because that's really the only direct profanity translation there is. There's nothing for fuck. Fuck? A vulgar way to describe two people having sex? It's a lot more than that. I won't list the options here.

When translating vulgarity in manga, usually you take a look at the character and how the phrase compares to their regular speech. Is what they're saying way more forward than what they'd usually say? Or are they the kind of character that usually speaks pretty loose/brash to begin with?

Apart from expletives, name-calling is also a pretty common place for profanity.

In japanese, name calling usually starts with "kono!!" (with what comes after it implied possibly) or "Kono ______!!!" now. If we were being super literal (and I have seen plenty of bad scanlations/translations that have done this), we would translate "kono" to the literal "this!!!" 

このやろう!! Kono yarou!! Yarou literally being a guy, dude, whatever. But depending on context can be very vulgar. How vulgar? It depends on the situation. If you're shouting angrily at someone and say this, it'd come across as "You motherfucker!!" or "You bastard!" or whatever else, depending on how you say it and who you are and who they are. But of course, if we're being super literal, we'd go "THIS GUY!!"

What are we? Guidos? "Ayyye! This guy!! This guy right 'ere? Can you believe this guy?" No. No we are not.

殺す コロス ぶっ殺す ぶっ殺してやる
Here's some manga favorites. The kanji in above is for korosu or "to kill." If we're being super-duper literal with no concept of Japanese language whatsoever, we'd type that into google translate and see it pops up as "to kill" and be like "To kill!!" 

Kill is a strong word, and without getting into who would / wouldn't say this and too far out of subject, the most usual context would be "I'm gonna kill you" "I'll kill you." But again, it's so context based, it's not going to be translated as that in every situation. 

It's a pretty heated thing to say and sometimes they'll inflect even more "passion" into it with that little bu- prefix which kind of adds strength into the following verb. (like the internet favorite, Kake meaning to cover with, or to put on (top of). Adding a Bu- for emphasis leaves you with something for another discussion entirely.)

But so what, someone struggling for their life, enraged and out of control saying bukkorosu!! We translate as "I'm REALLY going to kill you!!" or even better, "I'm going to kill you" ... IN BOLD? Come on. No. Context, people.
"I'm gonna fucking kill you!" at the very least. "You're fucking dead." 

It really depends. And again, it might not always be profane. It really depends so much on context.

Profanity is not as cut and dry as it is in English. There are not simply "bad words" you don't say. If we're going there, there's whole manners of speech you shouldn't use, and there's a proper way to conduct yourself, and anything going against those would be "profane" in some way, depending on context.

We read a lot of your comments and many of you feel profanity in manga feels inappropriate or doesn't seem like what a certain character would say. For the most part, we try not to use profanity unless it actually adds something to the scene or character.

If a character who normally speaks in a rather tame tone suddenly starts speaking in a manner way more, well, vulgar than he normally speaks and is popping off at people, profanity is an excellent way to illustrate that.

If we had to, could we leave the profanity out? Sure. Some translators choose not to use any. Some translators have a vision of an anime/manga world that's, well... PG as opposed to PG-13/R. It's always a choice, always up for discussion, and apart from straight mistranslations, there's always room for debate.

In the end, it all comes down to interpretation, the translator/scanlation group, and choices.

We know you trust us to bring you a quality, meaningful scanlation every week and appreciate your readership. We love the series we translate and make every choice with as much information and intent as possible. As translators, we try to convey all the meaning we found when reading the original Japanese raws into English.

I had a lot more to say and a lot more examples, but this went on way longer than I expected already. Perhaps I'll revisit this topic at a future date, as I know it's one that's constantly being addressed.

Until then, from me and the crew here at mangastream, thanks as always for your readership and we hope to continue to bring you timely scanlations of the highest quality we can muster for the forseeable future!

Peace out, bitches.

-DzyDzyDino

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