“Where birds don’t lay eggs”: How “shithole countries” was translated

Hard to translate.
Hard to translate.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Donald Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as ”shithole countries” during a meeting on immigration Thursday (Jan. 11) with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Oval Office. According to several people at the briefing, Trump said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Instead, he suggested, the US should welcome more people from nations like Norway instead.

Media around the world soon picked up on the remark, but not always in English. In Asia, outlets struggled to translate “shithole countries.” Here are some of their attempts (links in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese):

  • Haiwainet, a news portal of China’s state newspaper People’s Daily, used lan guo, or 烂国, which means “countries that suck.”
  • Taiwan’s Central News Agency tried niao bu sheng dan de guo jia, or 鳥不生蛋的國家, meaning “countries where birds don’t lay eggs.”
  • South Korean news portal went with 거지소굴, pronounced “go-ji-so-gul,” meaning “beggars’ haunts.”
  • The Japanese daily Sankei opted for 便所のように汚い国, or “Benjo no yō ni kitanai kuni,” meaning “countries that are dirty like toilets.”

It’s no surprise that global media are struggling to convey Trump’s remark to readers. Throughout his 2016 campaign and first year as president, English-language outlets, too, have had to make some tough calls.