Dirty Mouth: Let’s Talk Cursing (and Interpreting)

The default role of an interpreter is a conduit. Merriam Webster defines conduit as a natural or artificial channel through which something is conveyed. If we think of the channel as a telephone wire, the conduit transmits anything and everything that is received from one end to another. In other words, an interpreter relays all information that is spoken, without any omission, additions, or distortions of the message.

In medical and legal interpreting, there are times when we have to give bad news. And in times like this, the client may become upset and use curse words to express his feelings. In my medical interpreting training, someone raised a question of whether interpreters still need to relay everything in such cases, particularly if an interpreter has qualms about cursing. Despite what an interpreter’s personal feelings are toward swearing, interpreters must stay true to the original message, even if it means cursing or using words they wouldn’t necessarily use in their daily lives. Such is what’s implied in the code of ethics for interpreters.

Regardless of the cultural or social implications of cursing, if it happens that you must curse on the job, then you need to do it as part of your professionalism. I don’t curse, and haven’t really thought about how English curse words correspond with Chinese curse words, but as a responsible interpreter, I’ve put together a short list (you know, for my work, of course). Cursing is an interesting thing. You’ll notice below that the common curse words we use in English relate  to sex and excretion and mothers. Even though sex and excretion are unavoidable parts of natural human conditions, and we all love our mothers, these words are considered indecent and taboo in both the American and Chinese cultures.

  1. Bastard-王八蛋 (wáng bā dàn)、 龜孫子(guī sūn zi)
  2. Fuck [angry fuck]- 幹 (gàn)、肏 (cào)
  3. Fuck, Fuck me, Fuckin’ awesome, Holy shit [excitement]-我靠 (wǒ kào)
  4. Fuck you, Go to hell- 去你的 (qù nǐ de)、 我鳥你 (wǒ niǎo nǐ)
  5. Fuck him, Screw him-鳥他的 (niǎo tā de)、去他的 (qù tā de)
  6. Bullshit–屁 (pì)、屁話 (pì huà)、鳥話 (niǎo huà)、你個狗屁 (nǐ ge gǒu pì)
    Example: What the fuck are you talking about-你在講什麼鳥話 (nǐ zài jiǎng shén me niǎo huà)
  7. What the fuck is this?-這是什麼鬼? (zhè shì shén me guǐ)
  8. What the fuck are you doing?-你搞什麼鬼? (nǐ  gǎo shén me guǐ))
  9. Damnit- 他媽的 (tāmāde)
  10. Son of a bitch- 狗崽子 (gǒu zǎi zǐ)

These are just some common English curse words and their cursory Chinese equivalents. If you’re interested in learning about Chinese curse words, their detailed explanations, and how they relate to English, the Transparent Language blog has a good post about it that you should check out.

Happy cursing! (Just kidding. Cursing is bad.)

Literature in Translation: 〈事物〉 by 瓦歷斯.諾幹

“Objects” by Wǎlìsī Nuògàn

Poets say that poetry is an out-of-body experience….It is a state of tugging and pulling of the soul. When observing objects, you’ll notice that everything appears to be a reflection of your own self-centered ego. Scythes symbolize your eagerness to harvest your work, statues seem to embody your vulgarity and disdain toward the world,  flutes are in fact hollow tibia, and tombstones, well, let’s not even go there. It’s difficult to dig deeper into the meaning behind objects because what we see is often a reflection of ourselves, the same way history is a reflection of humanity. Even external experiences can stir up something within us, and there is no escape.

For more information about the author, please click here for his bio in Chinese.



  1. 事物 (shì wù)- Things, objects.
  2. 離散 (lísàn)– Separation.
  3. 不置可否 (bù zhì kě fǒu)- To show indifference; not agreeing nor disagreeing. 不: not. 置: place. 可: agreement. 否: disagreement.
  4. 鍛鍊字句 (duàn liàn zì jù)- 鍛鍊: training. 字句: words, expressions, writing.
  5. 本質 (běn zhì)- Nature, essence, innate character. 本: origin, root. 質: material.
  6. 拉扯 (lā che) Tug and pull.
  7. 不知天高地厚 (bù zhī tiān gāo dì hòu)- Literal: Oblivious to the sky’s limit and the earth’s deepness. Used to describe one’s arrogance and naiveness. 不知: doesn’t know. 天: sky. 高: high. 地: ground厚: thick; deep or profound .
  8. 慾望 (yù wàng)- Desire, longing.
  9. 雕像 (diāo xiàng)- Sculpture; (carved statue). 雕: to engrave, to carve. 像: figure, image.
  10. 猥瑣 (wěi suǒ)- Wretched, vulgar. 猥: cheap, vulgar, obscene. 瑣: fragmented.
  11. 睥睨 (bì nì)-  To look disdainfully out of the corner of one’s eye; to look down upon.
  12. 鐮刀 (lián dāo)- Scythe. 刀: knife.
  13. 墓碑 (mù bēi)- Gravestone; tombstone. 墓: grave. 碑: monument; an upright stone tablet.
  14. 長笛 (cháng dí)- Flute.
  15. 脛骨(jìng gǔ)- Tibia. 脛: lower part of the leg. 骨: bone.
  16. 卒讀 (zú dú)- To finish reading. 卒: to finish. 讀: reading.
  17. 遁逃 (dùn táo)- To escape.

*Original piece published in 《二行詩》筆記/事物 in United Daily News (聯合報) on November 21, 2011.

Literature in Translation: “The Protagonist of a Tragedy” by Wang Ding-Jun

I’m posting translations of small passages, essays, or stories in my free time to add to my portfolio. The following is a short essay from 人生試金石, a collection of short essays by Chinese/Taiwanese author 王鼎鈞. Any comments or suggestions are appreciated! (Translation: Chinese>English.)

悲劇主角 The Protagonist of a Tragedy

人 大多希望自己成功,卻也有人認為「無妨」失敗。成功難,失敗易。成功如逆水行舟,費盡力氣;失敗如順風而下,聽天由命。成功故然可以受人讚美,失敗卻也能 夠博得同情,同情的滋味也不錯。Most people wish for success, but there are also people who feel that “there’s no harm” in failure. Success is difficult to attain; failure is easy to achieve. Success is as difficult and takes as much effort as sailing against the current; failure is like following the way the wind goes, resigning oneself to fate. While success can win one praise, failure can also win one sympathy, and sympathy isn’t such a bad feeling either.

抱這種想法的人都非常善良,他們有豐富的感情,經常站在受命運折磨的人的一邊,以為別人也會像他一樣。其實,雪中送碳的人少,錦上天花的人多,失敗者的冬 天是很寒冷的。Those who think this way tend to be kind. They are filled with emotions and sentiments, and tend to be on the side of those who are tormented by luck, thinking that everyone else would act the same way as well. Though in fact, there are few who would deliver coal in the snow, offer help when it’s most needed, but many who would be glad to add flowers to a brocade, add icing on the cake. A failure’s winter would be very frigid one.

志願的失敗者喜歡欣賞悲劇,幻想自己是悲劇的主角。他忽略了一點: 所有悲劇的主角都是經過多次的挫折,不斷的奮鬥,最後無可奈何才失敗的。人們如果要同情`,也只肯同情那種奮鬥過來的失敗者,那種不甘心不屈服的失敗者。 所以享受失敗後的同情,只能算是人生的第二,不可列為第一。A voluntary failure enjoys tragedies, imagining himself as the protagonist. Though he overlooks one point: every protagonist of a tragedy goes through many difficulties and fights against all obstacles, failing only when there are no alternatives. If people decide to sympathize, they are only willing to sympathize with those who failed after a struggle, those who failed unwillingly. Thus, the desire to experience sympathy after failure should only be considered one’s second aspiration in life, not the first.