Thursday, May 10, 2007

Diaper-headed Whores; Or, How Not to Translate "Nappy-headed hos"

On April 4, 2007, radio host Don Imus, on his nationally syndicated program "Imus in the Morning," referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."
Imus was speaking with executive producer Bernard McGuirk when the NCAA Championship game between Rutgers and Tennessee came up. McGuirk compared the game to "the jigaboos versus the wannabes," and Imus commented, "That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos...." "Some hardcore hos," replied McGuirk, to which Imus added,"That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that."
These three words -- nappy-headed hos -- set off the media frenzy that sometimes erupts when a well-known person says something racist, sexist or homophobic in public. And they also resulted in a host of false, misleading or ridiculous translations around the world.
For the past 40 years, two of author's major interests have been maledicta (insults, curses, slurs, blasphemies, obscenities, vulgarities, and other "bad words") in all languages and their (mis)translations into other tongues. Don Imus's "nappy-headed hos" has demonstrated once again how incompetent many translators are in matters of maledicta and how non-English-speaking readers are misled by such poor translations. The Italian saying traduttori, traditori ("translators are traitors") comes to mind. Almost all translators mistranslated nappy-headed or hos or both. Below are samples from 16 languages to prove my assertion that foreign readers were severely misled by the wrong translations and that Don Imus was depicted as having been far nastier than he actually was.( more via Language Log )

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