The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s latest anus ex machina, is a real gift to the world of politics-as-entertainment. If you wrote him into a novel, the readers would say, “The fuck d’you think you are, Thomas fucking Pynchon?” If into a play, “David fucking Mamet?” But no, fuck that, this slick-headed wisemouth bounded right out of the commedia dell’arte, obviously: Scaramuccia (called Scaramouche in French), whose name literally means ‘little skirmisher’, is a grimacing rapscallion given to braggadocio and pusillanimity. And just as the eternal Scaramouche has carried vulgar behaviour through the ages and between countries, the present Mooch has done a service to international studies of vulgarity, because now we get to see how newspapers in other countries translate fucking paranoid schizophrenic, cock-block, and suck my own cock.
Seriously, when the fuck else have you been able to use simple searches of international newspapers – just type Scaramucci Bannon in the box – to learn how to talk like a New York fuckface in other languages?
So, first of all, how would Scaramuccia, the Italian, say all this shit? (We’ll leave aside the fact that, being Neapolitan, he wouldn’t be speaking standard Italian. Look, the Italian newspapers use an Italian that’s grown out of the Florentine version, OK? That’s just the fucking way it is. Go to Hell and argue with Dante if you don’t like it.) Well, I’ll take the translations from HuffingtonPost.it’s article. Fucking paranoid schizophrenic is “un cazzo di paranoico schizofrenico”: literally ‘a cock of paranoid schizophrenic’. Italian likes cocks in its vulgarity, you see. Where in English we might say What the fuck? in Italian you’d say Che cazzo? ‘What cock?’
So what’s cock-block? It’s fermare e rompere il cazzo: ‘stop and break the cock’. Where the English is “Let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can cock-block these people the way I cock-blocked Scaramucci for six months” the Italian from HuffPo is “Fammelo raccontare ai giornali così vediamo se posso fermarli e rompergli il cazzo così come ho fermato e ho rotto il cazzo a Scaramucci per sei mesi.” (Note that they leave off the vulgar intensifier on raccontare ai giornali, literally ‘tell the newspapers’ but here translating “leak the fucking thing.”)
What’s funny is that when it comes to “I’m not trying to suck my own cock” the Italian doesn’t use cazzo. No, you see, as Costanza Rizzacasa d’Orsogna explained to me (she writes for Corriere della Sera, but I couldn’t find a frank translation of all this on their site), you could translate suck my own cock literally as succhiarmi il cazzo, but Italian has a better expression: fare il pompino, literally ‘do the little pump’, figuratively ‘give a blowjob’. And that’s what HuffPo went with: “Non mi interessa farmi i pompini da solo” – ‘I’m not interested in giving myself solo blowjobs’.
Fine, OK, great, that’s how the Italians say it. As always, speaking lively Italian is like driving a Maserati on a mountain road. But how about German? Do they make it a Porsche or a Mercedes? The answer, it seems, is more of a fucking Audi. I looked on a couple of leading news sites and couldn’t find a translation of cock-block. But Die Welt obliges on the other two: a fucking paradoid schizophrenic is “ein verdammter paranoider Schizophrener” (pardon me for being underwhelmed; I don’t really think verdammt ‘damned’ is very strong, but hey, ich bin kein Berliner) and I’m not trying to suck my own cock is “Ich versuche nicht, meinen eigenen Schwanz zu lutschen,” which is a straightforward translation. Schwanz literally means ‘tail’ but is used like English prick and cock, and lutschen means ‘suck’.
The French can do themselves prouder. Slate.fr should give its translator a bonus for capturing the tone so nicely – not just the idiomatic vivid coarseness but the colloquial grammar too. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock” – so beautifully transcribed by The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza with a fucking comma splice that would normally get cock-blocked at the copy desk but conveys the tone more smartly than a period, let alone a fucking semicolon – shows up as “Je suis pas Steve Bannon, j’essaie pas de sucer ma propre bite.” If you don’t speak French, you won’t know what’s missing from that. Well, whoever did it up for HuffingtonPost.fr knew, and kept it in: “Je ne suis pas Steve Bannon, je n’essaie pas de sucer ma propre bite.” See it? ‘Not’ in standard French is ne…pas, but in colloquial French the ne is normally dropped. Oh, by the way, bite (pronounced like “beat” in France and “bit” in Québec) doesn’t have anything to do with biting. It means ‘cock’ tout court, nothing else – apparently it comes from an Old Norse word for a wood beam.
I couldn’t find a French news source willing to talk about cock-blocking; I’m not sure if it’s because it’s a killing offence in French culture to cock-block someone. But the vulgar intensifier for paranoid schizophrenic once again shows what the go-to is in the language: “putain de schizophrène paranoïaque“, ‘whore of paranoid schizophrenic’. Yes, French is a language that makes much use of prostitution-related taboo words, especially in France. Quebec has a different angle, famously using liturgical terms, but fuck me if I could find a Québécois news source willing to give me the goods. Even Huffington Post completely sanitized it (to the point of prissiness) for the Québec audiences, which surprised me given how lively of tongue they can be in la belle province.
OK, but how about Spanish? If we’re going to cover European imperial powers, we can’t do without Spain and all the countries that speak Spanish because of it. I gotta tell you, Spanish is what started me on this exploration. Lucía Leal, of the newswire Efe, tweeted:
Scaramucci llama a Priebus “un puto paranoico esquizofrénico” y dice: “No soy como Steve Bannon, no estoy tratando de chupármela a mí mismo”
That covers two of our three phrases right there. The fucking paranoid etcetera is ‘a paranoid schizophrenic whore’ – putting Spanish in the same sex-worker-cussing set as French – and suck my own cock is down as, roughly, ‘suck me it to myself’.
But wait! There is, of course, more than one Spanish-language news source. El Mundo gives a different version: “no estoy tratando de comerme mi propia polla” – ‘I’m not trying to eat my own cock’, except polla is formed not from a word meaning ‘rooster’ but from one meaning ‘pullet’. And they actually give exegeses on the cock-blocking:
Oh, Bill Sine viene. Voy a filtrar la puta cosa (fucking thing) y ver si puedo joder (cock-block, literalmente “bloquear la polla”, una sofisticada metáfora traducible como “impedir que alguien lleve a cabo la penetración”) a esa gente del mismo modo que bloqueé la polla (cock-blocked, pasado de verbo regular) a Scaramucci durante seis meses.
So they translate cock-block directly as joder, which would be translated back as fuck or fuck up, and then explain that it’s literally ‘block the cock’, “a sophisticated metaphor translatable as ‘keep someone from carrying out penetration’.” How very helpful! But before they explain all this, they tell the reader, “A partir de este momento, la presente crónica es para mayores de 18 años.” Which means, roughly, “From this point on, the present article is for readers 18 years of age or older.” This Spanish journalist, Pablo Pardo, is by far the most conscientious of the bunch. He even explains the autofellation: “en lo que Lizza considera una referencia no a las habilidades de Bannon como contorsionista, sino al aparente interés que éste tiene en salir en los medios de comunicación”: ‘which Lizza considers a reference not to Bannon’s ability as a contortionist, but to the apparent interest that he has in his appearance in the media’.
Isn’t translation fun? Truly, if you had not realized, translation is one of the funnest things you can try that are actually technically impossible but you get close enough (making me the right kind of Manhattan being another). All the English retranslations herein are by me, and if they suck, apply for a refund at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can give better ones in the comments if you wish.
Let’s keep on with the imperial power languages. How about Portuguese? Brazilian Portuguese is a language for anyone who likes fun things that look easy but will leave you sucking your own – um, tongue. But the trickiest part is the pronunciation, and you’re reading this. From UOL Notícias I get these two: “Reince é um esquizofrênico paranoico de merda” – meaning ‘Reince is a paranoid schizophrenic of shit’, putting Brazilian Portuguese in the coprophilic set – and “Não sou Steve Bannon, não estou tentando chupar meu próprio pau,” which is like the Spanish but uses pau for ‘cock’, which is a word that also literally means ‘stick’. They left out the cock-blocking thing. Sigh.
Well, whatever. Go to European Portuguese and you get what Diário de Notícias gives us, and it’s boring: “Não procuro chupar o meu próprio pénis.” You can see it: they use pénis. ‘I’m not trying to lick my own penis.” Thank god they have wine in Portugal. Especially because they didn’t even try with “Reince é um esquizofrénico paranoico.” Do you see an expletive? Jackshit.
Quick, let’s call in another imperial power of yore to save this. Who? The Dutch, of course. They’re known to be frank. I got a nice hit from de Volkskrant, which opens with three quotations, the first of which gives us “Reince is een fokking paranoïde schizofreen.” If you can’t sort that one out, there’s no fokking hope for you. The next is even sweeter, possibly my favourite out of this whole fucking thing: “Ik ben Steve Bannon niet, ik ben geen zelfpijper.” That means – literally – ‘I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m no self-whistler’ or, of course, using the colloquial sense of pijpen, ‘…I’m no self-cocksucker.’ Isn’t it lovely that Dutch has such a compact way of saying it? Talk about getting to the point. So to speak.
Alas, the third quote wasn’t the cock-blocking one. The article doesn’t give us that. I’m going to have to give a gold star to the Spanish and Italians, who at least attempted the cock-blocking. Translation, I mean. Who else can I turn to?
The Scandinavians, of course. Have a piece of Danish. Denmark’s TV2 sets us up nicely. “Åh, der kommer Bill Shine, lad mig lige fucking lække det og se, om jeg kan sætte en kæp i hjulet på dem, som jeg gjorde mod Scaramucci i seks måneder.” You can see which quote that is. Yes, the cock-blocking! So… how is it rendered? ‘Oh, there comes Bill Shine, let me leak the fucking thing and see if I can put a stick in the wheel on him as I did with Scaramucci for six months.’
Put a stick in the wheel?
OK, my Danish isn’t fluent, but some Dane can tell me if there’s a sexual reference there I’m missing. Dammit. How about the other two? One is down as “Reince er en fucking paranoid skizofren.” Well, that’s straightforward. Fuck do you expect? It’s not that distantly related to English (yes, it’s North Germanic and English is West Germanic, but never forget the massive Danish and Norwegian influence in the Old and Middle English periods due to invasions). How about Bannon? “Jeg er ikke Steve Bannon. Jeg prøver ikke at sutte min egen pik.” Well… it means the same as the English. But now you know. But hey, do you want to know how to write it in Swedish? “Jag är inte Steve Bannon, jag försöker inte suga min egen kuk,” according to Aftonbladet.
There are, obviously, many more languages I could look it up in. Some of them might even have nice translations of it. But I don’t want to wander into ones I have less-than-basic knowledge of. So just let me leave you with one more: Icelandic. I get no cock-blocking from the high cold vikings, but RÚV gives me the other two. It tells Icelanders that the Mooch is not Steve Bannon: “ég er ekki að reyna að totta minn eigin böll,” which translates even more directly than most languages – Icelandic, like English and unlike most other Western European languages, makes common use of a present progressive aspect. Ég er ekki að reyna really means ‘I’m not trying’ and not ‘I don’t try’.
The capper, though, and the one that reminds us of the particular pertinacity of the Icelandic, is this: “Reince er fjandans ofsóknarbrjálaður geðklofasjúklingur.” Icelandic prefers to use Icelandic roots rather than Greek or Latin ones for things when it can, you see, and that sentence there means ‘Reince is a fucking paranoid schizophrenic.’ Except fjandans doesn’t literally refer to anything sexual or scatological at all. It’s used as an expletive like English fucking, but it’s actually a devil reference, cognate with English fiend. And then the rest is… fiendish. It even looks a little bit like sounds you might make while sucking your own cock. With a lot of tongue action.