Inappropriate use of vulgar words


This is an old show (Giant), but these things keep happening to this day. We have mentioned this on a few occasions, but it seems it was not enough.

The word “bitch” doesn’t come off so easily from everybody’s tongue as some English translators and Editors on Viki might think. Although American television is full of it and it’s almost a pet name for female friends on tv, the rest of the English speaking world is not amused. Particularly in the context of Korean dramas and culture, it is not okay to translate “kijibae” as “bitch”. For God’s sake, be just a smidge more creative and objective.

“Jjassi” is not a “bastard”, either. It’s more like “punk”. It’s softer. Patronizing, but not mean.

Why do some people have to uglify the true meaning behind these words just to make it sound cool? Pardon me, but I’m not interested in the vulgar flair one’s pop culture might bring to their translation. I want the subs to be accurate.


I totally agree with you.

I believe there were a couple discussions about topic before, and you are absolutely right. Gijibae does not mean bitch at all. It simply means a girl. Depending on the context, it could be used as a way to look down on that person, but it typically just means a girl and it can definitely be used in a friendly way, too.

Jjashik literally means offspring and it can even be said to your own child in a loving way.


Yes, thank you!
This makes it very hard to watch K-dramas on Nfx for example.
They always translate these words like that and it’s frustrating :face_with_raised_eyebrow:


Thank you for pointing this out. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, this is my take on the matter for now.

I agree entirely that there is a tendency to use much harsher and much more insulting words than what the Korean actually means. Insults are difficult to translate across any languages, as equivalent insults are very rare. It is very important to take the context into account when translating those words, and not use the same one English swear word for every instances where one Korean word appears. We need to remember that there is also an important part of the insult that is conveyed through the way the person talking transgresses the socially acceptable manner they should address that person. Here is what I mean: in Korean, the social level is stressed in the speech, it is directly “visible” with the way people address each other, and it is extremely important for everyone that people address each other using appropriate social level markers in their speech. To someone from a culture where there is no such thing, talking a bit casually about a superior or senior might not seem like such a big deal. But in some other cultures, just calling a superior (or anyone with seniority over you) by their names (even not in front of them) is already a sign that you don’t have much respect for that person as your superior. And this is only one example, there are a lot of even more nuanced ways of showing respect in your speech than what we might be seeing in some cultures.

Now that I think of it, the respect perspiring in the speech most probably exists in every culture but is harder to decipher when the grammar isn’t affected by the respect you show for the person. In Korean, it’s right there for everyone to see and hear even if you haven’t been bathing in that culture your whole life, and you do not need to decipher the small signs to understand there is a disrespect. You do not necessarily need to use vulgar words or gestures to show your disrespect, the way you speak about them is a dead giveaway. Which means that you can use that to decide how to translate the “insulting” term you hear in the dialogue: the more the person being insulted is supposed to be treated with respect, the more insulting the swear word will seem to them. If all formalities are dropped, the insult is intended to be very strong and show a total loss of respect at that moment. But at the same time, we cannot use a stronger word than intended just because the speaker uses informal speech: telling your boss they are an idiotic fool is a big deal no matter the culture (maybe?), and most of the interpretation comes across through the acting anyway. So I don’t think using overly offensive terms is the right thing to do, because no matter the culture we all understand though the scene and the acting the respect someone is supposed to be due.

All this to say, that we need to read the mood when translating the three or four “swear” words we hear in Korean dramas all the time. jassik is an endearment when a mother talks about her child. It’s a big mark of disrespect when a young employee addresses their superior (how can a twenty-something call a forty-years-old boss “offspring” without meaning they consider them socially lower?). Age is very important, if you treat someone older than you as someone younger, then you convey the message that they do not have the higher amount of life experience that would make them deserving of more respect than you (it’s the social construct that is the core of human interactions in Korea). But even if it marks a strong lack of respect, it doesn’t translate to “bastard”, which has a very specific meaning (someone who was born out of wedlock) that has nothing to do with the Korean jassik no matter how you put it. I like using “buffoon” a lot, but here again it doesn’t fit everywhere. I almost never use swear words in English, so now I’m trying to be very careful because I am not good at evaluating the offensive power of a swear word. I think it’s on one of irmar’s document that I saw an interesting list of insults with their meanings, and I’ve been using it whenever I’m trying to find something appropriate. But the tricky part is to use a word that doesn’t make it comical when it’s not intended, and a lot of lesser used swear words in English have that comical feel to it (exactly because they aren’t much used).

At some point, I wondered if we should maybe start translating these expressions literally. That way, there is no mildly dubious interpretation involved, and we can gauge the insulting power depending on the context and the reaction of others. But I’m not too sure how that would work, because putting “offspring” every time we hear jassik seems more comical than anything… In the case of gaejassik, though, for once I thought that s.o.b. was fitting (again, depending on the situation) since “bitch” is a female dog. But it’s true that most people don’t really use the word that way actually.

Something that also exists everywhere in the world is the use of modifiers to downplay the insult: for example, putting “little” in front of any insulting word suddenly turns it into a less harsh word and even sometimes a form of endearment (which I find appalling, but that’s another topic). On the other hand, adding “bloody” or “total” to an insult makes it stronger: no need to use a more offensive word that isn’t the accurate meaning.

Weeell haha, I’m on my way to write an essay here, oops. But we need to realize that the use of vulgar words in our subtitles are not always appropriate nor accurate, and this is such an interesting topic to discuss.


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CThis issue is not a right/wrong issue but a matter of preference and custom.
" Curse words are potent, and calling someone a “jerk” just doesn’t pack the same punch as “dumbass” or “asshole”.
Subbers who sub “bastard, and son of a bitch” for 개세끼 and 개자식 in the proper context are not lacking in knowledge of the meaning of the words or inaccurately translating. If one considers the Korean government’s National Institute of the Korean Language dictionary, Naver’s Korean-English Dictionary and Daum’s Korean-English dictionary as authoritative sources, then in the proper context the subbers use of “bastard” or “son of a bitch” are “literal” and accurate translations.

If you use the Korean government’s Korean-English dictionary from the National Institute of the Korean Language and look up 개 (dog) the definitions are 1. dog 2. son of a bitch (and it’s meant offensively!)
Naver Dictionary which is one of the most used Korean to English dictionaries defines sekki (새끼)

  1. bastard, creep, son of a bitch; 2. young. 3. baby, child, kid
    gae sekki (개새끼) is defined as son of a bitch and the dictionary sites numerous references where it has been translated that way.
    gae jasik (개자식) is defined by Naver as son of a bitch, bastard, dog. and again there are references to usage. The Naver Dictionary is supposed to incorporate the Oxford Korean to English and English to Korean dictionaries as well as several other widely used dictionaries of Korean.
    Similarly Daum Dictionary defines gae sekki as a pup or a son of a bitch and gae jasik (개자식) as son of a bitch or bastard. For many years up to about ten years ago, when you saw English subbed drama or movies and people were having hostile confrontations 개세끼 and 개자식 were often translated as “rascal” or “brat” or “you little …” which seemed to me not matching the level of offensiveness and hostility the writer/director intended. A grandmother is talking to her grandchild and says “our sekki” she probably means our baby, child, or kid but when a thug is beating up someone, he is definitely not using gae sekki as a term of endearment.
    I’ve had taxi drivers who were of Korean ethnicity taking me during rush hour from Manhattan to JFK and from Chicago to O’Hare airport and had the real life experience of the actual use of both terms and even more for the entire ride – I am sure 기사님 ( Mr. Driver) did not mean “you little,” “punk”, “puppy” or anything mild.
    When someone says either term before punching out someone’s lights, he is not saying you rascal, punk or puppy.
    I am against bowdlerizing subtitles so that they become Disneyspeak.

Yes, but you’re missing one nuance here.
“Son of a dog” means just that, the offspring of an animal which is not very esteemed in Korea (nor in Arabic countries, where this insult also exists).
“Son of a bitch”, though, does not refer to the female dog in the West. It means you’re the son of a woman who is a bitch, i.e. promiscuous, because the female dogs when in they are in the mating period can copulate with many males one after the other.
So the meaning of “Son of a bitch” means “your mother is a slut and you’re the son of a slut”.
A nuance that, from what I’m aware, is definitely not there in Korean.

Same for “bastard”. The metaphorical meaning may mean “bad person”, but we all know the original meaning of “bastard”, which is “born out of wedlock”. Which, again, is not existent in Korean.

Therefore these translations automatically add another layer of insult which is not there in the original.

I would like “son of a dog” to be used. It does sound like an insult, but it’s more neutral than SOB.


On the contrary, although there are some people still consuming dogs in Korea, a great many Koreans love dogs as companion animals and there are ongoing long term programs on the major networks as well as the public television network about dogs and their owners, dog training and dog behavior. Approximately 20% to 30% (depending on the source) of Korean households own dogs as pets.
Both Naver and Daum explain “son of a bitch” and “bastard” as being “offensive” (and I guess, not necessarily factual as for example, a bastard being born out of wedlock or a son of a bitch being a prostitute’s son.) Why would we use “son of a dog” when the authoritative sources on Korean to English say “son of a bitch” and 'bastard"?


I don’t think what you are saying here is totally opposite to what bozoli initially pointed out. That’s also my take on the matter, and the whole point of the super long (^.^") reply I posted above: the important thing is to translate accurately in the proper context. The issue is when the use of the English curse word is not appropriate, but was used because it’s been seen translated as such in other context and was thought to be the one and only meaning when, in fact, the meaning of the Korean word changes with the context. The screenshot that was given is probably a good example, although I don’t know the context so I can’t say for sure: the boy calling that girl “bitch” is probably a translation of “gijibae” and it probably shouldn’t be subtitled as “bitch” at all in that context.
But! it is important to take into account the fact that a cuss word whose literal translation can sound “mild” to non-Korean speakers can actually be heard as a strong insult to a Korean person. It is indeed important to consider the range and scale of the insults register in the language. If the strongest insult you find in a language is “blue puppy” (I’m making that up, obviously), then should we really translate it as “blue puppy” and risk not delivering the accurate punch of the insult? However, the meaning and usage of the chosen English term needs to be studied carefully, because using “bastard” at every turn is not the right way to go (isn’t this a super offensive word in English as well? It’s not used that easily in usual contexts) But in the same way, an insult that is intended to be mild shouldn’t be translated with a harsh offensive term if it isn’t the original intent.

I feel the same as you on this matter. As much as I hate seeing too much swearing, it is not my job as a translator to hide the original behind flowery patches of my choice. The intent should be translated as accurately as possible, not adapted to what the viewer might want to see or not.
I also don’t like the use of an asterisk to censor the swear words, because I find it ridiculously superfluous: not only will the word be read and understood completely wether or not one letter is replaced by a *, but also you need to own up to what you write. If you do not want your viewers or readers to hear or read that word, you choose another one. That obviously only applies to original authors, and subbers don’t have the choice but to accurately translate what is being said.


I was certainly talking about context. I want the gangster to swear dirtily. And I want that boy up there, raised in 1970-ies in the Korean countryside, to call his friend “girl”. And yet, there is another layer to the complexity here.

I feel there is also a difference in the cussing culture (and what is perceived normal to say) among different English speaking countries and other regions. Generally speaking, you will not find “bitch” on British as often as on American television.

I think the word “bitch” is quite universal as a swear word. So it is easy to use it to compare a region’s sensitivity to it. If a friend of mine would call me a bitch, no matter how playfully, I would feel deeply insulted. That is how strong that word is for me.

In my country a mother would never, ever call her daughter that way, either. And yet, that particular example I had the pleasure of seeing in one of the episodes of “Kill Me, Heal Me”.

At the same time I’m also considering that the worst examples of this inappropriateness might just be isolated cases and do not reflect the entire culture, but merely the individual subbers themselves.


Yes, it’s true that there is a difference between the different English speaking countries, and it’s a different thing again if you throw international English into the mix. This goes to reinforce the idea that these things are a cultural matter and not purely a language question about literal translation.
In many cultures, family members would never use insults like “bitch” toward family members unless they are actually trying to seriously curse them out. And same as you, anyone calling anyone “bitch” makes me cringe very hard. But for other people, the word is used as a substitute for “girl” or for the name of the person and without any intent to harm the person’s feelings. These nuances even exist within one language and within one geographic location, even at the scale of a town. Like you point out, it might actually just come down to individual experience which is reflected in the subber’s choice of words.
Another point is, the more easily a curse word is thrown around, the less sharp and hurtful it becomes. That’s because it is used without a care for the original meaning and thus isn’t pointing out an actual vice or flaw in the other person, thus it is less likely to be taken personally.
(Oh my, this topic is too interesting and I can’t stop myself!)

It also reminds me that in French, calling someone a dog or any similar derivative is pretty much as offensive as “bitch” or “bastard”, if not more. If you say it with enough venom in your voice, it can be extremely harsh. While in English, it’s a bit less harsh on the ears than these insults.


The conversation on this subject has been very interesting.

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To some it might seem like translating nuances, but they can really “poke my eye” sometimes.


Growing up through the 70’s and 80’s … It sometimes feels that the used words on someone you want to rile up or anger have over the past 40 years gotten more harsh.
I don’t know if it is about impact or if the words just became outdated.
It’s just what I have observed.
As an example of the “bastard” who was years ago even more common in the subs, in German you would use “Mistkerl” looking at the dictionary for translating it back “dirty dog” might be the right assumption, but it’s the last of many suggestions.
Therefore, bastard will more likely turn into a “Bastard” since the word is present in German as well and it is the first suggestion in a dictionary, but interestingly the second one is “Schweinehund”. Literal it is swine-dog but translating it back you get the famous bastard and skunk and stinker, for those two I have never seen them in subs. As for “Schweinehund” it is offensive, but it is not the only use for this word - it is also known for the “innere Schweinehund” the inner swine-dog, your weak self that you need to fight when there are things you need to do you are not really keen of and want to postpone.
So what is my point? Looking back over the years I see a tendency that the word of choice in daily life has become more “careless” and that people sometimes treat each other more careless and the usage of so called swearwords not only has increased but more and more “heavy” words are found in daily life.
Looking at “bitch” in German it would rather be a “Zicke”. In the dictionairy you will first get “female dog” (or female goat, which is the literal translation as well and goat in German “Ziege” can be used as a swear word too). The German expression “Hündin”, honestly I never got to hear that in my whole as a swear word. More in use is “Dirne/Hure” while these those “name” prostitutes and much harsher, Zicke is only used to “name” a troublesome female, if she is even more troublesome there is the comparative form “Zimtzicke”. I had to look into detail since I didn’t know where that word came from and even though today “Zimt” is known as cinnamon in the time this word was used “Zimt” stood for money or something of worth, but later it turned into the opposite, so it became something worthless and even troubling, that is when the “Zimtzicke” was born - a woman who is able to create trouble out of nothing, or will hang on every possibility to make life complicated.

I hope, I didn’t get too much into detail, but since we are living in a time where young women greet each other with the term “bitch” (in Germany “Alder/Alter” (dude), is also in use), I sometimes fear that just like products being used and thrown away, words seem to be in the same category, one uses them throwing them around not caring about the “waste”.


all of you have good info. that’s good, my 3 cents worth. some of you don’t think its wrong calling someone those words and all. sorry, but i hate them,

these people, now note, are college-educated, got degrees a mile-long after their names, but why do they have to use guttural language to make a point?

why do they have to pull out of so-called trash to make a point, that one word calling someone a dog? come on now! and I mean in the other form.

to me it’s senseless, it degrades more than making a point and this goes for any four-letter word they use. I would hate someone to come up to me and call me that I believe I would coldcock them! yes even this old senior citizen,

I hate how this world is taking those words and not even thinking twice. an old saying here (I hope I get it right) this is in my words cause don’t exactly remember the wording, the hot iron strikes time and time again, in due time, you don’t feel that hot iron. like all those swear words being used, we don’t feel it anymore

Lutra said it all, Looking back over the years I see a tendency that the word of choice in daily life has become more “careless” and that people sometimes treat each other more careless and the usage of so-called swearwords not only has increased but more and more “heavy” words are found in daily life.

And I don’t think it matters what language that is used, all of us are the same, and some don’t even realize that’s a swear word.

here’s a thought, some kids were playing nearby and I accidentally heard a kid use some of the words we are discussing, a 5-year-old!, you bet I was shocked. what are y’all teaching your kids!

Bozoli also made some good comments too/

look it, you subbers do what you are supposed to do, yeah the asterics they could leave out. well hopefully something will change soon

ok off my soap box, y’all have a great day!


Translating swear words is certainly a challenge. What I learned about it during my studies is that you (the translator) need to find a word in your target language that has the same feeling and the same level of rudeness. When the word in the source language is extremely rude, you have to find a word in your target language that’s extremely rude as well. If the word in the source language is rather mild, you need to come up with a rather mild word.
These words are hardly ever literal translations. What is highly offensive in one language, might be ridiculous or non-effective in another. The point is to find a word that you would use in a similar situation, with the same level of rudeness.
We don’t litterally translate the word “*ssh&le” into Dutch. The word that’s often used for that, in reality refers to another body part. We do have the word “b!tch”, both as a loanword and as a litteral translation, so in some cases we might use that. But even then we still need to be aware whether the word has the same effect in our language as it has in our source language.
Of course having an extra language (English) inbetween your original source language (Korean/Chinese/Japanese) and your target language (OL) makes things even more complicated …

Oh, and regarding the word “b!tch”, I don’t care to hear it in fighting scenes, but I sure hate guys calling their girlfriends that. Or guys calling their girlfriends anything demeaning, for that matter. Or women in general …


Yes, I understand how some of you hate those words, I hate them too in real life, and I fully agree that they have become trivialized, they are used even jokingly for friends, which is disgusting.

See this article about swearing becoming more common lately, the physiological response of swearers, and its effect on the resistance to pain.

See this article about how people’s stress levels mount with swear-words whereas they don’t if an euphemism is used - although the meaning is exactly the same.

Have some fun with the comparison of British and American swearwords.

And with funny new creations

In 1977 Norman Mailer confronted Gore Vidal at a party after Vidal poorly reviewed one of Mailer’s books. Mailer’s anger boiled over and he sent Vidal to the ground with a punch. From the floor, Gore Vidal looked up and famously quipped: “Once again, words have failed Norman Mailer.” No doubt, Vidal could have unleashed a string of profanities at his aggressor. He surely had a mastery of taboo language comparable to his mastery of language in general. But his verbal fluency allowed him to craft an even wittier response. And had words not failed Mailer, perhaps he too would have reacted less crassly.

Our point here isn’t how we act in real life, whether we like them or not, or how other people use them. Our point is how to translate them. As translators and editors here at Viki is, when we find these terms in the videos, how to translate with something equivalent in our languages. That’s the challenge for the translator.

Now, there is another thing that I think hasn’t been mentioned on this thread. A swearword is different when you hear it and different when you read it. It is much more shocking when you actually read it. It stays on screen far longer than the sound of it from the mouth of the actor too. That’s one reason to choose something slightly less offensive if possible.


I fully agree. :fountain_pen:


Thanks, but could you please fix the typo from my sentence you quoted, by adding the missing “is”? As an editor, it hurts my eye to see it!


I get it, I’m the same. Done! :slight_smile:

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