Why fuck is translated as hell or How and why to soften the localization of English language swearing in cinema

There is a lot of swearing in American films that appear on the wide screen. And swearing doesn’t stop filmmakers from making money at all – quite the opposite. For example, “The Wolf of Wall Street” is considered one of the most obscene films in the history of cinema, but at the same time, its receipts amounted to more than $ 300 million.

But you won’t hear swear words in Russian-language cinemas. The maximum is “devil” and “idiot”. Today we will figure out why rough phrases are softened in localizations and how this affects the perception of cinema.

A little history of curses in cinema

When cinema was just beginning to develop in the United States, there was no censorship at all. They filmed what they wanted, and on the credits they also wrote what they wanted.

But at one point, the authorities got tired of the licentiousness of filmmakers, and in 1930 the American Association of Film Companies adopted the so-called Hayes Code – a kind of collection of ethical rules that regulated what can and cannot be shown in films.

The list of prohibited items was quite long. For example, the absolute prohibition on showing nudity – even in the form of shadows, ridiculing the clergy and portraying priests as negative or comic characters, mentioning sexually transmitted diseases, talking and even hints about sex in seductive tones.

Obscene vocabulary was also included in a number of prohibitions. Not only obscene words like “fuck” and “bitch” were completely banned, but even the euphemisms “god”, “damn”, “hell”, “Jesus”. For their use, the film could easily not be issued a rental license and not allowed to be shown in cinemas.

Even the use of the innocuous phrase “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” in the cult 1939 film Gone with the Wind was already considered something super-daring and defiant.

And under the conditions of strict censorship, the phrase instantly turned into a catch phrase. Even today, 80 years later, she still tops the list of the most famous phrases in American cinema. according to AFI

The Hayes Code was no longer valid in the 60s. Formally, it was still considered a mandatory norm, but in fact no one was guided by it anymore. There were several reasons:

  • The American market was flooded with foreign films that were not bound by the code and showed prohibited topics.

  • The development of television and its accessibility has reduced the influence of the film certification commission on the promotion of films.

In 1968, the code was replaced by the MPAA rating system, which is still in use today. Now, the curses in the film can cause an increase in the age limit, but certainly not a ban on its appearance on the big screen.

In the Soviet Union, the situation with censorship was even more interesting. There was no single document or rules that would regulate the release of films, but instead there were special film committees that had the right to “ask” directors to cut out questionable moments or not allow the film to be released at all.

Therefore, it all came down to the subjective opinion of a group of officials. In fact, any curses were banned – because cinema should carry culture.

Emotional expressions that are not swear words were allowed – contagion, idiot, devil. Strict censoring continued until about the 1960s. Then, although the censorship continued to exist, they treated obscene vocabulary a little easier.

For example, in 1984 on the screens already without any problems missed the phrase “You dyed bitch” in the film “Love and Doves”. Although in the 50s and 60s, she would definitely have been stabbed to death.

In the 90s, swearing in Russian-language cinema became commonplace. They were used less than in American films, but they worked great to enhance the emotionality of the scenes.

But now there is a very noticeable movement to rid the cinema of swearing. In 2014, Russia adopted law banning swearing in the media, literature and cinema… We are interested in the item “issuance of rental certificates to films containing obscene language is prohibited.” And the obscenity of phrases in the cinema is determined by a special examination – there is still no single list of forbidden words.

This makes localizing films in English into Russian even more challenging than ever before. After all, it is necessary to transmit numerous “fuck” from American films without swearing and rude vocabulary. And it is highly desirable not to destroy the emotional intensity of the scenes and the plot as a whole.

Localizing mate without mate

Now let’s talk about specific localization issues. After all, curses are not used in the cinema to simply be – they are needed to reveal the character of the character or the emotional intensity of the scene. This is just one of the tools that directors and screenwriters use.

But in some paintings he is really extremely important. Take Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, for example. This is the director’s most abusive film – it contains 469 curses.

The abundance of obscene vocabulary is no coincidence – there it mainly emphasizes the complex characters of the heroes and their relationships, as well as the criminal get-together itself. It is extremely difficult to convey this without using expletives.

This ain’t Amsterdam, Vince. This is a seller’s market. Coke is fuckin ‘dead as disco. Heroin’s comin ‘back in a big fuckin’ way.

This is not Amsterdam, Vince, this is the market. Cocaine is no longer in vogue. Heroin is back.

Here, in the official studio translation into Russian, the epithets “fucking” were simply thrown out. This is one of the easiest and laziest ways to localize swear words without swearing. But it changes the perception of the scene.

In the original, the monologue sounds sharply negative in relation to drugs. And translated into Russian, it is neutral, as if it were just a news summary. Despite the absurdity and contradictory messages of the film, he certainly does not suffer from loyalty to cocaine and heroin.

Localization, on the other hand, smoothes out the poignant moments in relation to drugs as well. And from a sharp rejection and aversion to substances, cinema shows a generally neutral background.

Therefore, it is impossible to simply throw the curses out of the film. Even if you really want to.

Translate roughly, but without obscenities

Let’s take the other extreme. When swearing in a film becomes a feature that sets it apart from the crowd of other films. For example, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, which at one time became the record holder in the number of used curses – they were counted as many as 687. And of them 506 times the word “fuck” and derived from it was used.

Now, if anyone here thinks I’m superficial or materialistic. Go get a job at fucking McDonald’s, because that’s where you fucking belong!

And if any of you thinks I’m a mediocre or materialist, get the fuck out of working at McDonald’s, because that’s where you belong.

There is an important nuance here: the film was dubbed before the law on mat in cinema was created. Otherwise it would have been almost impossible to translate. And so the localizers tried to convey the mood and presentation of the picture as much as possible without using an excessive amount of swearing.

In the culture of Russian-language cinema, mats are used exclusively for emotional intensity. The character cannot talk on the three-story room all the screen time. And in English cinema, mores are simpler – although it is not very welcome there, it is quite normal for an adult audience.

There are no swear words in the dub of The Wolf of Wall Street. All “fuck” were replaced with “fuck”, “fuck”, “damn” and other rude, but not obscene expressions. Many of them were simply omitted, conveyed in harsh but censorship vocabulary.

The result is decent. The emotional intensity of the film survived, but at the same time remained within the framework of cultural perception.

Full stuffing: checkmate for checkmate

And the third extreme is the translation of all English obscene expressions by local curses. In studio translations that have appeared on the big screen, there are none at all. But there are amateur ones – and among them there are real diamonds.

Take Goblin’s Snatch movie, for example. He became much more famous and more popular than his “official” version. Many people watched this particular version, and not the localized one.

Here is a cut of the most pearl barley pearls from the translation:

The official translation cannot be called bad – quite the contrary. He, too, had enough strong expressions and even curses. But it was the translation from the Goblin that conveyed the trashy and mood of the picture as accurately as possible.

All these “I hate, fuck, gypsy” and “Boris the Razor or Boris Fuck you” – have long been turned into legendary quotes. The official translation is also good, but still loses in terms of color and fullness.

Unfortunately, only amateur and non-commercial voiceovers are released today with a full translation of the curses. But the quality of translation and voiceover is often not very good – the lack of experience of localizers and budgets affects. And there is no need to expect significant changes in this field.

In fact, you can translate strongly abusive films without swearing. The richness of the Russian language allows you to convey the emotional intensity and characters of the heroes without swearing.

The only question is in the qualifications of localizers and the time that can be spent on translation and voice acting.

Yes, there are nuances. Due to the lack of a single list of prohibited swear words, rude, but not obscene expressions fall into the gray zone. Localizers are simply wary of using them. And here the quality of the translation can suffer greatly. Without the same figurative “fuck”, “devil” and others like them, it is difficult to believe that some criminals of “Pulp Fiction” speak more cultured than Pushkin.

Movies like The Big Jackpot cannot be imagined without swearing. Because it is the mats that provide half of the flavor the director intended – they are a storytelling tool.

And in order not to depend on the quality of localizations, we recommend watching films in the original. Sign up for a free trial online lesson with a teacher and improve your English to understand cinematic speech without hesitation and gaps.

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