How to translate “damp rag” in 23 languages?

5 comments Written on February 26th, 2010 by
Categories: Belgium, UK
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On Wednesday 24 February, Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, compared Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, to a damp rag. He also said the former Belgian prime minister was a “low-grade bank clerk” and that he came from a “non-country”.

Now I could talk about how insulting this is to Belgium – a great country well known for its delicious chocolate, tasty beer and rich culture. Or mention that the whole affair was arguably just one big publicity stunt by Farage to raise his public profile. But what I really want to talk about is how the “damp rag” remark apparently posed quite a problem for the interpreters present at the meeting!

While it’s true that verbal abuse is a common feature of British politics, it’s actually very rare in the EU chamber, where debate is muted partly due to a pro-European consensus but also because it is conducted in 23 languages through interpreters and headphones.

Apparently when Farage made his quip, some of the linguists were stumped as to what to say, with many of them hesitating before thinking of an appropriate solution. Meanwhile, all the non-English speakers had to sit and wait patiently for the barrage of insults to be translated! Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know what they came up with?!

Amy from London, UK

Source | BBCReuters

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5 comments “How to translate “damp rag” in 23 languages?”

Apparently M. van Rompuy has in French, German and Spanish “le charisme d’une serpillière humide”, “den Charme eines nassen Lappens” and “el carisma de un trapo húmedo” respectively. I think Farage actually did quite well to ensure that his insults were translatable, that’s good Euro-skills.

But what I find most amusing about this rant is the way he prefaced it with “I don’t want to be rude”. I would love to hear what he would have said if he did mean to be rude.

If the interpreters had difficulties translating “wet rag”, I wonder what they will have made of this inspiring speech Günther Oettinger held in Brussels three weeks ago. By the way, the guy was Prime Minister of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and is now our EU Commissioner for Energy. Makes you proud to be German, doesn’t it?

For those of you who tend to experience respiratory problems when laughing I recommend keeping the cursor on the kill button while watching.

Part 1:

Part 2:

PS: If anyone can give me a perfect English transcript of his speech just from listening I will buy you a six-pack.


So even this silly performance has quite an impressive bright side: the English vocabulary of millions of people has grown!

I’m afraid the politician with the best european skill is Berlusconi. When he wants to insult someone he does it straight in his opponent’s language… what about the “kapò” to the german commissioner?

I believe this web site holds some rattling excellent information for everyone :D. “The ground that a good man treads is hallowed.” by Johann von Goethe.

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