Difficult translations in Korean: Freak

When watching an English movie or drama in Korea, sometimes I like to pay attention to the subtitles.  Sometimes I do so to understand (because it’s almost impossible to hear the dialog in some movies without turning the volume way up; I’ve got young daughters sleeping nearby, so I try to keep the volume down), but sometimes it’s interesting to see how they translate certain things.

So I’ll usually notice certain words that get repeated a lot.  Especially the unusual words, and the hard-to-translate ones.  The English word “freak” seems to be one such word.  It really has some quite strong connotations, and I don’t think most languages have a word that is really the same thing.

I’ve run into this word twice in Korean subtitles (자막).  First, watching “The Dark Knight” a few years ago, in which freak is quite a prominent word, being used to describe The Joker, mostly by himself.  It’s quite an important word in the movie, with The Joker almost relishing the self-description.  Anyways, if I remember correctly, it was translated 변종, which translates back into English as variant, mutant.  It’s often used to describe variants of plant species, etc., and also can be used in a very generic way: one example (예문) in endic.naver.com is 야구의 변종, “a variant of baseball”.  Doesn’t really seem as powerful as freak really…

Then this summer I ran into the word again while watching 추리극장: 머덕 미스터리 (Murdoch Mysteries), an excellent Canadian drama that is playing on EBS these days Tuesdays at midnight.  One episode featured a murder in a circus, and as the circus manager describes it, the performers are divided into “freaks” and “normals”.  I think normals was translated as 보통 사람; and freaks was translated as  돌연변이, which translates back as mutant, mutation.  Seems a bit better than  변종, but still not great.

But that’s how it is with certain words.  They have quite specific meaning and connotations, that aren’t there in other languages.  And of course, I’m going partly on what the dictionary says, partly through examples, and partly by instinct, but I’m not a native speaker of Korean, so I’m not authoritative on the issue; perhaps these do create the right connotations for Koreans after all.

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