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Foreign correspondents, and their editors, have long wrestled with translations of newsworthy words from one language to another — both those quotable quotes from colorful personalities, and the jargony langue de bois of international bureaucrats and businessmen.


We like to think of ourselves at Worldcrunch as experts in the field, and watched with some amusement as our colleagues around the English-speaking world handled the latest doozy from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Responding to U.S. criticism about his heavy-handed crackdown on the drug trade, the 71-year-old leader switched from English to his native Tagalog language to call President Obama "Putang ina" and said he would swear at him in person at an upcoming meeting. Most of the press translated the slur as "son of a bitch," though others went for the more literal "son of a whore." Either way, it led to the swift cancellation of a scheduled Duterte-Obama encounter, and recalled similar jibes that the new Filipino President has aimed at the Pope and head of the United Nations in recent months.


But even more disturbing are the consequences of Duterte's language on the streets of the Philippines, a troubled country of more than 100 million. Speaking to television reporters in June, shortly after his election victory, he sent this message to his citizens, should they witness drug activity: "Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun ... you have my support," he said. "Shoot him the drug dealer and I'll give you a medal." In the months since, more than a thousand extrajudicial killings have been recorded, with scant prosecution of the would-be vigilantes.


Soon after Obama cancelled his bilateral meeting with Duterte, the Philippines government put out a statement in English about the comments, expressing "regret that it came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president." Yes, in Paris that is called langue de bois — literally "wooden language." Obama's plain-speaking vice president would call it malarkey.

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Geopolitics

NATO Entry For Sweden And Finland? Erdogan May Not Be Bluffing

When the two Nordic countries confirmed their intention to join NATO this week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated his plans to block the application. Accusing Sweden and Finland of' "harboring" some of his worst enemies may not allow room for him to climb down.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared opposition to Finland and Sweden entering NATO

Meike Eijsberg

-Analysis-

LONDON — When Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared his opposition to Finland and Sweden entering NATO, it took most of the West's top diplomatic experts by surprise — with the focus squarely on how Russia would react to having two new NATO members in the neighborhood. (So far, that's been a surprise too)

But now Western oversight on Turkey's stance has morphed into a belief in some quarters that Erdogan is just bluffing, trying to get concessions from the negotiations over such a key geopolitical issue.

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To be clear, any prospective NATO member requires the consent of all 30 member states and their parliaments. So Erdogan does indeed have a card to play, which is amplified by the sense of urgency: NATO, Sweden and Finland are keen to complete the accession process with the war in Ukraine raging and the prospect of strengthening the military alliance's position around the Baltic Sea.

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