Foreign press struggles to make Pork Pie Plot header make sense abroad

For the second time this month the international press is having fun trying to get a translation in the world of politics right, or, in this case, get it into proper context.

A couple of weeks ago, MultiLingual shared an article about the French President Macron’s use of the French verb “emmerder.” This time around, it’s the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson who’s in trouble and throwing international translators for a bit of a loop. 

Accused of lying, Johnson got into hot water following the public backlash over “Partygate,” the scandal that outed a series of summer garden parties and Christmas celebrations at his Downing Street office at a time the rest of the country was under strict COVID-19 lockdowns.

Rumors are flying that, behind the scenes, a group of the Prime Minister’s own Tory party MPs have been meeting to coordinate letters of no confidence to try to unseat him. Party rules stipulate that, should he receive 54, the committee can call a vote of no confidence. Over the last two weeks, letters have trickled into the office of Sir Graham Brady, chair of the so-called 1922 Committee in charge of the whole procedure.

The British press dubbed the effort as the “Pork Pie Plot” because one of the presumed rebels represents the constituency containing Melton Mowbray – the Leicester town famous for baking the savory dish. 

So how do you best capture a title that requires in-country background information that probably is not going to be common knowledge anywhere abroad. It turns out that, by and large, the foreign press just interpreted the one-liner literally.

The German press was first to struggle a bit as Die WELT used the phrase: “’His time is up’ – Johnson is threatened by “Schweinefleisch-Pasteten-Putsch.”

In a similar vein, The Belgian, Nieuwsblad, translated “het verhaal van het Varkenspasteiverraad,” or “the story of the Pork Pie betrayal.”

In the neighboring EU countries, headlines started to provide a little bit more background. France24 wrote the somewhat awkward: “le ‘complot du pork pie,’ cette tourte au porc qui est une spécialité de la circonscription de l’une de ces élus,” which can be back-translated into English as “this pork pie, which is a specialty of the constituency of one of these elected officials.”

In Italy, La Stampa also opted for a title with a bit more background info: “‘Torta di maiale:’ il complotto dei conservatori per fare dimettere Boris Johnson” — in English, “‘Pork Pie:’ the conservative plot to unseat Boris Johnson.”

El Mundo, over in Spain, opted for, “La trama del pastel de cerdo contra Boris Johnon” — literally, “The pig pie plot against Boris Johnson.”

As always, when it comes to conveying a message, context is crucial. How much clarification should a title provide? Perhaps the short out-of-context “Pork Pie Plot” literal translation actually helps capture readers with intrigue.

Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.


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