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I’m making subtitles for a Norwegian TV show, and there is a very common slang word in Norwegian called ass. (Yeah, never mind the English meaning of that, it’s not pronounced the same.) The etymology of the word is actually that it’s a shortened form of the word altså (which means something like "therefore", "thus", or "verily", the latter sense being where the slang meaning derives from.)

Example:

Jeg liker det  ikke, ass.
I   like  that not   ????

Which means, “I don’t like it.” The purpose of the word ass is hard to explain, but it sort of adds some sincerity to the sentence. Without it, the sentence sounds kind of naked. A bit like English indeed, but indeed doesn’t work for a negative statement like this, and it certainly doesn’t work for informal language.

The word is extremely common in spoken Norwegian, especially among young people.

Some more examples:

Jeg vet ikke, ass. (I don’t know.)

Jeg vet det, ass. (I know.)

Du må prøve det, ass. (You have to try it.)

At the moment, I’m using man a lot, as in “You have to try it, man.” but I think some variation would be good. I realize that I could just use nothing, since the word carries only some meaning and is not that crucial, but I still feel it would be better to use something, to capture the feeling of the sentence.

So I know about man or even the word dude. I realize that you could use these words even when talking to a girl, but it doesn’t seem that perfect. And are these words natural when the speaker herself is a girl? Also, how about when talking to a group of people?

The word must be something a 17-year old might say to his or her buddy while hanging out. It doesn’t have to be slang, but it does have to sound natural in a subtitle where young people are talking informally to each other.

Details regarding Norwegian ass

It’s an enhancer, but not a very strong one. It’s more like a laid-back word like dude. You’re not that passionate about what you’re saying, but you do mean in. Ass at the end means that you mean what you’re saying. A bit like really. But it’s also a laidback word, you can certainly say it while speaking in a lazy or careless tone. Also, it’s used very frequently in informal Norwegian, so it’s a bit watered down. The word it derives from, altså (thus, therefore, verily), could be used in the same way, but hardly any young people do so in informal contexts, and it sounds old-fashioned.

I found the definition of altså in a Norwegian dictionary:

Forsterkende:

  • Det er helt sant, altså!
  • Han er veldig kjekk, altså!

Which means:

Reinforcing:

  • It’s completely true, verily!
  • He is very handsome, verily!

I guess I should just use verily in the subtitles. That sounds, like, so casual, for real.

Please note that altså is perhaps not as old-fashioned in Norwegian as verily is in English. (I believe verily is extremely old-fashioned and perhaps even pompous in English?) However, altså is still somewhat old-fashioned.

To break down the word altså even more, its etymology is alt (all, everything) + (so).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Nov 7 '16 at 15:37
  • Near the end of the question, you use "for real". That is a slang expression commonly tacked on to do what you describe. "He's super intelligent. For real." – fixer1234 Mar 5 '17 at 4:58
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When subtitling, this word is God's gift to you!

Here's your predicament as I see it: you are bound to render speech, presumably casual dialogue, in subtitles. A word that seems to be a cross between an epistemic intensifier and a filler keeps being repeated. It has no obvious counterpart in the target language, but a lot of good renderings exist. The main point appears to be to sound colloquial.

My advice: Do not try to translate the word, especially not by making a list of possible English renderings and alternating between them. Just translate the meaning. If the meaning and style (and not the original wording in Norwegian) call for "man" or "you see", etc., then by all means put it in (even if the source phrase does not contain "ass").

I'm sure you are already doing that, but "ass" keeps bothering you. It would be a serious problem in dubbing (as your audience would be lip-reading). With subtitles, you want to be minimalistic; you may need to put less than the original while being truthful to it. So personally I'd be very happy and try to put all the colloquial, buddy-buddy feel of the conversation into the wording of the phrase itself.

So

"Jeg vet ikke, ass."
No idea.
or (if you must)
Really, no idea.

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In Canadian English we tack "eh?" at the end of sentences for a similar effect. It has (as you call it) a lazy or careless tone, and is similar to "don't you know?" in Irish English. For example, "It's windy today, eh?"

In Singapore English they use the word "lah" at the end of sentences for emphasis, but I think most people outside of Singapore and Malaysia will not understand what it means.

  • I like your answer, but "lah" in Singlish is more broadly used to indicate that the person who speaks English is not using standard English, for example, "Me, no English, lah" means "I don't speak English very well". Also, (I believe) it came from the Chinese particle "le" which indicates a completed action like present perfect or past tense in English. I don't think it is only used for emphasis. Its usage could vary and when educated people use it, they want to make a joke using typical Chinese-like Singlish accent. That's what I experienced living in Singapore for 10 years. :-) – user140086 Nov 7 '16 at 9:21
  • @Rathony A regular visitor to Malaysia for 43 years, I know all about lah, and ay-yo. But lah is used in all sorts of sentences Must get home lah, it's my son's birthday. I saw the whole thing, lah. So it really does constitute an example of the kind of thing the OP is talking about, in my view. – WS2 Nov 7 '16 at 23:30
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Does it have to be American slang? British street slang innit seems to fit well. It means "isn't that so?", or "right?" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5MFpHz1Mj8 Other options, "yeah?" (in place of "right?") examples: "I've been talking about this for a while, yeah?" or "I've been talking about this for a while, innit?"

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    There's nothing particularly modern or 'street' about "innit" except the pronunciation and the fact that only one version of the phrase is used. The standard English phrases vary with context, "isn't it", "don't you", "can't you" and so on. Some other languages have only the one phrase, the German "nicht war" and French "n'est pas" being examples. It seems to me that Indian sub-continent languages have a direct translation of "nicht war" and this is the source of "innit". I also suspect that Welsh has the single phrase as many Welsh people (even Anglophone ones) use "isn' it" in this way. – BoldBen Nov 9 '16 at 0:15
  • I think 'yeah' seems the best answer so far. It's giving affirmation, but can also sort of ask for confirmation (the tone gives that). It's subtle, it's informal, it's very commonly used, it's unobtrusive. – Chalky Nov 9 '16 at 22:36
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I have two possible suggestions.

One would be to use the Jeeves and Wooster (P.G.Wodehouse), upper-middle-class don't you know.

I've seen better football matches on my local park than that charade between Arsenal and Chelsea, don't you know.

It was so kind of you to come, don't you know

Nowadays it would come over as slightly Edwardian i.e. very early 20th century.

Or you could go for the Northern Irish, repetition ending - as in the following examples. (It has a specific name, but I have forgotten what it is.)

She's a fine lass, so she is.

He's a marvellous dentist, so he is.

It was dreadful weather that day, so it was.

He seems to be ill, so he does.

Both Trump and Clinton will each face an uphill task should they win, so they will.

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    "Don't you know" is still a popular mid-Western regionalism. You hear it on "Prairie Home Companion" and the "Fargo" movie and TV series. – Barmar Nov 7 '16 at 18:14
  • @Barmar More the Lake Superior thing than the Midwest in general. I have heard it from Green Bay west to Fargo. And while they do indeed think of themselves as Midwestern they don't consider a lot of places such that others do. ;-) – tchrist Nov 7 '16 at 22:14
  • @tchrist I didn't mean to imply that it's common in the entire Midwest, just that the areas where it's common are in the Midwest. Is there a more specific name for the region I'm thinking of? The Midwest is such a large region, it seems like hardly anything would be true of the entire area, yet we still find it useful to refer to it as an entity. – Barmar Nov 7 '16 at 22:19
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At the moment, I'm using man a lot, as in "You have to try it, man." but I think some variation would be good. I realize that I could just use nothing, since the word carries only some meaning and is not that crucial, but I still feel it would be better to use something, to capture the feeling of the sentence.

(German has some words like this, e.g. doch.)

Hopefully over time, this nostalgic urge to make your English mirror your Norwegian will dissipate. In the meantime, you need some variety, so the people you're talking with won't go totally batty.

Sorry, scrap that last paragraph, I just reread your question and saw that you're writing subtitles, not making conversation in your own everyday life. For the subtitles: you need not translate that filler word every time!

Here are some filler words you can use from time to time:

After all, it's good to be open to new things.

Well, it couldn't hurt to try something new.

It's a pretty good idea to try new things from time to time.

You should totally try this.

Hey, you should definitely try this new game.

Give this new thing a try, eh? (Canadian in origin, but works anywhere)

The new one isn't bad, I think.

The new one isn't bad, you think?

The new one isn't bad, see what I'm saying? / you catch my drift?

I'll try the new ice cream, why not? / what the heck / what the hey / sure / good idea.

I'll try the new one, actually.

And for homework, I want you to listen to people talking, and jot down the filler-extra words they put into their speech. They won't always be at the end of the sentence.

(Scrap that last paragraph too -- sorry!)

Note, furthermore, subtitles should be succinct, so the eye can spend more time on looking at the images, less time on the text.

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The words 'honestly' or 'sincerely' can do same thing. The former is more casual, and the latter more formal.

  • Or "really" ... in the same way as @chalky suggests. So the examples would be -- I really don't like it. I really don't know. You really must try it. – cmcf Nov 9 '16 at 3:19

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