Netflix's Squid Game May Be a Whole Different Show (If You're Relying on Subtitles)


There's a reason that the term "lost in translation" exists, but usually it isn't so on the nose in its meaning. As the Netflix series Squid Game continues to pick up popularity on the streaming service, a relatively big issue has come up: the Korean-to-English translation may not be as true to the story as you'd hope. As most English speakers aren't fluent in Korean, the K-drama features English subtitles (or English-dubbing for those who prefer), but those are most effective when, you know... they're correct. At least one viewer noticed some inconsistencies worth pointing out.

The issue first gained traction on September 30, when New York-based comedian Youngmi Mayer tweeted out that the context of the translation was largely incorrect. She said, in part, "I watched Squid Game with English subtitles, and if you don’t understand Korean you didn’t really watch the same show. Translation was so bad. The dialogue was written so well and zero of it was preserved." The tweet, at the time of publication, has nearly 24,000 retweets.

Mayer then said she would head over to TikTok to do a more involved illustration of how Netflix's translators missed the mark when it came to getting the context of the series down. She focuses specifically on the character of Mi-nyeo, whose brash behavior and irreverence toward the guards in Squid Game comes off as, honestly, a bit bonkers considering that if you don't win this game, you die. But with additional context from Mayer, Mi-nyeo's character makes a lot more sense.


As explained by Mayer, certain pieces of dialogue are slightly mistranslated, which makes a huge difference when meaning is considered. In one clip, the character says (as told via subtitle), "I'm not a genius, but I still got it work out. Huh." Translation is close-ish, but upon review from Mayer, she says the line is more like, "I am very smart. I just never got a chance to study," which, as Mayer explains, is a huge trope in Korean media. It's not just a mistranslation; it's a lack of understanding of Korean pop culture.

Netflix has not released a statement on the mistranslations, but as Mayer explains it, the misunderstood translations happen frequently enough that if you don't speak Korean, you're watching a slightly different series from start to finish. The sad part of that is that Netflix potentially missed an opportunity to take one of its most-viewed properties and really introduce audiences to some staple aspects of Korean film. The silver lining is that if you really apply yourself and learn Korean over the next year or so, you'll have a whole new show to watch and also be ready for the inevitable Season Two (God help us).

This story originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Jonathan Evans
Jonathan Evans is the style director of Esquire, covering all things fashion, grooming, accessories, and, of course, sneakers. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son. You can follow him at @MrJonathanEvans on Twitter and Instagram.
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