Multilingual closets: ‘Coming out’ around the world

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I was reading a Spanish article a few days ago about how a model had recently revealed his sexual orientation. Of course, I saw something linguistically interesting and went hunting through the Interwebs…

The article I stumbled on mentioned that he had “salido del armario,” or “come out of the closet,” to use the English equivalent. But what peaked my interest was the fact that this is pretty much a word-for-word translation. This got me thinking… is this some sort of cross-cultural closet we’re talking about, or is something else occurring? How does this metaphor translate around the world?

So I did a bit of hunting around and found the following translations from these languages (some even accompanied by some truly awful rough pronunciations, you lucky people, you). As per usual, I strongly encourage and request you to correct me if I’ve slipped up, because even though these were available online, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re used in everyday communication (or in other words, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s true). Also, if a language isn’t listed here and you happen to know the particular expression for ‘making your sexual orientation publicly known,’ then please leave a comment below and I’ll update the post accordingly.

Coming out around the world (in no particular order)

English – “to come out of the closet”

Spanish – “salir del armario” (“to exit from the closet”)

Japanese – “カミングアウト” (“coming out,” roughly pronounced ‘kaminguauto’).

Welsh – “dod allan” (“coming out”)

Dutch – “uit de kast komen” (“coming out of the closet”)

Turkish – “dolaptan çıkmak” (“get out of the closet”)

Finnish – “kaapista ulos tuleminen” (“closet out coming”)

Polish – “wyjść z szafy” (“exit from wardrobe”)

Italian – “uscire allo scoperto” (“go out uncovered”)* or “fare coming out” (“to do coming out”)

Swedish – “komma ut ur garderoben” (“come out from the closet”)

Arabic – “الطلوع للخارج” (“rise out,” roughly pronounced ‘al-tulu lilkharij’ (yes I know that’s awful!))

Vietnamese – “Công khai thiên hướng tình dục” (“public sexual orientation”)

Chinese – “柜” (simplified) / “出櫃” (traditional) (“exit cabinet,” roughly pronounced ‘chū guì’)

Russian – “Ка́минг-а́ут” (roughly pronounced ‘coming out’)

Korean – “커밍아웃” (also roughly pronounced ‘coming out’)

Norwegian – “komme ut av skapet” (“come out of the closet”)

French – “sortir du placard” (“to leave the closet”) and “faire son coming-out” (“to do one’s coming-out”)

A couple of comments

For the most part, it looks like many languages adopt the metaphorical stance, although whether or not the literal meaning also translates (i.e. to exit from a piece of furniture that contains clothes) is unknown… to me, at least! Nonetheless, there are several sources online that explain the background to the metaphor. For instance, in Japanese, Wikipedia states:

もともとは「(引きこもっている)クローゼットの中から出る(カミング・アウトする)」という意味のアメリカの隠語から来ている。

Originally from the American slang “coming out of the closet” (from the sense of being trapped or stuck)

This Dutch article from Quest also offers some insights, including the relationship between “coming out” and “coming of age” in the early 20th century, the idea of escaping from oppression, and also linking the phrase “skeleton in the closet” to suggest the notion of something that has been around for a while, but which has only now come to light. These ideas are also backed up by this English post on Quora.

Arabic and Vietnamese appear to be stand-outs, however. For Arabic, “الطلوع” has the sense of ‘dawn’ or ‘rise,’ and “للخارج” often means ‘abroad’ but can also mean ‘out.’No closets to be found here, but it certainly sounds a lot more poetic! Similarly, Vietnamese provides no sense of closets, but seems more to the point, rather than dealing with metaphor.

While browsing around, I also noticed that many languages also have a term for the concept of “being outed,” as in, having your sexual orientation announced without your consent or wish to do so. Again, many use or borrow the terms “outed” or “outing,” but there may also be variations on the theme, as seen in Arabic and Vietnamese. I think it would be fascinating to explore this further =]

* It has been mentioned that this translation may be more suited to getting ‘caught out,’ such as when a company is discovered to have not been paying enough tax.

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