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Translation mistakes: from outright funny to a publicity disaster.

Learning another language requires more than memorizing foreign words or mastering its grammar, we also have to learn how would its native speaker say it. We have to be aware that sometimes using how we say things and translating it to another language may give different meaning to the native speakers. For an example, in Spanish they don't say "I didn't realise" as "No me realicé" because "realizar" means to carry out, to execute. The native Spanish will use the expression "Darse cuenta". The correct expression is "No me di cuenta".

I was studying German when I stumble upon a page that lists translation mistakes that ranges from outright funny to a publicity disaster.


Here are some of my favorite:

  • General Motors are probably still trying to forget the fiasco which ensued when they tried to market the Chevy Nova in Central and South America. "No va" means, of course, in Spanish, "it doesn't go".
  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of "I saw the Pope" (= el Papa), the shirts read "I saw the Potato" (= la papa).
  • Pepsi's "Come alive with the Pepsi generation" translated into "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" in Chinese.
  • In a hotel in Athens: "Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily."
  • In a tailor's shop in Rhodes: "Order your summer suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation."
  • Similarly, from the Soviet Weekly: "There will be a Moscow Exhibition of Arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years."
September 3, 2014



I saw the Potato. It was amazing. Blessed me with French fries, it did. Thank you, Potato.

Hour later: And upon reading what I wrote, I realize that this seems like cannibalism, so this can either be double the laughs, or that much closer to me being put away.


laughs Oh goodness.

Edit: I just read this one: When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what's inside, since many people can't read.


When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa . . .

I've just realized it's not strictly a translation mistake, yet it's a reminder to know the market before advertising.


My uncle knows a priest who, on Ash Wednesday at a Spanish church, mispronounced the words. He did not know why the people were giggling when he put the ashes on their foreheads, until afterwards. Instead of saying "polvo" for "dust," he said "pollo"; translated, he was actually saying something like, "Remember that you are a chicken, and to a chicken you shall return." :D


So the priest isn't Spanish, right?


No, but he is learning it, I think.


I took this photo at work (in Germany). English and German are fine, but the Turkish translation is hilarious and as far as I have heard from colleagues, the Romanian and Russian translations are also totally wrong (can some russian or romanian speakers comment?). The translation they used for "Fire escape" in Turkish is something like "Burn the escape", the second part is so wrong that it cannot be translated, it is an incomplete sentence.

Alt text


In russian it means: "Fire staircase. Attention of security alarm" or "Fire staircase. Pay attention to security alarm"


I love these. I often see a lot myself while travelling.

I also like the signs or shop/restaurant names that mean something in another language, and that make you laugh alone... Last sign I've seen: "Kakadu" in Poland. That (phonetically) means "soft poop" in French.


Hah, in Polish it's just a name of a bird (cockatoo). But it reminded me of a German brand of lightbulbs – Osram, which is quite popular in Poland, but in Polish it literally means "I will shit on [something]"...


The Coca-Cola name in China was first read in China as "Kekoukela", meaning "Bite the wax tadpole" or "Female horse stuffed with wax", depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent "kokou kole", translating into "Happiness in the mouth".

I laughed at that one, even though it's not true!

And this one:

When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read: "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". The company thought that the word "embarazar" (= to impregnate) meant "to embarrass", so the ad read: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant".

When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly in leather" campaign literally, which meant "Fly naked" (vuela en cuero) in Spanish.

In a Belgrade hotel elevator: "To move the cabin, push button for wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each one should press a number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by national order."

In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from the Russian Orthodox monastery: "You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday."


I with I could find the sign in a Finnish hospital, in which all the different parts of the hospital had their correct names in Finnish on the left side of the sign, and all the names in Swedish on the right side just said "same in Swedish". Although this was more of a lack of translation error.


Mazda had a two seater sports car that was popular throughout Europe called the "MR2". But in French it is "M R Deux", which when said quickly means something quite different.

  • 274

sounds like merde (shit)


I don't think I'm the only Swede who will never forget the Honda Fitta. They had to rename it Honda Fit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Fit

I hope I'm not breaking site policy by posting this word, lol.


As long as it isn't in English. But lol!


I just though of something that has always made me laugh: The škoda brand. In polish, "szkoda" means "what a shame".


I'll never get over Ford Kuga. I'd love to know how Ford came up with that one. "Kuga" literally means "plague" in Croatian. "Hey guys, check out my new Black Death! You wanna go for a ride?" :D


I don't think some of them were actually disasters, they seem like a publicity stunt for me.


Last time I was in Kyoto, near Kiyomizudera, I saw one of those "you are here" type maps you get in tourist areas on the street. It did indeed have the equivalent of "you are here" written in Japanese, but the English said "are you here" which I found charmingly existential.


Pepsi story is an urban myth. No one has ever given any proof of the existence of that ad in Chinese.


Interesting article on snopes.com regarding the mistranslation.


Thanks! so it is indeed an urban myth then.


One of the prize ones in English: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux." facepalm Idioms suck. : / Heh. Which reminds me of a wonderful (not translated) ad for Ritter Sport bars I believe: "Für Beißer, nicht für Lutscher"

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