Translation firm Lingo24 has published a list of business translation mistakes which demonstrate the pitfalls of doing a translation job badly. It makes for very amusing reading.
10: Costly transplant
Bad translations don’t just mean loss of earnings, but can result in discomfort and pain for customers and patients. German doctors neglected to ‘cement’ artificial knee joints in 47 patients in a Berlin hospital because the product manual mistranslated instruction to cement the joints into zementfrei, meaning not requiring cement. Costly remedial procedures followed as did large claims for compensation.
Keeping with the health theme, in 2004 in Epinal, France, men suffering from prostate cancer received massive overdoses of radiation treatment. As a result, four patients died. Dozens of other patients were also affected. The software for establishing the correct dosage was in English, so the hospital tried to translate it themselves. Big mistake.
8. Killing Russians, by accident
Japanese gamers playing “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” were shot down by a translation error. In the American version, a comment by one leading character “Remember, no Russian,” was translated as “Kill ’em; they’re Russians, ” which left Japanese players killing Russians rather than attempting to talk to them.
7. Sex doesn’t sell
Translation isn’t just about getting the words right, it’s also about cultural knowledge and sensitivity, which Colgate failed to understand when it introduced a new toothpaste in France called Cue, which was the same name a well-known porn magazine.
6. Infertile pens
Parker pens are famous for not leaking in your pocket and that’s just what the company told its new Mexican customers in a new ad campaign. Except what should have read ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ became ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.’ The clearly topnotch translators mistook the Spanish word ‘embarazar’ (to impregnate) for embarrass. That left them with egg on their face!
5. Flying in the buff
American Airlines Mexican first class passengers thought they were getting something more exciting that just a comfy seat when they read the airline’s new ad. The airline was trying to promote its ‘Fly in Leather’ slogan to its wealthier consumers. Instead it wondered whether they’d be interested ‘Flying Naked’ (vuela en cuero) when their Spanish translator got a bit hot under the collar on the job.
4. Suck it and see
Maybe a company chooses the right words and also gets them in the right order, but, well, just doesn’t realize they’ve created a well known piece of slang… Swedish vacuum maker Electrolux said the right thing, but it came out all wrong in its new ad campaign for American customers. It told them: ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.’
3. Hair dung
Women all over the world take pride in their appearance and they’ll do anything to avoid having a bad hair day. So it’s no wonder they avoided Clairol’s new curling iron that the company had named ‘Mist Stick’. It didn’t realize that ‘mist’ in German is slang for manure. Would you use a ‘manure stick’ to curl your hair?
2. Ouija drink
Pepsi has made a number of translation blunders in its time but nothing competes with the products launch into the Chinese market. They translated ‘Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation into ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave’ in Chinese. Needless to say they couldn’t provide any evidence for this claim.
1. Stool loosening
Having a nice cold beer on a summer’s day is the perfect way to unwind, but not if you’re drinking Coors beer in Spain. The beer company’s catchphrase ‘Turn it Loose’ became ‘Suffer from Diarrhea’.
"This list is a wake up call to British businesses attempting to translate their marketing materials and websites using internet translation machines, or translators who clearly aren’t up to the job," said Lingo24 MD Christian Arno.
"Our top 10 list might appear a humorous distraction, but it shows how even the top firms make mistakes. Translating and localizing a business website requires expert knowledge and cultural awareness to avoid turning marketing into yet another funny translation story."