Translation, if done right, is almost unnoticeable. At CSOFT, we strive to bring meaningful communication to anyone, anywhere, in any language. However, when meaning is misdirected, and mistranslation occurs, the resulting message can end up as a quirky clash of cultural differences. Below are ten moments where quality translation and interpretation went awry, and new meanings were unintentionally produced.
1) Multinational home appliance makers Electrolux wanted its newest vacuum cleaner to sell well in the United States. Eager to point out its obvious function, this Scandinavian company produced the delightful rhyme ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’ as their tagline. Unfortunately, for most Americans, if something ‘sucks’ it means it’s actually pretty poor in quality.
2) Stylish hair products brand Clairol wanted to introduce its curling iron ‘Mist Stick’ to the German market. Its enthusiasm for the market fizzed out when it was told that ‘mist’ is slang for ‘manure’.
3) If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what’s the price of a single word? In some cases it’s 71 million US dollars. Willie Ramirez, a Cuban-American baseball star, was tragically made a quadriplegic due to a false cognate: ‘intoxicado’. While similar to ‘intoxicated’ a more direct translation would make the definition closer to ‘poisoned’. Due to this mistranslation, an intracerebral hemorrhage developed. A malpractice settlement resulted in Ramirez being awarded 71 million US dollars.
4) At the height of Street Fighter II’s popularity, a mysterious character named Sheng Long appeared on the scene. Electronic Gaming Monthly issued a statement and description of Sheng Long saying that if SF II was played in one precise manner, this ultimate, mysterious boss would be defeated. No one was ever able to claim first to this title, as Sheng Long was a mistranslation of a hit called ‘rising dragon punch’ and not the name of a character.
5) Schweppes attempted to get the gin and tonic lifestyle started in Italy with a bold campaign for its tonic water to go on the shelves. This campaign quickly went down the drain as horrified customers were treated to the phrase ‘toilet water’ instead.
6) Diplomacy is a tough job, and even tougher when communications go astray. President Carter, during his 1977 trip to Poland, talked about learning the Polish people’s desires for the future. Translator Steven Seymour skewed the phrase, and lasciviously implied that Carter instead had a direct desire for the Polish people.
7) Sometimes quality word placement is misjudged in a physical manner. Tesco rolled out its branded tiramisu dessert with a message to its customers when handling this delicious product. Printed on the bottom of the box were the words ‘Do not turn upside down’, in large capital letters for ease of reading.
8) A t-shirt maker in America capitalized on Pope John Paul II’s visit to America by proudly emblazoning their shirts with ‘I saw the Pope’. Or at least that’s what it thought the tag ‘la Papa’ meant. Sadly for it, the customers were declaring that they saw ‘the potato’.
9) Sometimes even money can’t buy your way out of a mistranslation mess. HSBC hastily funneled USD 10 million into a rebranding campaign when its catchphrase ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated to ‘Do Nothing’, a rather unfitting investment proposal to many of its clients.
10) Valentine’s Day, in its modern form, typically means displaying your affection in the form of gifts, ranging from flowers, to jewelry, to chocolate. In Japan, rumor has it that the now embedded custom of women giving chocolate to men may have come from a translation error of a prominent chocolate company.
These many examples of errors in translation prove that it’s extremely easy to make translation errors as businesses market their products in other languages, even for larger companies. It also highlights how important the localization process is, and how important it is to work with a quality localization company that can guide companies through the transition to different markets. Fortunately at CSOFT, with our expert linguists and years of experience, we excel in helping to establish and define the professionalism of our clients across the world.