As we hurtle towards the New Year, let’s take a moment to revisit one of our favorite topics: funny translations. Now, translation can be challenging. There are many stories of marketing campaigns gone awry because of poor translation or localization, the most famous of which is the story of the Chevy Nova’s botched launch in Spanish. Although this story has been debunked, it is believable because it fits into a larger pattern of mistranslation that includes advertising, signage, and even tattoos. In 2008, The Coca-Cola Company felt the need to publish the true story behind the oft-repeated claim that their brand name was originally translated into Chinese as “bite the wax tadpole.” Nevertheless, articles continue to cite this story about Coca-Cola’s entry into the Chinese market because translation errors are hilarious, and corporate blunders are deliciously so. Here are some of the best mistranslations of 2016.
Engrish.com continues to do fantastic work collecting some of the best crowd sourced translation errors online, and their archive stretches all the way back to 1996! Some of our recent favorites include “fire distinguisher,” posted on December 6th, and “stain alive,” posted on November 26th. Hanzi Smatter has been documenting the misuse of Chinese characters in the west for over a decade, with a particular focus on nonsensical tattoos. In 2006 they tracked down the source of many awful “Chinese” tattoos: a gibberish font that simply replaces the Latin alphabet with Chinese characters or character fragments. People still send in photos of tragic tattooing mishaps, though.
2016 was a good year for corporate translation blunders, too. Nike famously released a pair of special edition shoes for Chinese New Year that were embroidered with the characters 發 (“fa,” a traditional character which can mean prosperity) and 福 (“fu,” or luck). Together, however, 發福 means to get fat or put on weight. Although it’s seen as a compliment in Chinese culture, it’s probably far from the message Nike meant to send. A glitch in Google Translate’s machine learning led to “Russia” being rendered as “Mordor” (where the Shadows lie!) when translating from Ukrainian into Russian. And in politics, Donald Trump supporters at the Republican National Convention this summer held up signs that read “Hispanics para Trump,” where the only correctly translated word was “Trump.”
Obviously, as translation and localization specialists, we at CSOFT care deeply about how we use words and what our words say about us. But this isn’t the season for sober introspection – it’s a time for family, fun, and a bit of a laugh. Happy holidays from all of the members of the CSOFT family, and be careful not to eat too much curry!