There is no doubt about the importance of a good translation in every industry or scenario. However, even with the best intentions in mind, one is bound to stumble across a lot of funny or even ridiculous translations all around the globe. We’ve compiled some of our favorite examples and divided them in two categories: Public signs and Marketing mistranslations.
Often the use of amateur or machine translation services can produce absurd results. Below are some humorous examples of translation fails, found across the world:
1. A Chinese sign that originally states “Please don’t eat food that you have brought here from outside.” has been translated for tourists as: “Please don’t be edible”, making it sound more like a warning, than a rule.
2. At a hotel in Acapulco, Mexico there is a sign which may permanently drive away all English speakers from drinking the water there, as it reads: “The manager has personally passed all the water served here.”
3. We suppose that the people behind this next sign are genuinely concerned about child safety. Unfortunately, the Arabic contextual meaning is far different from how’s structured in English, so the original and well-meaning sign “Kill your speed not a child” was translated as: “Dead slow children playing”
4. Another Chinese translation to make this list is a sign that is sure to make you giggle. The original sign simply states: “beware of slipping” but the translator, or software used, somehow came up with “Slip and fall down carefully”, at least it’s still considered a warning.
5. We hope this signs’ meaning got lost in translation. We hope that it refers to some kind of work process, but it simply states: “Execution in Progress”.
6. Last but certainly not least, is a translation that we have no context whatsoever, but we felt it belonged here: „For a proper service, please turn on the vacuum cleaner when using the shower. Thanks. “
It is not easy to keep a coherent brand message in different languages and various cultures. Marketing translations can be more difficult than technical. Convince yourself.
1. American Airlines used the slogan “Fly in Leather” to advertise their leather seats, which was translated in Spanish for the Mexican market as: “Fly naked”.
2. When Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market, they did it under the brand name “Bensi,” which means: “rush to die.”
3. The Swedish brand Ikea introduced the “Fartfull workbench”. Although the name was supposed to be a play on the German word for speed, Fährt, the product was received poorly in English speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom.
4. Pepsodent advertised its toothpaste in a particular area in Southeast Asia by focusing on its “whitening” properties. The campaign failed spectacularly, since the local population considers black teeth to be more attractive and actively chews betel nuts to blacken theirs.
5. Hunt-Wesson Foods made headlines, when they introduced their baked beans in French Canada as “Gros Jos”, without realizing it was local slang for “big breasts”. It didn’t affect the sales.
6. The Coca-Cola brand initially read as “Kekoukela” in China, which means “Bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then tried to find a phonetic equivalent, eventually settling on “kokou kole”, which translates as “happiness in the mouth”.
These funny mistranslations may make you smile, but only if they don’t affect your business!
It’s not enough to just translate the words into a new language and call it a day. Sometimes the wording can bring unwanted associations, sound similar to something unintentional, or have an entirely new meaning. Usually, the best solutions are the simplest ones – just ask a local on the prospective translations’ meaning, before launching a multimillion dollar campaign.