4 Famous Errors in Translation

Communication is important, but communication is something that’s conducted by people who often make mistakes. Most of the time mistakes are small, and easily corrected. Sometimes they can take on epic proportions when famous people or events are involved. This can be especially true in the delicate art of translation.

Getting the point across accurately is an important part of business, marketing, and politics.

Getting the point across accurately is an important part of business, marketing, and politics. But often, because of the global nature of the world we live in, a message in one language needs to be translated into another to get that point across. Most of the time, this goes off without a hitch. Sometimes, mistakes are made. Big ones.

Mist is bad

For the English-speaking world, the word “mist” brings up the connotation of something intangible, ethereal, smoky, and mysterious. There’s an exotic, unknown quality to mist, which makes it evocative to English speakers. Unfortunately, in German, “mist” means dung or excrement.

This means that prestigious products like the Rolls Royce Silver Mist or Irish Mist Liqueur have dramatically different interpretations. And it’s one of the reasons why localization has become such an important factor in business today.

It’s Perfectly Legal

An Italian brand of mineral water was doing well enough that the company decided it was time to expand its operations. They figured they would start small and spread their distribution throughout Europe first. The neighboring country of Spain as their first target, and so it was that Traficante made its Spanish debut.

The problem is that traficante in Spanish can mean a drug dealer, so while some sales were probably made based solely on the amusement of the name, this mineral water didn’t do as well as had been hoped on its initial launch.

A Little Embellishment

The famous broadcast journalist Mike Wallace spent many years at the helm of the American news program 60 Minutes. While he was there, he had the opportunity to interview—through an interpreter—the first post-Soviet Russian President, Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Wallace asked Yeltsin if he felt it was true that he was thin skinned when it came to criticism.

Somehow, the interpreter carried the message over to Yeltsin as a question about whether he was thick skinned like a hippopotamus. Yeltsin was confused and not amused, but he did have the presence of mind to suspect that this was an interpreting error, and not lingering hostility between America and the old Soviet Union.

If you’re looking for translations that send the right message, connect with us to learn how our expert translators and project managers ensure you don’t end up on a famous translation errors list.

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