Famously Bad Translation Errors

Words are funny things. They can mean so many different things, even in a single language. When you add language translation into the mix, things can get a little dicey. Mistakes can happen and the message behind the words can get altered, occasionally with hilarious results.

A mistranslated phrase can be a serious embarrassment for a company attempting to operate globally. Cultures and idioms are so different from one place to another. It can become very difficult to keep your message clear, understandable, and consistent amidst a multitude of languages, cultures, and customs. Here are a few of the most giggle-inspiring phrases that got mangled in translation.

The Chevy Nova

General Motors may have intended to convey a sense of the future for its vehicle when they chose the space-age name “Nova.” However, in Spanish-speaking countries, this car didn’t sell very well. “No và” means “It doesn’t go” in Spanish. The vehicle was later rechristened as “the Caribe.”

Pepsi Cola

The Chinese language has proven itself to be quite a challenge for global companies when it comes to translation. Pepsi found this out the hard way when their slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” was translated into Chinese. It ended up promising a little more than the company could deliver as it read “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave.”

Coca Cola

Not to be outdone by its competition, Coke has also had challenges in translation. The name Coca Cola was originally translated into the somewhat phonetically similar word “Kekoukela.” This roughly translated into either “female horse stuffed with wax” or “bite the wax tadpole,” depending on the dialect. Unsatisfied with either option, Coke researched over 40,000 Chinese characters and their phonetic sounds until they found the moniker “kokoukole,” which means “happiness in the mouth.”

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