Wordsmith Translation: Just for a Laugh

Just for a Laugh

    We’ve all come across atrocious and laughable cases of mistranslation in the past and so this is a little collection of our favourites… just for a laugh.

    Don’t let this happen to you!

    • The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, “ko-kou-ko-le”, which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth”.
    • In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
    • Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”
    • When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go.” After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
    • Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found out that pinto was Brazilian slang for “tiny male genitals.”
    • When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass. Instead the ads said “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”
    • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market promoting the Pope’s visit. Instead of the desired “I Saw the Pope” in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed “I Saw the Potato.”
    • Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porn magazine.
    • Japan’s second largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of the Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.
    • Neglecting Spanish typographical conventions, a bilingual banner in the US celebrated 100 anos of municipal history. Año is year, ano is anus.

    Some priceless translation gems:

    • Tehao rechargeable shaver RCCW-320: Smuggle the razor blade (reference value around 400 g) on your muscle vertically. Then drag your skin and shave back slowly.
    • Taken from a Japanese car rental brochure: When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigour.
    • Cocktail lounge, Norway: Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.
    • Airline ticket office, Copenhagen: We take your bags and send them in all directions.
    • Hotel, Vienna: In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter.
    • At a Budapest zoo: Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.
    • Hotel lobby, Bucharest: The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.
    • Doctor's office, Rome: Specialist in women and other diseases.
    • A laundry in Rome: Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.
    • In an Italian cemetery: Persons are prohibited from picking flowers from any but their own graves.
    • Hotel brochure, Italy: This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.
    • On the menu of a Swiss restaurant: Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.
    • A sign posted in Germany's Black Forest: It is strictly forbidden on our Black Forest Camping Site that people of different sex, for instance, men and women, live together in one tent unless they are married with each other for this purpose.
    • A sign seen on an automatic restroom hand dryer in Germany: Do not activate with wet hands.
    • Hotel elevator, Paris: Please leave your values at the front desk.
    • Hotel, Yugoslavia: The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
    • In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery: You are welcome to visit the cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday.
    • Hotel catering to skiers, Austria: Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.
    • Taken from a menu, Poland: Salad a firm's own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten in the country people's fashion.
    • From the "Soviet Weekly": Here will be a Moscow exhibition of arts by 15,000 Soviet Republic painters and sculptors. These were executed over the past two years.
    • On the door of a Moscow hotel room: If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.
    • Tourist agency, Czech Republic: Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.
    • Sign over the information booth in a Beijing railroad station: QUESTION AUTHORITY
    • Included with the package of complimentary wares in a Chinese hotel was a pair of workout shorts marked: Uncomplimentary pants.
    • The translation of the Ethnic Minorities Park in Beijing for a long time was Racist Park.
    • Supermarket, Hong Kong: For your convenience, we recommend courteous, efficient self-service.
    • An advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist: Teeth extracted by the latest methodists.
    • Translated from Japanese to English and included in the instructions for a soap bubble gun: While solution is not toxic it will not make child edible.
    • Tokyo hotel's rules and regulations: Guests are requested not to smoke or do other disgusting behaviours in bed.
    • Hotel, Japan: You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.
    • Hotel room notice, Chiang-Mai, Thailand: Please do not bring solicitors into your room.
    • Hotel, Acapulco, Mexico: The manager has personally passed all the water served here.

    The following are English subtitles from films made in Hong Kong:

    • “Take my advice or I’ll spank you without pants!”
    • “Fatty, you with your thick face have hurt my instep.”
    • “You always use violence. I should’ve ordered glutinous rice chicken.”
    • “You daring lousy guy!”
    • “Beat him out of recognisable shape!”
    • “I got knife scars more than the number of your leg’s hair!”
    • “Beware! Your bones are going to be disconnected!”
    • “Same old rules: no eyes, no groin.”

    And finally, a small American clothing company that sells their product in France included the following on their clothing care label:

    • Wash with warm water
    • Use mild soap
    • Dry flat
    • Do not bleach
    • Do not machine dry
    • Do not iron
    • We are sorry that our president is an idiot.
    • We did not vote for him.