One of the tricky things about creating content for a global audience is that you often have to do so in lots of different languages. Many of the large companies we work with here at Acrolinx, for example, translate their content into 30 languages or more. That’s a huge undertaking and one that comes at a high cost. Get a translation wrong, and it can have pretty big implications.
Take the example of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which ran into some serious trouble in China a few years back. The problem was that the company had translated its famous tagline “finger lickin’ good” into the slightly horrifying slogan “we’ll eat your fingers off.” That can’t have done much good for business.
Or there’s the case reported in a recent article on Mental Floss about a translation mix-up in a Mexican hospital back in 1980 that resulted in a $71 million malpractice settlement. At issue was the translation of the word “intoxicado,” which led the doctors of one male patient to believe that he was suffering from food poisoning when in fact the real problem was an intracerebral brain hemorrhage.
Fortunately, not all bad translations have such dire consequences. In fact, sometimes they’re just happy accidents that at worst leave you scratching your head and at best put a smile on your face. We’ve picked some of our favorite, work-friendly examples of translations gone wrong here. Suffice it to say there are many more, but they aren’t all appropriate to share in this post. If you’re curious about some of the others, a quick Google search might leave you in stitches or deeply offended.
We’ll leave that up to you. In the meantime, here are some more tasteful examples of translations that didn’t quite turn out right.
- Doesn’t have quite the same ring as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter,” but it’s definitely far more entertaining.
- We don’t know if this is a translation fail, or just the sweetest thing ever!
- If you ever see this sign, we suggest that you turn around and run away as fast as you can.
- This one’s only funny when you learn that the original Hindi lyric was “you’re one in a million.”
- We’re not really sure what these folks are trying to say, but it’s a great message just the same.
- They were so close with this one, but didn’t quite get it right.
- We love this. 🙂
- If you’ve got to do it, you may as well be careful about it.
- We’re not sure if this is a translation error or just a punctuation problem, but either way it’s just not good.
- Safety definitely is something to be concerned about.
We hope these translation fails gave you a chuckle and reminded you of one of translation’s golden rules. You always need a native speaker to review your translations to make sure that they make sense.