When Translations go wrong

“Unsatisfactory” is the word that best describes the contemporary debate over globalization. There seems to be a consensus that globalization – whether economic, political, cultural, or environmental – is defined by increasing levels of interdependence over vast distances. And language barriers of different countries widen this gap even further.

Many companies made attempts to bridge this gap of language through translations which turned out to be funny. Let’s have a look:

  • English Translations made by Japanese firm that were added to labels to increase prestige for their products being sold in China.

Product English Translation

Equivalent to Japanese Spam–> Liver Putty

Toilet Paper–> My Fanny Brand

Ready to Eat Pancakes–>Strawberry Crap Dessert

Antifreeze Spray–> Hot Piss Brand

Pediatrician’s Slogan–>Specialist in Deceased                                                                                                                    Children

  • Frank Perdue’s chicken slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken” was translated into Spanish as “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate.”
  • When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to have read, “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” The company thought that the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant!”
  • When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its “Fly in Leather” campaign literally, which meant “Fly Naked” (vuela en cuero) in Spanish!
  • These are the nominees for the Chevy Nova Award. This is given out in honor of  GM’s fiasco in trying to market this car in Central and S. America. “No va” means, of course, in Spanish, “it doesn’t go.”
  • The Dairy Association’s huge success with the campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention that the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?”
  • Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose,” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from Diarrhea.”
  • Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
  • Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick”, a curling iron, into Germany, only to find out that “mist” is slang for “manure.” Not too many people had use for the “Manure Stick.”
  • When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the smiling baby on the label. Later they learnt that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what’s inside, since many people can’t read.
  • Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called “Cue”, the name of a notorious porno magazine.
  • An American T-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market, which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa) , the shirts read “ I saw the Potato.” (la papa) .
  • Pepsi’s “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi Brings your Ancestors Back From the Grave”, in Chinese.
  • The Coca Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela”, meaning “Bite the Wax Tadpole” or “Female Horse Stuffed with Wax”, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “Kokou Kole”, translating into “Happiness in the Mouth.”

With rising competition and to survive the competition,  it has become extremely important for companies to cross borders but lack of knowledge and information about other country’s culture, rituals, habits, people, rules and regulation entering a alien land can be dangerous. Such fractured translation is one of the consequences of lack of research and preparation.

Hence proper research and help from local people is needed, though it’s a time consuming process but precaution is always better than the cure.

Happy globalization 🙂


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