During the interesting and engaging discussions on my post Bilingual Readers: Do You Prefer to Read in English or in Your Mother Tongue?, I got ‘chatting’ with many smart, multilingual professional translators on LinkedIn including Phyllis Eisenstadt. On learning that we both collect funny translations, she kindly sent me the following texts, which I want to share with my worldwide readers.
These are nominees for the Chevy Nova Award. This is given out in honor of the GM’s fiasco in trying to market the car in Central and South America. “No va” means, of course, in Spanish, “It doesn’t go.”
1. 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 the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?”
2. Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from Diarrhea.”
3. Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer, Electrolux, used the following in an American campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
4. 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.”
5. 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 learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the labels of what’s inside, since many people can’t read.
6. Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno magazine.
7. An American T-shirt maker in Miami painted 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).
8. Pepsi’s “Come Alive with the Pepsi Generation” translated into “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave” in Chinese.
9. The Coca Cola name in China was first read as “Kekoukela,” meaning “Bite the wax tadpole” or “Female horse stuffed with wax,” depending upon the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent “kokou kole,” translating into “happiness in the mouth.”
10. 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.”
11. 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.”
12. 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.
Perhaps the funniest of all is a true story. My son has a Chinese friend whom he once had hosted in New York City. A few years later, this friend asked if my son would host a young female Chinese student, and said he would have her send him an introductory email. Evidently, she was using a dictionary when, in the closing paragraph, she wrote, “I would like to become intimate with you.” Obviously, she meant “good friends.” At any rate, my son replied, saying that she would be very welcome here, and he also (gently and tactfully) mentioned the perils of the word “intimate.” Unfortunately, the poor mortified girl never wrote back….
I hope you have enjoyed some of the translations above. Some of you have probably read my previous posts: How Good Are Your Translations? Hilarious Signs Around the World, and Have a Hilarious Holiday in Beijing Which You’ll Never Forget. As you know, China is hotbed for mistranslations hence I have selected more bilingual Chinese and English signs for this post, some of which are kindly pointed out to me by one of my Facebook friend Craig Reynolds.
Thank you, Phyllis and Craig!