Bloopers: Company Translations

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Bloopers: Company Translations

Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing corporations. It shouldn't be that hard, yet even the big multi-nationals run into trouble because of language and cultural differences. For example...

From American Demographics Magazine: Here's a look at how shrewd American business people translate their slogans into foreign languages:
When Braniff translated a slogan touting its upholstery, "Fly in leather," it came out in Spanish as "Fly naked."

Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose," into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea."

The Microsoft ad slogan, as translated into Japanese: "If you don't know where you want to go, we'll make sure you get taken." (No wonder Macs are the best selling computer in Japan.)

Chicken-man Frank Perdue's slogan," sounds much more interesting in Spanish. "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused" or"It takes a sexually stimulated man to make a chicken affectionate."

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as something that when pronounced sounded like Coca-Cola: Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the characters used meant "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." When Pepsi started marketing its products in China a few years back, they translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" pretty literally. The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."

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". Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.

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 that "It wont leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I Saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I Saw the Potato."

Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means "big breasts." In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales.

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno mag.

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

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 Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.

In an effort to boost orange juice sales in predominantly continental breakfast eating England, a campaign was devised to extoll the drink's eye-opening, pick-me-up qualities. Hence the slogan, "Orange juice. It gets your pecker up."

When Vicks first introduce its cough drops on the german market, they were chagrined to learn that the german pronunciation of "v" is f - which in german is the gutteral equivalent of "sexual penetration." Not to be outdone, Puffs tissues tried later to introduce its product, only to learn that "Puff" in german is a colloquial term for a whorehouse. The English weren't too fond of the name either, as it's a highly derogatory term for a non-heterosexual.

The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking countries. "No va" means "it doesn't go" in Spanish.

A hair products company, 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 first started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as here in the USA - with the cute baby on the label. Later they found out that in Africa companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside since most people can't read.

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American ad campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

Matsushita Electric is promoting a new Japanese PC targeted at the Internet. Panasonic has developed a complete Japanese Web browser, and to make the system "user-friendly", licensed the cartoon character "Woody Woodpecker" as the "Internet guide." Panasonic eventually planned on a world version of the product. A huge marketing campaign was to have introduced the product in Japan last week. The day before the ads were to be released, Panasonic suddenly pulled back and delayed the product launch indefinitely. The reason: the ads featured the slogan "Touch Woody - The Internet Pecker." An American staff member at the internal product launch explained to the stunned and embarrassed Japanese what "touch woody" and "pecker" meant in American slang.-From EE Times, October 8, 1996

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- It's enough to make a grammarian groan. The European Community -- no stranger to tortured language itself -- has collected some of the worst abuses of the Queen's English from around the
Take the Paris hotel that told guests: ''Please leave your values at the desk.''
Or the Bangkok dry cleaner's boast, ''Drop your trousers here for best results.''
And what did an Austrian ski resort mean when it urged guests ''not to preambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension''?
Most of the dozens of such doozies in the collection were compiled by the European Community's traveling translators, beginning in July, when they were asked to look out for examples of odd English. Others were taken from published collections.
Under the title ''Mind Your Language,'' the fractured phrases are displayed on boards in the lobbies of the community's Centre Borschette office complex.
The compilation of linguistic lulus show English is spoken widely but not always well.
An Acapulco hotel, for instance, reassured guests about the drinking water: ''The manager has personally passed all the water served here.''
A Tokyo hotel advised guests it ''is forbidden to steal hotel towels please.'' But politely added, ''If you are not a person to do such thing please not to read notice.''
Another Tokyo hotel, seemingly more relaxed about morals, said, ''You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid.''
A sign at a German campsite warned, ''It is strictly forbidden on our camp site that people of different sex, for instance men and women, live together in one tent, unless they are married with each other for that purpose.''
A Zurich hotel with similar worries offered this solution: ''Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.''
A temple in Bangkok warned visiting tourists, ''It is forbidden to enter a woman, even a foreigner, if dressed as a man.''
In Paris, a boutique advertised ''dresses for street walking.''
A notice in a Norwegian cocktail lounge stated, ''Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.''
A Rome doctor specialized in ''women and other diseases'' and a Swedish furrier offered coats ''made for ladies from their own skin.''
A Prague tourist agency urged tourists: ''Take one of our horse-driven city tours. We guarantee no miscarriages.''
In Tokyo, a car rental agency offered these instructions to clients: ''When passenger of foot heave into sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.''
For people suffering toothache in Hong Kong, a dentist advertised tooth extractions ''using the latest Methodists.''
A tailor on the Greek island of Rhodes could not guarantee he could finish summer suits ordered by tourists ''because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.''
A sign in a zoo in Budapest showed times are tough in Eastern Europe: ''Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.''
Also in the Hungarian capital is a hotel that once had elevator problems and told guests: ''The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.''
And if you thought flying was fun, go to the Copenhagen airport where an airline vowed to ''take your bags and send them in all directions.''
I live in Tucson, Arizona (USA) and on weekends, we "desert divers" often drive into the Mexican state of Sonora for diving in the Sea of Cortez. Being close to the US border, it is not unusual to find road signs in English, or I should say, broken English. The following was taken from a sign which was photographed by an Arizona diver on a trip to Mexico. I don't know exactly where the sign was found. The text is reproduced here exactly as written on the sign, spelling courtesy of the author himself:



Here's some goodies from a slick 150-page coffee-table book that the prefectural government has just published--at taxpayer expense, of course--to commemorate the sister-city relationships of various towns in the prefecture. This book was put together at huge expense by an ad agency that claims to be the second largest in the world.
Edmonds is a city of the Washington state which is on the West Coast, south of the border with Canada. Located 25 km north of the state capital, Seattlle, Edmonds is a residential town with a high educational standard... [Note: The capital of Washington State is Olympia, not "Seattlle," which is correctly spelled "Seattle."]
Midland is located approximately at the center of the Michigan state in Mid West U.S.A., surrounded by beautiful natural surroundings and sometiimes referred to as the "chemical industrial city in the woods. "First, cultivation was started in search of rich forest resources. Later, a young chemist, Harvard H. Dow, took notice of the abundant salt water buried under ground and vast land area, and started [...] the worldwide chemical synthesis corporation, Dow Chemical Japan Co., Ltd....
The oldest city in the Mid West U.S.A., Detroit, is such a famous "motor city." Motor and boat shows often held in this city are always at the forefront of teechnology.
Georgetown is a beautiful city full of greenery located in the north of the Kentucky state. The scenery surrounded by blue grass (a type of grass) is so awesome that the Kentucky state is sometimes referred to as the "Blue Grass State."
"Udde" in Swedish means "cape" and "valla" "wall." As the name speaks for itself, Uddevalla is located deep in a river valley that leads to a beautiful Fiord.
Porirua Bay [New Zealand] with glittering blue water is a rich source of marine products, at the same time, being a designated protected district for marine animals. You can almost enjoy any outdoor sport in Porirua....
From a catalog of Czech environmental tech companies:
"The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic are branded for its wide range devastation of the environment caused by totalindustrialism in the past decades."
The association's goals include "establishment of co-operation with the municipaland city authorities, the region and the common mass."
"Our endeavor is to carry out all-such that these basic outputs are provided and implemented with ever rising quality and standard by which primarily provide the member organisations of [the association] with information and services for better and proper representation in the zones for which [the association] has been established."
"At the own projecting of water supplies buildings, it is self-evident to use the means of modern computing technique."

One company in the catalog offers "meditation services" as well as "plans for undertakers". Another company's products are "determinated for wide consumption of citizens".
"In further division want to specialized on conteinering of industry and danger wastes."
"Compriming is provided or by help of mechanical moving shield placed right in container box, which ensures also unloading at opening of back door of container box or with help of filling and compriming car, which is placed in ceiling of filling area of station."
"[Our company's product] was checked at state institute and can use mark of the highest quality. We are awaiting for you at our firm."
"The present situation in the treatment of waist wood is as follows: the remainders by exploitation of wood are heaped and burnt on the place."

And from another source (this is something I posted on Lantra in January, but you may have missed it): A hotel where I spent the night in Budapest not long ago has its own dentist's office, which is strange enough in itself - nothing like a little root canal to soothe the nerves of the weary traveler. Excerpts from their flyer:
"The most modern supplied dental department is available for guests and tourists of the hotel as for the patients coming to a treatment of out-patients.... At technical manufacturing of crones, bridges and protheses will be used material and technology of firms on world-range.
"Dental corrections These corrections occure - at children till the age of 18 without any pain - by the most modern knowledges.
"Implantation The dental implantation is a modern process for replacement of missed teeth. The dental implantation solves a lot of problems in connection with the removable protheses. Our dental surgery uses the most modern americal methods."
A Soviet military transport was coming into an airfield in the far east on final approach, using an interpreter to inform the pilot of ATC instructions. The controller ordered: "Aeroflot 57333, come right in." The interpreter told the pilot, "Povorot napravo!" (Turn right!). After missing a fighter taking off by inches and a mountain by not much more the pilot got the plane on the ground, came back to the interpreter, and grabbed him by the throat like Homer throttling Bart.

I was contacted recently by a local manufacturing company (in Italy) who wanted to know why their American sister-firm had sent back their translation of a kit for a piece of furniture, refusing to publish it. On reading the text I came across the delightful "Open the legs and screw as hard as possible", grammatically
faultless, but expressing advice far beyond the normal confines of chairs and tables.
Then, there's the funny "spring chicken" that was rendered as "poulet a ressorts" (literally, a chicken with springs)

We were doing some translation for a company producing herbal medicines. Some of the names they gave their medicines:
Ginostop (a gynecological medicament)

When I suggested they change some of the names, they said it was too late and they had already printed up labels.

Sign in Prague museum: Please your luggage give to the wardrobe.

The Best (worst) mistranslation into Hebrew I've ever seen is "Eggs Benedict", mistranslated into "Benedict that smells like an Egg."

There has been mention of the translation from "the spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak" (or something similar). This is from a '50s word-by-word English-Russian and Russian-English translation system. After translating the original proverb into Russian and translating it back into English, the sentence became "the wodka is strong, but
the meat is rotten." It is easy to see how this mistranslation was made.
Another example is from the Systran-system, used amongst others by the European Community. It translated the English phrase "pregnant women and children" into "des femmes et enfants enceintes" (forgive my spelling, it can be wrong) which means that both the women *and* the children are pregnant. Although it is an interpretation of the original phrase which is clearly possible, it is also unwanted.
Some project or another translated "out of sight, out of mind" into Russian, and then translated the Russian back into English (to test both directions) but wound up with "blind idiot."
A former colleague of mine in Mexico once defined a "saleswoman" to a shocked class with "una mujer que se vende" ("a woman who sells herself").

While working on computer voice-recognition, we all got t-shirts that said: Help Apple wreck a nice beach.

In a Czech tourist agency: Take one of our horse driven tours---we guarantee no miscarriages.

Ad for donkey rides in Thailand: Would you like to ride your own ass?

On a faucet in a Finnish restroom: To stop the drip, turn cock to right.

In the window of a Swedish furrier: Fur coats made for the ladies from their own skin.

On a box of a clockwork toy in Hong Kong: Guaranteed to work throughout its useful life.

Detour sign in Kyushi, Japan: Stop---Drive sideways.

A 1993 tourist brochure on the Czech city of Marianske Lazne has a system of symbols meant to show what conveniences each hotel features. One of them is a snowflake, which in the key, is said to designate in Czech "lednice na pokojich" (i.e., refrigerator in each room). In English this is translated as "reefer in the room". In German it is "Seemannsjacke". The same translator did both the English and German. Apparently unaware that "reefer" generally refers to a marijuana cigarette (and sometimes to a huge refrigerated trailer), he used this word, then looked up its meaning in a German, where the definition corresponded to a further, little-used meaning of "reefer", which is that of a double-breasted pea jacket. This is evidently how a Czech refrigerator became an English marijuana joint and then a German sailor jacket.

The English menu of the restaurant U dvou kocek ("Sign of the Two Cats", loosely translated) offers diners "goulash two cats" and "fried dope". The waiter told me the two-cats goulash is made of dog meat.

A coworker of mine bought a Chinese imitation of the car security device "The Club". It was called "The Armored Bar". Like the Club, the Armored Bar comes with window stickers to inform potential thieves that the user's car will not be an easy mark. The stickers warn, "This car protected by the Armored Dar". A "dar" is a tree native to India.

There has been a very big American film this year. It was based on a book. That book was translated into Spanish and published recently. The translation was, er, interesting (that probably had something to do with the fact that it was done in five days by eleven different people). In a certain chapter, the author talked about "los problemas de los veterinarios del Vietnam "

John Loberg was informed by the good folks who made his paella pan:
Instructions to cook one "Paella"
The following articles are required:
Olive oil: 45 grames by person Rice 100 grames by person
Flesh meat Of chicken, rabbit, duck, pig, etc., what one wishes. Instead of flesh meat, it may be also cooked with shell-fish. Culinary vegetables. Peas, artichokes, green beans, according to consumer taste. Dry beans may
be put too, but they shall be boied, looking to, they be pouret into the frying pan with the rice together. With someone of these culinary vegetables only, it may be cooked. Water It must reach a level up of one centimeter
of the frying-pan border with the supject, it be not poured out to boil. Seasoning Saffron, large pepper, salt, all as consumer taste.
The flesh meat will be cut in pieces of an approximate egg's size. Olive oils is put into the frying-pan in the aforementioned quantity and when it is very warm, the flesh meat is thrown, being fried slightly until it shows a gilt colour. Small pieces of ripe tomato and one little spoon of grinded large pepper will be added, and all this be
turned upside down into the frying-pan. At once, it is added the desired culinary vegetables and the water. Salt at will. The fire is vivified until the culinary vegetables and the flesh meat may be well cooked, without it leaves one moment to boil. If it wants more water, this must be warm.
Once all well cooked, the rice is added in the quantity mentioned, procuring it be well distributed throughout the frying-pan. The fire is vivified again until the rice be half cooked. Since this moment, the fire is gradually taken away to leave it at a half ebullition until it be cooked. When the frying-pan is put away from the fire, it is leaved
some minutes to rest before serving at the table.

Here are a couple of my favorites: A few years ago, Bologna had the statue of Neptune restored. You could visit the place where the work was being done, and pamphlets were available that explained about the project. A Canadian client of mine picked up the one in English, and after reading it briefly said that Bologna must have a high mortality rate. Huh??!!! Reason: the project was described as being financed by the Bologna Association of Undertakers! (Associazione degli Imprenditori di Bologna).

A company that makes packaging machinery had a manual translated into Swedish. Their Swedish customer called them up a few weeks later, very perplexed: apparently, this machine had a mysterious button which, when pressed, got the machine pregnant! ("alla pressione del pulsante x, la macchina si mette in attesa" = enters stand-by mode).

1. pasta with *voracious* clams (vongole veraci)
2. spaghetti with tomato sauce and *pillow* (spaghetti all'amatriciana, con pomodoro e guanciale)

Menu items from Spanish restaurant:
Sucklings pork - Kind size deal chop - Lopster and rape kebabs & Chesse

From Gerard Hoffnung - letters (in English) from Tyrolean landlords in answer to holiday inquries written
to the Dolomites:
We have ample garage accomodations for your char...
In the close village you can buy jolly memorials for when you pass away...
I am sending you my prices: If I am dear to you and your mistress she might perhaps be reduced...
... we are also noted for having children...

Dear Madam: I am honorable to accept your impossible request. Unhappy it is, I here have not bedroom with bath. A bathroom with bed I have. I can, though, give you a washing, with pleasure, in a most clean spring with no one to see. I insist that you will like this... I am amazing diverted by your entreaty for a room. I can offer you a commodious chamber with balcony imminent to the romantic gorge, and I hope that you want to drop in. A vivacious stream washes my doorsteps, so do not concern yourself that I am not too good in bath, I am superb in bed. Sorrowfully I cannot abide your auto... Having freshly taken over the propriety of this notorious house, I am wishful that you remove to me your esteemed costume. Standing among savage scenery, the hotel offers stupendous revelations. There is a french widow in every bedroom, affording delightful prospects. I give personal look to the interior wants of each guests. Here, you shall be well fed-up and agreeably drunk. Our charges for weekly visitors are scarcely creditable. Peculiar arrangements for gross parties, our motto is "ever serve you right!"

On a Soviet ship in the Black Sea: "Helpsavering apparata in emergings behold many whistles! Associate the stringing apparata about the bosoms and meet behind. Flee then to the indifferent lifesavering shippen obediencing the instructs of the vessel chef."

A Russian chess book: A lot of water has been passed under the bridge since this variation has been played.

From an Italian hotel manager: "Fire! It is what can doing we hope. No fear. Not ourselves. Say quietly to all people coming up down everywhere is a prayer. Always is a clerk. He is assured of safety by expert men who are in the bar for telephone for the fighters of fire come out."

From an Italian menu: "Offering my honored guests delicious meals is my endeavor. Every readiness and efficiency to obtain this target is essential. Kindly assist me in this task by taking at least one meal at my place where my specialty is pig."

From a pre-democratic Hungarian sporting event: "Sports in the rotting capitalist countries are the declared enemy of the Socialist Athletes who consider it their duty to worth the superiority of the Socialist races"

On the box of a Vietnamese laughing tip-toy: Can't invert with laugh The laugh begin. you are youthful Automatize. As poke as shaky as shaky as laugh During the use. open the lid of tep and take two cells (NO. 5) in the box. If you want to stop laugh or don't use for a long time. you must take out the cells (This seller have no cells)

And finally a few items from the Land of the Rising Sun: On a medicine bottle: "Adults: 1 tablet 3 times a day until passing away"
Chiseled in the marble facade of a clothing shop: "Dresses for ladies and gentlemen"
Over an Osaka pet store: "Fondle dogs"
On a Tokyo map: Sewage treatment plant marked with "Dirty Water Punishment Place" (Osui shobunsho)

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