Worsts translation blunders of businesses

Worst Translation Blunders in Business

We are all guilty of doubling up with laughter at mistranslated content; some are just downright hilarious. But as some businesses have the misfortune to find out, mistranslations don’t just cause them to lose face and customers, they can also prove to be deadly – literally.

As you are about to find out, the importance of doing your homework and accurately localizing and translating your content is priceless.

  1. In 2004, a medical team from a hospital in Epinal, France, decided they would bypass hiring a professional translation service by translating software that verified the correct dose for prostate cancer treatment on their own.Consequently a number of patients received massive overdoses of radiation and sadly four died.
  1. Parker pens ad, “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was mistranslated for its Spanish-speaking Mexican customers into “it won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Instead of using the correct translation for the word embarrass they chose “embarazar” which means to make pregnant. No doubt Parker pens were the ones left embarrassed!
  1. When American Airlines decided to lure potential Mexican first class passengers by promoting their campaign “Fly in leather,” they didn’t realise that the translation read “vuela en cuero” which in Spanish means “fly naked.”
  1. Swedish household appliances giant, Electrolux, found itself in a pickle when it promoted its vacuum cleaner to the US market. They assured American customers that “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”
  1. Ladies, fancy some manure on your hair? We didn’t think so, and neither did Germans when Clairol launched their Mist Stick curling iron. The company failed to realise that “Mist” in German means manure.
  1. People in China must have thought Pepsi had branched out into paranormal activities when its slogan promised to “bring your ancestors back from the grave.” Needless to say, Pepsi was attempting to translate “Come alive with the Pepsi generation.”
  1. Coors beer slogan, “Turn it loose” went terribly wrong when they translated into Spanish: “Suffer from diarrhoea.”
  1. We all know Ikea has strange names for its furniture, but it went a step too far when it tried to sell its “Fartfull” children’s mobile workbench in the US. It may mean “speedy” in Swedish, but it didn’t sit too well on American parents and the company had to make a speedy removal of the item from their collection.
  1. To promote the Pope’s visit to Spanish speakers, a t-shirt maker in Miami printed t-shirts with “I saw the Potato” (la Papa) instead of “I saw the Pope” (el Papa).
  1. The American Dairy Association’s hugely popular “Got Milk” campaign didn’t cause a buzz in Mexico. No wonder, when translated into Spanish it meant, “Are you lactating?”

5 thoughts on “Worst Translation Blunders in Business”

  1. These are all classic, well documented blunders, stemming from a bad corporate decision, illustrative of the saying “penny wise, pound foolish”; that is, someone at the company thought to cut costs by NOT hiring a professional translator, and ended up incurring in huge actual, image and reputation costs… I would like to add one recent, ongoing instance, not of outright blunder, but an obvious mistranslation: a TV ad of a well-known watchmaking Japanese company, done with English audio and Spanish subtitles, translates in the subtitles “cutting-edge technology” as “on the edge of technology” (“al filo de la tecnología) which not only is not the same, but I would say that it conveys the opposite idea…

    1. Thank you Nélida for your interesting feedback and example. We always value feedback from our readers and any additional enlightening information, so keep them coming. You’re absolutely right, these examples illustrate that at the end of the day, it pays to go for quality.

  2. Thank you Nélida for your interesting feedback and example. We always value feedback from our readers and any additional enlightening information, so keep them coming. You’re absolutely right, these examples illustrate that at the end of the day, it pays to go for quality.

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