Named and shamed: top mistranslations of 2012

03/01/2013 | Hayley

2012 was the year the world didn’t end. All the chaos and worry was down to one of 2012s top mistranslations! The mistranslation of the Mayan Long Count calendar resulted in people across the globe preparing for the worst on December 21st, thankfully the planet failed to be hit by a comet or swallowed by a black hole.

The apocalypse that never came wasn’t the only mistranslation to make the headlines last year, though. America’s Accredited Language Services has unveiled the winners of its Jelly Donut Awards for translation mistakes and named Kraft’s new moniker Mondelēz International as its winner. Inspired by this, Transcription Global has also rounded up its favourite mistranslations of 2012 – check them out below.

Unicorns discovered in Korea

It’s been a big year for North Korea, first with Kim Jong-un taking over leadership from his late father in December 2011 and then with the country’s athletes picking up several gold medals at the London Olympics in the summer.

However, it was the discovery of a “unicorn lair” that was perhaps the most exciting event of the year. At the end of November, the Korean Central News Agency released an English language report noting that archaeologists at the History Institute of the DPRK Academy of Social Sciences had “reconfirmed” a lair seemingly belonging to one of the unicorns ridden by King Tongmyong, founder of the Koguryo Kingdom. Adding weight to the discovery was a rectangular rock outside the site carved with the words “Unicorn Lair”, the agency claimed.

The news that the shelter of the legendary creature had been discovered swept across the globe, but it soon became apparent that North Korea was not home to any mythical animals. Speaking to the io9 website, scholar Sixiang Wang noted that the news was announced in North Korea in 2011 but it was not until 2012 that an English release was published. According to Mr Wang, Kiringul – from which the ‘Unicorn Lair’ translation comes – is actually a site named after kirins, which are mythical creatures with a single horn and the head of a dragon. However, far from dragons or unicorns living there, Kiringul is no more magical than Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway or the city of Phoenix in Arizona.

Kraft gets saucy

Just like Accredited Language Services, we couldn’t resist including Kraft’s new brand name in this line-up.

Mondelēz International seemed an unusual choice as the company’s new name and the thinking behind it was equally convoluted. According to Kraft Foods, the name is formed from mundus – the Latin word for world – and delez, which is used to label something delicious.

Unfortunately, there are some who view this new brand name as a little more blue. Depending on how it is pronounced, the term sounds very similar to that used to describe oral sex in Russian. Several native speakers of Russian have been consulted, and all agree that ‘ Mondelēz’ suggests something quite different to what it is offering.

This is a slip-up that demonstrates the importance of not only translating your content correctly, but also of localising it to ensure it makes sense and conveys the right message in the language you’re targeting.

An entertaining route

In November, we reported how Network Rail was left red faced after contractors it was working with put up road signs suggesting drivers “follow the entertainment”. This message was quite different from the one the contractors wanted to say – which was to direct drivers to take a diversion.

We discovered this was just one in a long list of mishaps when it comes to translating English to Welsh. Perhaps the biggest mistranslation was that of the road sign meant to read: “No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only,” in Welsh, that actually read: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.” Unfortunately, Swansea council emailed its translation company to ask for the correct content, and mistakenly thought the automated email it received back was the requested translation.

The holy F-word

While above we have outlined some of our favourite mistranslations of 2012, there was a transcription error that we feel is also worthy of a place on this list.

In October, the Dalai Lama gave an inspirational speech to Brown University students in Rhode Island, where he urged the crowd to share his message with the people they met if they agreed with it. According to the Associated Press, the exiled leader of Tibet said that if the audience didn’t agree with his message, they could “forget it”.

Unfortunately, this was not what the stenographer producing the subtitles for the screen behind the spiritual leader heard. Instead, the Dalai Lama wrapped up his speech not knowing that the words “f**k it” were written across the screen behind him.

These are the mistranslations and transcriptions we think will be remembered long after 2012. If you think we’ve missed anything, share it below.

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