10 truly terrifying mistranslations

31/10/2018 | Rebecca Twose

Happy Halloween! Let’s get straight into the spooky spirit and have a look at some truly terrifying mistranslations, but be warned they aren’t for the faint-hearted…

The Killer

Our first catastrophic mistranslation comes from American Motors who launched a car called ‘the matador’. Thrilled and excited by the name which was meant to be filled with virility, the motor company was left dissatisfied when they tried to launch in Puerto Rico where the sales were non-existent. It was later discovered that ‘the matador’ translates into Spanish as ‘the killer’… probably not a vehicle you’d feel 100% safe to drive.

Back from the grave 

Pepsi was another victim of bad translation when they tried to translate their marketing material into Chinese. Their slogan “come alive with the Pepsi generation” had a much more sinister meaning to the Chinese market when it translated to “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”. Now that definitely would be an extraordinary drink!

Rush to die

Mercedes Benz also had trouble in China! When entering the Chinese market, their name was rendered as ‘Bensi’ meaning ‘Rush to die’. Not a very suitable name for a car company! Luckily, the company soon made changes and rebranded the poorly-translated company name to Benchi, meaning ’run quickly as if flying’.

We will bury you

The height of the cold war is probably not the best time to make translation mistakes, but that’s what happened when Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, gave a speech where he uttered a phrase which was misinterpreted to be “we will bury you”. This translation was far too literal which heightened tensions between the US and Russia. The phrase that was actually used was something more like “we will live to see you buried”, still not totally pleasant but slightly less threatening nonetheless.

Eat your fingers off

KFC obviously didn’t want to get off to the best start when they launched in China in the late 1980s. Their infamous slogan “finger-lickin’ good” had a not so tasteful meaning Chinese; “eat your fingers off”…delicious! Does anyone want to try a deep fried finger this Halloween?

Every car has a high-quality corpse

Auto giant Ford found that in Belgium, enticing customers with a dead body in every car isn’t the best way to make a sale. Hoping to highlight the cars’ excellent manufacturing, Ford launched an ad campaign in the European country that execs thought said: “Every car has a high-quality body.” However, when translated, the slogan read, “Every car has a high-quality corpse” — far from the image they were hoping to invoke.

Intimidating green monster

When Green Giant tried to launch their canned vegetables in the Arabic market they noticed the translation of their mascot’s name didn’t quite have the same ring to it.. are kids more likely to be enticed by a jolly green giant or an intimidating green monster?

Unicorns in Korea

Unicorns found in Korea? Now that is definitely an intriguing headline, but sadly it is not true. What the headline should have been was that archaeologists have found a cave/grotto that links to an ancient Korean legend which featured a unicorn-like creature, not that unicorns themselves had been discovered… ah, the power of mistranslation.

Beware of the stork!

Transcreation is just as important as translation when you are looking into expanding into new markets. Pampers learnt this the hard way when they took their product to Japan. The images of storks on their nappy packages worked well in the West due to the popular folklore story, but in Japan, parents were alarmed by the images! In Japan, babies are bought into the world on giant floating peaches.

Fly Naked

Braniff Airlines isn’t around anymore but it will still be remembered for its translation fail. After the launch of their campaign telling customers about their new leather seats, Braniff Airlines wanted their Latin-American customers to know about them too. Their slogan was ‘Fly in leather’, which translated okay in lots of Latin-American countries, but in Mexico, it meant ‘Fly naked’… it isn’t hard to imagine that the potential consequences of this mistranslation could have been a scary sight!

Don’t let your brand become the next victim of poor translation, invest in quality language services to make sure your business succeeds in international markets. Take a look at our services to see how we can assist you with all of your language needs.

If you’d like to see some more translation blunders check out our other blog here.

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