All translations are not equal. A good translation is one that conveys the same meaning as the source text and sounds natural in the target language (if that is the desired outcome of the translation). Some do just the opposite. Here are some of the greatest howlers found in translation, taken from the American Translators Association’s website. We hope you enjoy them.
If you come across funny mistranslations, feel free to share them with us.
1. Naughty bed
A few years ago a famous Swedish furniture manufacturer launched a new product across Europe. The children’s bunk bed was named ‘Gutvik’ after a small town in Sweden. Unfortunately for the company’s marketing team, to German ears the name sounded just like slang for ‘good sexual intercourse’. Posters and advertisements were quickly withdrawn.
2. Hygienic dish
Dishes that are not dishwasher proof usually bear a statement like ‘Hand wash only’ or ‘Handwashing recommended’. The latter option is slightly awkward and may be understood two ways. Unfortunately the translator did not think it through (or wasn’t aware of the context) and advised users to wash their hands: ‘Il est conseillé de se laver les mains’.
3. Know your sources!
One of Germany’s most prestigious scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, published a special issue of its magazine on research in China. The cover showed what the editing team thought was a classical poem, which certainly looked Chinese to the non-Chinese speaker. They didn’t realise that the text was in fact a handbill for a Macau strip club that read ‘Hot housewives in action! / Enchanting and coquettish performance’. It always pays to double-check your sources.