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 a book titled Übelsetzungen – Sprachspannen aus aller Welt, published by Langenscheidt. We hope you enjoy them.
If you come across funny mistranslations, feel free to share them with us.
- A Treacherous Sign
The beautiful waterfalls of Agua Azul in the rainforest of Mexico are often overlooked by foreign tourists who run to the Mayan ruins nearby – and maybe that’s for the better. Those who make it to the waterfalls are welcomed by a sign reading ‘Dangerous not to swim’. Given the powerful current, ‘Dangerous – Do not swim’ would have been a more accurate translation…
- Speak to the English Well
Lake Garda attracts many international tourists, and rightly so. But all tourists aren’t welcome. A shop in Salò is quite frank about the shopkeeper’s poor social skills, especially towards some nationalities, and their love of Italians: a sign reads ‘Entrances also unfortunately we do not speak well to the German and English but we are many simpati to us’. A word to the wise.
- Do not Eat Panda
Contradicting thousands of years of human history, a wildlife sanctuary in Chengdu, China advises tourists at the panda enclosure that ‘Wildlife is not food’. In case they were wondering, the panda is not for food.
- Follow-up on the turkey blunder
Denise laughed at last month’s turkey blunder and wished to share an interesting fact: as the turkey is a native bird of America, which was ‘East India’ for Columbus, the French word ‘dinde’, which is a condensed form of ‘d’Inde’ (from India) is in fact accurate, whereas the English word ‘turkey’ must be attributed to a geographical mistake. The same goes for the word ‘guinea pig’: in French, the pig comes from India (‘cochon d’Inde’) since it originates from America (a.k.a. India), and not from Guinea.
Thanks Denise for sharing!