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 blunders found in translation, taken from a book titled Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, published by Perigee Trade. We hope you enjoy them.

If you come across funny mistranslations, feel free to share them with us.

  1. Chocolate Bonanza

In the 1950s, chocolate companies started encouraging Japanese men and women to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A mistranslation by one of those companies gave people the idea that women were meant to give chocolate to men on 14 February, and that’s what they do to this day! Every Valentine’s Day, the women of Japan shower their men with various chocolates, and the men return the favour one month later. Now that’s a successful marketing campaign!

  1. An Expensive ‘Do’

Mistranslations can be rather costly. Ask HSBC what they think! In 2009, the bank launched a US$10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its slogan ‘Assume Nothing’ was translated as ‘Do Nothing’ in several countries.

  1. Trouble in Waitangi

Closer to home, a famous mistranslation has had far-reaching consequences for New Zealand and Maori-Pakeha relations. In 1840, the British government made a deal with the Maori chiefs of the time. The Maori wanted protection from marauding convicts, sailors, and traders, while the British wanted to expand their colonial holdings. The Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up, but both sides signed different documents. The English version states that the Maori ceded ‘to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty’. In the Maori translation, carried out by a British missionary, they didn’t give up sovereignty, but governance, thereby keeping their right to rule themselves. Things turned out quite differently, and issues around the meaning of this treaty are still being worked out.

S.G.