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. Po(pe)tato

In Miami, a t-shirt manufacturer printed t-shirts in Spanish to commemorate the Pope’s visit. Unfortunately, by referring to the Pontiff as “la papa” instead of “el Papa”, their t-shirts read: “I saw the potato.”

  1. A Costly Word

In the early 1980s, Willie Ramirez was admitted to a hospital in Florida in a comatose state. His family tried to describe his condition to the medical personnel who treated him, but they only spoke Spanish. A bilingual staff member jumped in and translated ‘intoxicado’ as ‘intoxicated’. A professional interpreter would have known that ‘intoxicado’ is closer to ‘poisoned’ and doesn’t have the same connotations of drug or alcohol use that ‘intoxicated’ does. While Ramirez’s family believed that he was suffering from food poisoning – he was in fact suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage – the doctors treated him as if he were suffering from an intentional drug overdose. Because of the delay in treatment, Ramirez was left quadriplegic, and received a malpractice settlement of $71 million.

  1. Lusting for the Future

For President Carter’s trip to Poland in 1977, the State Department hired the services of a Russian interpreter who happened to know Polish, but was not used to interpreting professionally in that language. With the interpreter’s help, Carter ended up saying things in Polish like ‘when I abandoned the United States’ (rather than ‘when I left the United States’) and ‘your lusts for the future’ (for ‘your desires for the future’). The media in both countries enjoyed these mistakes very much.

S.G.