10 Little Translation Mistakes That Caused Big Problems
Speaking a foreign language can be learned, but it’s also something that comes with many challenges. Despite being able to have a conversation in it, grammar rules can be forgotten sometimes, leading to translation errors.
Mistakes are bound to happen, that’s a fact. Even so, if you’re working as a translator, the smallest problems can cause big issues, and there are many examples. That being said, here are 10 translation mistakes that have been the cause of big problems.
The HSBC bank had a catchphrase going like “Assume Nothing”. However, some countries didn’t really translate it properly. It was translated as “Do Nothing”, and the bank had to pay $10 million rebranding in order to fix the damage caused by it.
We Will Bury You
An interpreter made a mistake when translating a speech of the Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. The translation he used was “we will bury you”, which was taken as a threat and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t consider that a threat? People assumed it meant Russia was going to unleash a nuclear attack on the US.
Sometimes, problems with translation can lead to tragedies, just like this case from 1980. A man was brought into an emergency room in Florida. The friends who brought him were Spanish and were not having amazing English language skills. As such, they used the word “intoxicado” to describe his state, which the staff translated as “intoxicated” instead of “poisoned”.
Due to that, they treated him for a drug overdose, and because the proper treatment was delayed, the man ended up paralyzed. Consequently, 71 million dollars were required from the hospital in the lawsuit, while the man lost his mobility.
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A poor translation of a Chinese article has resulted in a lot of panic for the foreign exchange market. While the original post was just casual and presented an overview of some financial reports, the English translation made it sound way too authoritative. As such, the US dollar’s value dropped.
Chocolates for Him
Valentine’s Day traditions are pretty much known nowadays – there are gift exchanges between couples, including chocolate. In Japan, though, there was a mistranslation from a company which said women had to offer men chocolate too, as a custom. Because of that, women of Japan give men chocolate on February 14th, while men do the same on March 14th.
A Company Near Its Demise
Back in 2012, the Sharp Corp. released its earnings report which was not looking really good. Like that wasn’t enough, the translation in English said that the hardship was a “material doubt” and that the company will keep being a “going concern”. This unintentional mistake almost killed the company, which was shown by the annual decline of 75%.
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There is a known game named “Street Fighter II”, and one of the characters in the game had a reply including the words “Rising Dragon”. When translated from Japanese to English, the translation was presented as “Sheng Long”, as the translator thought a new character was added to the game. As a result, many people were trying to find this inexistent foe in the game in an attempt to defeat him, thus wasting a lot of time.
Your Lusts for the Future
President Carter’s trip to Poland in 1977 ended in a series of funny translation errors. The Russian interpreter ended up translating “your desires for the future” as “your lusts for the future”, something that was laughed about for quite a while.
A deal between the Maori chiefs of New Zealand and the British government was being discussed to protect the Maori from sailors, marauding convicts and traders. Conversely, the British wanted to extend their colonial holdings. Although the treaty was signed, the documents were different, and it ended up in the Maori thinking they were allowed to rule themselves while getting a legal system. It was wrong, though, and even today the matter is still discussed.
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St. Jerome wanted to translate the Old Testament into Latin from Hebrew, but he ended up making a mistake. Basically, Hebrew is written without the vowels, so the translator read “karan” as “keren” which means “horned”, while the meaning was actually “radiance”. Because of this, many paintings and sculptures featured Moises with horns on his head.
As you’ve seen from these “lost in translation” examples, it’s not unusual to make mistakes. Although not all translation errors have big consequences, history shows that sometimes they can end up in tragedies or panic. This is why attention and a lot of knowledge are important for a translator.