Words are important, just as the work of those who deal with words and their translations every day is important. The past is full of translation errors capable, depending on the context, of making a laugh or making the world tremble.

In this article, we present some of the most famous translation errors in history.

Pepsi resurrects the dead

In the 1960s, Pepsi’s slogan, “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation,” didn’t catch on in China. The reason? In Chinese, the slogan was translated as follows: “Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead.”

Banca HSBS

HSBC Holdings is a globally used bank, headquartered in the United Kingdom, known for its slogan “The World’s Private Bank”. But until recently, things were a little different.

In 2009, the bank committed $10 million to a rebranding campaign after their slogan “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated in several countries as “Do Nothing.” Not the best of calls to action, when the goal is to convince people to use your services.

Khrushchev and Carter: cold war and hot translations

When US President Jimmy Carter traveled to Poland in 1977 for a conference, he was the victim of a series of translation errors.

When he said he had left the United States that morning, the interpreter also arbitrarily attributed to the president a desire to “never return there again.” At a later time, the translator managed to surpass himself further, transforming Carter’s desire to “come and learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future” into “a desire to know the Poles carnally.”

A couple of decades before Carter, in 1956, his Russian counterpart Khrushchev concluded his speech, in the midst of the Cold War, with a phrase that later went down in history: “We will bury you.” A statement that alarmed and outraged the United States and was seen and spread by the Western media as a real nuclear threat. In reality, Khrushchev was affirming the superiority of the socialist economic model and how it would survive the proposal of its capitalist counterpart.

Life on Mars

In 1877, a translation error sparked the world’s interest. The Italian astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli, after having observed and studied the surface of Mars, published his findings on the mapping of the red planet in a study. In his report he called the dark and light areas of the planet ‘seas’ and ‘continents’ and ‘canals’ some irregularities, similar to riverbeds so to speak, present on the surface. It was precisely the translation of this last term ‘channels’, due to the meaning assumed in common language, that gave rise to theories, as suggestive as they were unfounded, according to which these had been created by ancient extra-terrestrial civilisations.

When the algorithm misinterprets

There is a very good chance that artificial intelligence applied to translations represents the future of the sector. Those times, however, are still far away. After a terrible earthquake in Indonesia in 2018, many people took to social media to share live updates on the situation and their health.

Surprisingly, many were left speechless when Facebook added balloons and confetti to some of those posts.

The cause of this misunderstanding was the use of the Indonesian word “selamat”, which means “to survive”, “to be safe” or “congratulations”. Facebook’s algorithm misinterpreted the context of the comments, thus adding festive animations of balloons and confetti.

Avoid translation errors

Although common and, as we have seen, sometimes funny, translation errors can cause enormous harm depending on the context in which they occur. This is why it is particularly important for a professional translator to guarantee the quality of the work; and this is the mission of the LingoYou team.

LingoYou is the translation agency that allows organizations around the world to communicate correctly in any language and by any means.

Marketing Team LingoYou

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