Translation is not for the foolhardy.

Here are some examples of the kind of trouble some people may run into because of language and cultural differences. 

The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect.

Sign in a Budapest Zoo: “Do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty instead.”

In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” 

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American ad campaign: “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.”

When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It will not leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the company’s mistakenly thought the Spanish word “embarazar” meant embarrass. Instead the ads said that “It will not leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

When General Motors introduced the Chevy Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it will not go.” After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets.

Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for “male genitals”. Ford pried all the nameplates off and substituted for Corcel, which means horse.

Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused.”

Categories: Translation

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