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Translation is often a misunderstood practice. Many assume it’s just a matter of transferring one word from one language into another. In fact, it’s much more than that. Translation involves understanding the context of the content in question. It requires adapting a word, sentence, or phrase to make it suitable and understandable for the intended culture or industry.
There have been several funny and outrageous moments where translation has gone terribly wrong. Here are just a few translation fails that are difficult to forget…
1. Financial Translation Blunder
In 2005, a China News Service article about the impact of a possible rise in Chinese currency value was mistranslated, sending traders and the market into a frenzy. Panic emails and alarmed phone calls rocked the foreign exchange industry as an incorrect translation went viral online. The reporter simply wrote a report about how an appreciation of the Chinese currency would pan out. But when it was handed over to a translator working from home, the report stated that China was to announce an appreciation after a meeting of U.S. and Chinese economic officials the following week. The story even reached Bloomberg, causing many traders to make unwise decisions and newspapers to share untrue stories.
2. Game Translation Error
You’d think someone as famous as Magneto would know how to speak English! In the 1992 arcade version of X-Men, there was an embarrassing translation fail that resulted in a few laughs. The main villain of the game, Magneto said ““X-Men, Welcome to die!” Of course, that makes no grammatical sense. It appears the game translators of this content mistranslated the source text. Did they mean to write “Welcome to death”? Either way, it’s embarrassing to think such a translation mistake was actually given the go-ahead…
3. Marketing Translation Mistake
Accurate advertising and marketing translations are extremely important. You’re communicating your brand’s message, after all. It even happens to the best of companies like Mercedes-Benz. When it was initially translated for the Chinese market, “Mercedes-Benz” was rendered into “Bensi”, which seems fine to us, but not so much to Chinese readers. In Chinese, this word means “rush to your death”. Suddenly, the car brand was promoting a vehicle that signified fatal journeys. After discovering this translation fail, the car was soon rebranded as “Ben Chi” which more accurately means, “dashing speed”.
4. Medical Translation Muddle
Here is an example of how a minor translation fail can turn into a tragedy. In 1980, Willie Ramirez was admitted unconscious into a Florida hospital. His family and friends believed he was suffering from food poisoning but they had difficulties describing this to the American doctors as they only spoke Spanish. A doctor mistook the word “intoxicado” for its English meaning, AKA, “intoxicated”, which means being under the influence of drugs and alcohol. In Spanish however, “intoxicado” means “poisoned”. The doctors misdiagnosed Ramirez, believing he was simply suffering from a drug overdose. This misdiagnosis sadly left him quadriplegic.
These four incidents prove just how dangerous translation fails can be. Sure, some are funny but a lot of the time, they can be costly, and even tragic. Make sure to turn to a professional translator or translation agency to avoid such embarrassing and fatal blunders.