HomeThe Top 10 Translation Fails of All Time (And How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes)BlogThe Top 10 Translation Fails of All Time (And How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes)

The Top 10 Translation Fails of All Time (And How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes)

translation fails

The Top 10 Translation Fails of All Time (And How to Avoid Making the Same Mistakes)

Translation is a complex and challenging task, and even professional translators, if inexperienced, can make serious mistakes. Here are 10 of the most infamous translations of all time, along with tips on how you can avoid making similar mistakes (and suffering equally negative consequences) in your marketing and advertising:

1. KFC in China 

KFC’s famous slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” was translated to “Eat your fingers off” in Chinese when they first entered the market in the late 1980s. The error was eventually corrected, but it caused quite a stir initially among Chinese consumers.

2. Pepsi in China

Pepsi’s slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was translated in Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave“. Unsurprisingly, this translation error led to a dip in sales.

3. Mercedes-Benz in China

 When Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market, it was named “Bensi”, which means “rush to die” in Chinese. They later changed their name to “Benchi”, which has a more positive connotation. 

4. HSBC Bank

HSBC Bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to fix a poorly translated catchphrase. “Assume Nothing” was wrongly translated to “Do Nothing” in various countries, which isn’t exactly encouraging for a bank.

5. Coca-Cola in China 

When Coca-Cola first came to China, its name was translated phonetically as “Ke-kou-ke-la”, unfortunately meaning “Bite the wax tadpole“. They later found a better phonetic translation, “Ko-kou-ko-le”, which means “happiness in the mouth”. 

6. Schweppes Tonic Water in Italy

Schweppes Tonic Water was wrongly translated into Italian as “Schweppes Toilet Water“. This was definitely not appealing to Italian consumers. 

7. Ford Pinto in Brazil 

Ford Pinto was launched in Brazil without realizing that “Pinto” is a slang term for male genitals in Portuguese. They had to change the name to Corcel, which means “Horse”. 

8. Chevrolet Nova in Spanish-speaking countries 

“No va” in Spanish means “It doesn’t go“. Needless to say, Chevrolet Nova didn’t do well in Spanish-speaking markets until the name was changed. 

9. Braniff Airlines

Braniff Airlines promoted their leather seats with the slogan “Fly in Leather”, which was translated into Spanish as “Fly Naked“. That was not certainly the way to boost ticket sales!

10. Parker Pen in Mexico

 Parker Pen’s slogan “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” was translated in Mexico as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant“.  A pen with such capabilities would indeed be concerning!

These are just a few of the most infamous translation fails of all time. While errors such as these can be embarrassing and costly, they can also be a source of humor and learning. By understanding the causes of these errors, we can learn how to avoid them in the future.

Here are some tips for avoiding translation fails:

  • Use an experienced translator: A qualified and experienced translator will have the skills and experience necessary to ensure that your translation is accurate and idiomatic.
  • Provide a clear and concise brief: The more information and specific instructions you can provide your translator with, the better they will be able to understand and meet your needs.
  • Be aware of cultural differences: Different cultures have different ways of expressing themselves, so it is important to be aware of these differences when translating (or hire someone who is).
  • Proofread your translation carefully: Even professional translators can make mistakes, so it is important to proofread your translation carefully before using it.
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