As we all know, language can be a tricky beast. Oftentimes, words or phrases can have different meanings not just in different languages, but even within different regions in the same country. Language is a social construct, and therefore, dependent upon society to give it context. More often then not, this can lead to meaning getting lost in translation whenever you try to bring one concept into a society that is unfamiliar with it. Add on top of this, failure to do research, faulty translators, machine translators, or just downright cost-cutting measures and you have a recipe for some bad (albeit hilarious) translations.
1. Pepsi, the Zombie-Maker!
In the early 1970s, Pepsi-Cola introduced a new catch phrase to promote its product: ‘Come Alive!’. Sounds good in English, but the problems ‘arose’ (pun intended) when Pepsi took the campaign slogan overseas. In Germany the phrase meant, ‘Rise from the grave with Pepsi!’ In China the phrase meant, ‘Pepsi brings back your ancestors!’ It’s common knowledge cola can erode a penny, but who would have thought it had supernatural powers as well!
2. Video Games…Are Definitely Not Dictionaries
In this most famous example, we see how video games often fall victim to horrible translations. The fact that most video games were created overseas in Japan during the earlier days of gaming meant that before the games came to the US market, they needed to be translated into English. Here is probably the most famous example from the video game Zero Wing for Sega Genesis, which has become an internet meme of its own.
3. Public Signs of Bad Translation
As much as some countries try to cater to other languages, sometimes they just fall a little short. You have to give them credit for trying, however, the irony is just too good to pass up.
Probably the most common (and funny) translation mistakes appear on menus. Probably due to menu items constantly changing, restaurant owners do not want to pay for professional translations as that can get quite costly. As a result, we are left with errors that are made especially worse when we imagine eating what it describes.
5. DARE: To Keep Inanimate Objects Off Drugs
Along with menu items, informational signage shares the prize for most commonly mistranslated words. Why? Ask anyone who’s been to the DMV, post office, or other government facilities, and I’m sure they will give you a good answer. In the meantime, do your best not to provide illicit substances to doors. Thank you.
6. Parker Pen: More Than You Bargained For
Parker Pen in Mexico wanted its advertisements to parlay “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” Instead, the company thought that the word “embarazar” (to impregnate) meant to embarrass, so the ad read: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.” Be safe, wear Pocket Protectors.
7. McDonald’s Really Wants You to Love Them
As I mentioned at the beginning, sometimes you don’t have to go far to be outside of a cultural reference. In January 2005, McDonald’s published banners proclaiming “Double cheeseburger? I’d Hit It.” In this mistake, the perhaps slightly out-of-touch, copywriters mistook the strictly sexual American slang expression for a term of general approval.
As funny as these are to the general public, I’m sure business leaders in most of these companies weren’t laughing when these mistakes were brought to their attention. It seems like the easiest thing to do for companies who can afford it would be to hire a professional translation company or an app that could provide the necessary localization and translation to completely avoid these mistakes.