Continuing our list of historically legendary translation blunders, I’m including here more translation mistakes that were either political in nature, or affected large amounts of people in the general public.
I always find it interesting how much convolution occurs from mere misunderstanding. As Tim Kasher says, “From Babel to bar room brawls, our words have formed a death sentence.” While these instances may not be so bleak, I think the sentiment is apt.
5. Thanks for the tiger?
When a South Korean government representative visited Russia, he commented on the beauty of the endangered Siberian tigers of Eastern Russia. “Korea is very interested in Siberian tigers,” he told Vladimir Kirillov, head of Natural Resources Management.
But Kirillov heard a very different message. The Russian/Korean interpreter told him that South Korea was asking Kirillov to consider donating a tiger instead. Kirillov proposed the gift upon his return to Russia, and the tiger is now living in the wilds of South Korea – all because of a translation error!
4. Reset the Reset Button
During a foreign policy meeting between American and Russian leaders in March, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a “reset button,” representing the erasure of past tension between the two countries.
But the English word “reset” had been translated to the Russian “peregruzka” – meaning “overcharged” or “overloaded.” The photo op of the two politicians pressing the button lost its international significance – and instead became a global joke thanks to the translation error.
3. Bastard or Baathist?
The newspaper The Australian had to apologize for changing a Senator’s use of “Baathist” to “Bastard“.
A story headlined ‘Syria seeks our help to woo US‘ in Saturday’s Weekend Australian misquoted National Party senator Sandy Macdonald. The quote stated: “Syria is a country that has been a bastard state for nearly 40 years” but should have read “Syria is a country that has been a Baathist state for nearly 40 years.”
2.Nike Stepped in it
Nike offended Muslims in June, 1997 when the “flaming air” logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked too similar to the Arabic form of God’s name, “Allah”. Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of sneakers from the market.
1. Slip of the Hand
Even celebrities get lost in interpretation. Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp starred in Paul McCartney’s music video “My Valentine” earlier this year where they showed their support for the song’s deaf audience by signing the lyrics. However, both actors used the wrong signs throughout the song. Deaf music fans, including the British Deaf Association, have pointed out that at one point in the video Depp signs the word “enemy” instead of “valentine” and later both he and Portman make an embarrassing error by signing the word “tampon” instead of “appear.” Despite the confusion the signs caused, which may be a result of British and American sign languages being different, Depp and Portman were still praised for highlighting the use of sign language in the video. You can watch the full video here.