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Lost in translation

June 29, 2006

How misunderstandings occur.

Hello again,
A friend visiting me in the sleepy French village where I live was introduced to our “ancien maire”. She said later how surprised she was because he didn’t look all that old. It’s one of those false friends of the translation world, because in French “ancien” can also mean former. It brought a smile to my face because I remember speaking to a school principal in the UK who was puzzled that in France people seemed to try to hide guffaws of laughter when he used the acronym for name of his school. Unfortunately ...

... this acronym sounded like the slang French word for a private part of the male anatomy.

I thought I would dig out some translation howlers from the commercial world to flag up the pitfalls.
Mitsubishi Motors of Japan tried marketing their popular Pajero car in the Spanish market but were baffled by their lack of success. Pajero is slang in Spanish for ‘masturbation.’

Fiat found that they had to rename their Uno when selling it in Finland. Uno means garbage in Finnish.

When Toyota Motor Company released their popular MR2 sports car in France, they encountered a problem MR2 was pronounced as "em er deux,", which loosely translates to ‘ you little little shit’.

Pepsi Corporation’s marketing slogan ‘Come Alive with Pepsi’ was first translated into the Chinese as "Pepsi brings your dead ancestors back to life." The same slogan was also translated into German as: ‘Come out of the grave with Pepsi.’

FORD also learnt the hard way when they introduced the Pinto car in Brazil, which was replaced by a different name when they learnt that Pinto is Brazilian slang for ‘tiny male genitals’

Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an American campaign: Nothing sucks like an Electrolux
Using animals for product imagery is risky:

It’s not only words that mistranslate:
A U.S. deodorant found great success in the U.S. with their advertisement showing an octopus using the product under each of its eight arms. When shown in Japan, however, it was a flop; the Japanese consider an octopus to have eight legs rather than eight arms.

A U.S. marketing firm found that while a deer was a sign of masculinity in the U.S., it conveyed a different image in Brazil, where ‘deer’ is slang for homosexual.

Another company erred when it chose an owl as part of its promotional efforts in India. Indians view the owl as a symbol of bad luck.
Have you got any examples to share with us?

Bye for now,

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