June 17, 2016

Would You Buy These Mistranslated Products?

by brenton

When you provide translation services, you’re performing a juggling act because there are many things that you have to take into consideration.  Not only are you trying to accurately convey what people have written in one language in another language, you’re also trying to make sure that you take the idioms, grammar and cultural practices of the destination language into consideration.


Sometimes, a word-for-word translation works best, especially if the written material is not very complex.  Most of the time, however, you need to find idioms in the destination language that have the same metaphorical meaning because the literal meaning might not sound right.  Here’s what happens when literal meanings are used instead of metaphorical ones:

  1. Big Pimp.  McDonald’s “Big Mac” literally translates to “Gros Mec” in French.  However, the word “mec” in French doesn’t just mean “fellow” or “buddy” as “mac” does in English.  Instead, it refers to a pimp!  Since French customers no doubt found it a bit astonishing that they were eating “big pimps,” this translation had to be altered.
  2. Aroused Men and Chickens.  When Perdue chicken was introduced in Spanish-speaking markets, they had to translate their slogan, “It takes a strong man to make a tender chicken.”  However, the result in Spanish was something that meant “It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate!”  Obviously, something needed to be changed before people started associating Perdue chicken with sexual practices.
  3. Manure Stick.  L’Oreal introduced a product called the “mist stick” on the market.  This was a curling iron for women.  When they took their product to Germany, they forgot to take into account that “mist” in German is slang for “manure.”  Since no one wants their hair smelling like manure, the mist stick didn’t do as well as expected.
  4. Toilet Water.  There’s a difference between tonic water and toilet water, as Schweppes realized when they mistakenly tried to sell tonic water with this name in Italy!
  5. Big-Breasted Beans.  Hunt-Wesson tried to sell their “Big John” baked beans in French Canada with the literal translation “Gros Jos.”  However, in French, “Gros Jos” means big breasts rather than Big John!

It’s interesting how many slogans and product names end up having literal translations with sexual connotations!  Some of these can be funny but some of them can also be absurd.  Don’t let your business be affected by mistranslation; contact us.

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