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Mistranslations are everywhere!

On public transport, in airports, shops, restaurants, marketing campaign slogans, on menus, road signs, food packaging – we mean everywhere!

I’m sure you’ve spotted some on your travels… And if you haven’t, keep an eye out next time you manage to get away. We’re always on the lookout for new translation fails to make us laugh.

And in the meantime, we’ve put together a countdown of our absolute favourite mistranslations – take a look :

  1. Welsh road signs go rogue

Back in 2008, council officials in Swansea needed a Welsh translation for a road sign. They were delighted to receive a quick reply to their email and went ahead with printing the sign.

Unfortunately, the email response said “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.”

Oops!! Council workers acted quickly to take the sign down but not before plenty of Welsh speakers had seen it and shared photos of it with news stations!

And here’s another classic translation fail from Wales:

A sign that tells cyclists to dismount in English made no sense in Welsh…

But it roughly translated as “bladder disease has returned”!

Apparently, there is no word for ‘dismount’ in Welsh, which makes this translation tricky.

But that’s no excuse for the end result!!

And in 2009, another confusing (and potentially dangerous) road sign appeared in Cardiff:

The English version of the sign told people to “look left”, while the Welsh translation told them to “look right”!

Looks like this one might have been a human error? Somebody must have forgotten to proofread!

  1. Political interpreters cause embarrassment

Politicians often have to visit countries where they don’t speak the native language. And that’s why they usually have a trusty interpreter on hand.

But sometimes, the interpreters don’t seem to have gone through a very rigorous selection process!

Back in 1977, US president Jimmy Carter made a speech in Poland.

His interpreter’s version of the speech left the Poles confused and slightly offended…

When Carter spoke about the Polish people’s desires for the future, the translation ended up saying that he was interested in their sexual desires instead!

And the phrase “I left the United States this morning” was translated into “I left the United States,never to return”… leaving the Polish people worried they had a new citizen in their midst!

The interpreter also used Russian words in their version of the speech, and apparently, Carter saying he was happy to be in Poland ended up being translated into him being “happy to grasp at Poland’s private parts”?!

Needless to say, the President used a different interpreter at his next event!

I’m sure you’ll all have heard about the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013 too:

Viewers took to social media to complain that his signing was a load of rubbish and that his “childish hand gestures” made absolutely no sense!

Apparently, the interpreter turned his hand to acting in 2014 and was looking for work…

  1. Menus serve up mistranslations

A lot of our absolute favourite mistranslations come from menus!

There are just too many to share! Here are a few classics for you to feast your eyes on…

I like my potatoes brave!

At least they were honest!

And what on earth is a “Mermaid in Deep sea” or “McDonald’s best friend”?!

Anyone up for some decomposed mule?!

You can get a side dish of knowledge with your stir-fried Wikipedia!


Eating out and property purchasing all in one day!

  1. Marketing campaign translation fails

There are plenty of mistranslation horror stories out there and some involve some big names!

When the car company Ford marketed their new car, Pinto, in Brazil, they didn’t think to check if the word had any meaning in Brazilian Portuguese.

When sales took a hit, they discovered that it’s a slang word for penis!

Pepsi also had to have a rethink when they discovered one of their marketing campaigns wasn’t performing well in China…

Their campaign slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi generation” ended up being translated into Chinese as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead”!

And apparently, Parker Pens caused some controversy and confusion in Mexico when marketing their ballpoint pens.

The original slogan was “Avoid embarrassment, use Parker Pens”, referring to the fact that the pens won’t leak in your pocket!

When they decided to take the campaign to Mexico, they adapted this to the slightly less catchy “it won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you” and got a Spanish translation.

Unfortunately, ‘embarazar’ is one of those sneaky false friends – instead of meaning ‘embarrass’, it actually means ‘impregnate’, so the Spanish slogan ended up as “it won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you” – wow!!

  1. Hilarious Chinese mistranslations

We have to give the number 1 spot to Chinese translation fails! There are so many of these out there that it’s almost impossible to choose just a few.

It may be due to those complex Chinese characters or just too many companies in China relying on machine translation or employees who aren’t overly familiar with English.

Either way, they provide us with a great deal of amusement! Here are a few of our favourites:

Dying?! Not sure how many people would corporate!

Well, that’s alright then!

Very romantic…I think!

It’s coming to get you!

Try not to get stolen!

Who else hates that evil rubbish?!

Erm…if you say so!

So, there you have it – our favourite mistranslations from all around the world!

Please do share any of your own translation fails with us – we’d love to see them.

And if you have any questions about our accurate, high-quality translations that are done by human translators, please do get in touch.

Isabella Fink

Isabella Fink

I am native Austrian and studied Linguistics and Literature at the University of Innsbruck and in Manchester, so language and translation has always been a passion of mine. Before joining Tongue Tied, I have worked as a Translation Assistant and in Customer Services and Purchasing.

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1 Comment

  1. Chas Ham

    Made me smile after a hard days work – thank you.


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