If you’ve travelled at all you’re bound to have come across some signs that have gotten a bit lost in translation, and where most of these are harmless and amusing, there have been many well documented cases over the years that have proved problematic.

Translating copy takes more than just an online Google app for it to be done properly, as it also involves a good understanding of syntax, phraseology, and the etymology of words to be done effectively, and here are a few examples of how it can all go horribly wrong:

1. Driving In Tokyo

Hired cars in Japan have brochures to help visitors with some local driving etiquette, and where most are informative, one in particular went viral:

When a passenger of the foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet at him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigour” – we’re guessing this means to honk your horn when you come across bad driving!


2. Parker Pens Don’t Get You Pregnant!

There have been numerous international marketing errors, and this one was a classic.

Parker Pens were marketed with the tagline “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you“, but the Mexican translation became “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” which caused all sorts of confusion!


3. Beer, Pepsi, & Milk Goes Off?

Similarly, the beer maker Coors’ slogan “Turn it loose” translated as “Suffer from diarrhea”, and a Dairy Association’s campaign of “Got Milk?” read in Spanish as “Are you lactating?”.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan the Pepsi slogan of “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was ominously translated as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead”.

4. Diplomatic Faux Pas

Getting the translation right for foreign dignitaries is crucial, especially when the world’s media is following the proceedings, but when the US President Jimmy Carter visited Poland in 1977 things all went horribly wrong for translator Steven Seymour.

In talks, Carter said he wanted to learn about the Polish people’s desire for the future, how he was happy to be in Poland, and had left America to go on a trip, which was translated to Carter desiring the Polish people, that he wanted to grasp Polish parts, and that he’d abandoned the United States – awkward!

 5. Valentine’s Day Mix Up

LostinTranslation2A mistranslation by a chocolate company in the 1950s led to a tradition in Japan that still stands – women giving chocolate to men on February the 14th every year.

To the chocolate companies’ delight, a month later on White Day men traditionally return the favour with a gift worth up to three times the one they received.


This is just a small sample of how important correct translations can be, especially in a political or marketing forum, as so many factors can affect the outcome including slang, idioms, and local culture.

So in future, make sure to mind your own language, and get professional help when you need to mind someone else’s!