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funny translations

9 Funny Translations That Will Make You Laugh

Lost in translation fails are inevitable in communication across different languages and cultures. We have all experienced those weird moments when an automated translation app or conversation with someone speaking English as a second language produces baffling or hilarious speech. While these funny translations can lead to awkward situations or confusion, they also allow us to build understanding.

In this article, we will share nine funny translations that illustrate how amusing and insightful these cross-cultural mix-ups can be. From famous mistranslations in history to perplexing product names, these funny translated words and phrases show that a bit of humor can go a long way in bringing people together across language barriers.


Famous Mistranslations in History

Lost in translation mishaps are sometimes more significant than just confusing menu items and silly product names, some monumental mix-ups have also happened on a historical stage. When pivotal communications between cultures get scrambled, the consequences can be entirely unexpected and even impact human events. We like to think important diplomacy is fail-proofed by expert translators, but cultural nuances and linguistic complexities can complicate things even at the highest levels.

This section will explore some of the most famous cases where key phrases or concepts were misinterpreted between historical figures or in decisive historical moments. 

Let these stories teach you to choose your translators carefully when the stakes are high.


1. U.S. President Carter Woos Poland

In his visit to Poland in 1977, U.S. President Jimmy Carter was lost in translation blunders. The interpreter first wrongly conveyed Carter, saying he “abandoned” the U.S. and had a “strong lust” to intimately get to know Poles. Even his happiness to be in Poland was relayed as happiness to inappropriately grasp Poland’s “private parts”.

The team replaced the interpreter immediately after this inappropriate translation. Choosing qualified interpreters proved challenging throughout Carter’s visit. The translation errors turned his Polish outreach into an embarrassing diplomatic mishap.


2. Nikita Khrushchev Threatens to “Bury” the USA

A tense Cold War moment arose from translation errors in a 1956 speech by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Speaking at a Polish embassy reception, Khrushchev concluded his remarks by saying, “We will bury you!”

This clear threat immediately prompted outraged diplomats from 12 NATO states and Israel to walk out. However, Khrushchev likely meant to convey, “We will be present at your funeral,” implying socialist ideology would outlast capitalist societies.

But in the explosive Cold War environment, Western ears interpreted the “bury” phrase as a physical menace due to poor translation. This high-stakes language barrier aggravated tensions between the nuclear-armed superpowers. Like Carter, Khrushchev learned the hard way that speech interpretation requires meticulous precision on the diplomatic stage.


3. Translation Fails Jimmy Carter Again

Jimmy Carter’s struggles with misinterpretation continued during a 1981 speech in Japan. He opened with a joke, which the interpreter conveyed to the audience: “President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh”.

The crowd erupted laughing, which surprised Carter. When he asked the interpreter about this reaction, the translator admitted he had instructed the audience to laugh rather than translate Carter’s actual joke.

Translators turning Carters speeches into comedy was becoming a pattern. Once again, the person translating fumbled the verbal message, making it not funny.


Hilarious “Lost in Translation” Marketing Blunders

Businesses aiming to expand globally translate advertisements to connect across cultures. But conveying clever branding into other languages can lead to hilarious translation fails. 

Many marketing mishaps have achieved infamy over the years, from silly product names to nonsensical taglines. Join us as we highlight some of history’s most epic advertising translations.


4. Mercedes: Cars to “Rush to Die”

Western automakers face linguistic landmines entering China’s market. Besides website translation, their brand names get “transcreated” into Chinese characters — each conveying distinct meanings. Finding characters that sound similar and have sensible meanings proves tricky.

Legend has it Mercedes-Benz fell victim to an unfortunate transcription: Their brand was rendered “奔死” (pronounced “bēnsǐ”), intended to mimic “Benz”. Those characters can mean “to rush to die” — not ideal associations with luxury vehicles.

This alleged branding blunder reveals the complexities of translating even iconic global brands into completely foreign alphabets. Nuanced lexical and cultural considerations beyond phonetic similarity come into play. Mercedes may regret their Chinese name’s translation, implying cars to die for.


5. Would You Like “Fingers” With That?

U.S. fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken hit a cultural roadblock when their “Finger-lickin’ good” slogan got lost in Chinese translation. Rendered as 吃手指, the phrase embarrassingly told customers to literally “Eat your fingers”.

Instead of conveying their food’s tasty, flavorful quality, this Chinese version sounded like an invitation to cannibalism. KFC likely regrets not double-checking those linguistic nuances before their iconic tagline invited people to eat their own hands.

This funny error shows the importance of scrutinizing even short key messaging when adapting brands for local markets. Companies can’t afford slip-ups sending the wrong signals about their products — especially not suggestions of raw finger consumption. Delicious as KFC may be, that’s one interpretation bound to leave customers scratching their heads.


6. Coca-Cola Greets “Death”

When Coca-Cola moved into New Zealand, they aimed to appeal to native Maori speakers by translating a slogan. Their “Hello, mate” became “Kia ora, mate” in the Maori language.

However, the translator failed to consider that “mate” means “death” in Maori! So while the company greeted consumers with a friendly “Hello, friend”, the adapted slogan was conveying “Greetings, death” to their ears.

Health advocates might argue sugary sodas could lead to poor health outcomes, yet promoting “Hello, death” probably wasn’t Coca-Cola’s intended appeal to New Zealanders. This slip-up exemplifies the cultural complexities many companies confront when machine translating taglines without professional help. Nuanced native meanings get lost, and slogan word choices can backfire in inappropriate ways.


7. Tonic Water or “Toilet Water”?

Beverage company Schweppes hit an embarrassing linguistic wall when promoting its signature tonic water in Italy. Opting not to translate the product name, they kept it labeled as “Tonic Water”.

However, the Italian word for “water” also means “toilet” in casual speech! So non-translated “Tonic Water” suggested to Italian consumers the drink contained unsavory “toilet ingredients”.

This blunder reveals companies can’t treat product names as transferable abroad. Local language nuances differ even between similar-sounding terms. “Water” triggering thoughts of toilet doesn’t build brand appetite.

Schweppes learned the hard way that customizing naming and packaging is vital, even for established products moving into new linguistic territories. Companies must adapt branding to resonate across cultures or risk products getting linguistically flushed down the toilet.


8. American Airlines: “Fly Naked”

An outrageous translation of the Spanish slogan translation failed American Airlines when promoting leather airplane seats in Mexico. Their chosen English tagline to highlight luxurious seating was “Fly in Leather”.

However, when translated literally to “Vuela en Cuero”, it actually suggested to Spanish-speaking consumers that passengers should “Fly Naked”. Rather than invoking comfortable, high-end interiors, the adapted wording seemed to encourage Mexican passengers to travel au naturel.

This mortifying mix-up reveals the trouble of direct word-for-word transfer between languages, especially with idiomatic phrasing. Companies must meticulously adapt slogans and descriptions to resonate across cultures instead of blindly relying on multilingual dictionaries. Otherwise, they risk unintentionally undressing their brand.


9. General Motors: The “No Go” Chevy Nova

As Spanish speakers quickly realized, “no va” directly translates to the less-than-inspiring meaning of “doesn’t go”. Not exactly the speed, power, and performance qualities GM hoped to emphasize for their new model line.

This marketing mistake underscores the importance of test-driving proposed names in local languages before production. Companies must vet how brands sound and resonate abroad, avoiding potentially embarrassing interpretations. GM learned this lesson after introducing a car with a poorly translated name that implied it was doomed to collect dust in the driveway rather than offering the promised thrill ride.



After exploring these laughable translation tales spanning politics and global businesses, hopefully, we’ve gained some cultural self-awareness along with a few giggles.

While mortifying for all involved, let’s have some mercy on those who so innocently got tongue-tied between languages. Haven’t we all been there — struggling to capture subtle connotations that just don’t transcribe cleanly from one alphabet to the next or fumbling for the perfect foreign phrase that says just what the heart intends?

Cross-cultural outreach requires walking linguistic tightropes where meaning dangles precariously in the balance. In the wonderful world of lost words, we can still find bonds between cultures.

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