Asian languages like Japanese are notoriously tricky to transcribe into any Western language, due to having a very different set of phonemes; the most well known is L / R (light vs. right, free vs. flee etc.) which results in the stereotypical stupid Japanese accent, as the equivalent sound in Japanese is somewhere between both. There's numerous others, though; B / V, S / TH (probably most notable for producing "Aeris"), SI / SHI (prompting giggles at words like "shituation" or "shitty life") and others. This is aggravated by the difference in writing systems, as most East Asian languages use either logographic or syllabic writing systems, which means that foreign words can only be transliterated phonetically (i.e. by approximating how they sound like to a native speaker). If something's a proper noun, be prepared for guesswork.
An infamous example was after World War II, during the American occupation of Japan, there was an incident where an Allied official had some members of the Japanese bureaucracy fired after a Japanese translator miscontrued a martial arts club's name. The name is Budokai, intended to mean 'Martial Arts Club', but the translator mistook the kanji for 'Military Virtues Association', something that the Allied authorities would never tolerate given the demilitarization policy at that time. When the same Allied official realized the mistake and tried to keep the bureaucrats in their office, it was too late; General MacArthur insisted the association be banned and that any members in the Japanese government be fired.
An even more infamous - and tragic - example was the final trigger for one of mankind's worst catastrophes: when asked by journalists about the Potsdam Declaration, the Japanese Prime Minister (as the proper politician he was) replied with the weasel word "mokusatsu", which can mean both, "No comment," and "I am ignoring it in contempt." Guess which translation got back to the Americans.
Pick any online text translator. Pick a block of text - the beginning of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, for example. Now translate it to any other language, and back again. This is sometimes known as "Babelfishing", after AltaVista's (later Yahoo's) Babel Fish, one of the first online translators (it now exists without the name as Bing Translator).
English -> French -> English
To be, or not to be—c' is the question: If ' ; tis nobler in l' spirit to suffer the supports and the arrows from unworthy fortune Or to take arms against a sea of the troubles And by l' opposition stop them. To die, sleep— Not more—and by a sleep to say we let us stop sorrow d' love, and the thousand normal shocks This flesh is heir with. ' ; Tis a consumption Being desired with enthusiasm. To die, sleep— To sleep—perhaps with the dream: ay, there' ; S the strip contact, for in this sleep of dead which dreams can come When we scrambled in addition to this mortal rolling up, Must give us the pause. There' ; S the respect That makes the calamity thus long life.
English -> Japanese -> English
Because of a certain, or because it is not,—That is question: ' Whether or not; In order the topping lift and the arrow or the arm of a nobler tis inhuman good fortune to take with the heart which suffers vis-a-vis the sea of trouble and finish those with in the opposite direction. In order to die, in order to sleep,— Above this—And as for us that meat of mental agony and thousand natural impacts which finish with the sleep which is said is to the successor. ' Because it is desired from Tis consummation heart. In order to die, in order to sleep,— In order to sleep,—In perchance dream: there' ay; Whether perhaps, any dream comes, when mixing from the coil where we do not escape this death friction for the sleep of s death, separated, we must give pause. There' s point that makes the disaster of such long life.
English -> Spanish -> English
To be or not to be, that one is the question; If ' tis more noble in the head to undergo the slings and you shoot with an arrow of the indignante fortune, Or to take the arms against a sea from hardships, and being been against, to finish those. In order to die, to dream; Not over; and by a dream to say we were finished the pain and the thousand natural shocks that meat is the heir - ' tis a consumation devoutly to being wish' d. In order to die, to sleep; In order to sleep, to perhaps dream. Ay, there' s the rubbing, stops in that dream of the death what dreams can come, when we have mixed ourselves of this mortal coil, we must occur stop. There' s the respect that so makes terrible of long life.
There are actually translators that do this deliberately like Bad Translator. As in, that's the sole reason for their existence. Same with Translation Party.
For instance, the classical To be or not to be, that is the question, after a English-Japanese-Chinese-French-German-Italian-Spanish-English trip, becomes
Due to the regulations due to it stops as they give under him is not: The needs of the argument
One of the first websites to deal with this phenomenon, particularly as applied to hilarious usages of English in Asian countries, is Engrish.com.
During the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union the leader at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, addressed western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow. During the reception he apparently said "Мы вас похороним!" (My vas pokhoronim!), meaning "We will bury you!", and many people took it as a threat. However this is a case of quote mining, the actual sentence was this, "Нравится вам или нет, но история на нашей стороне. Мы вас закопаем", (Nravitsya vam ili nyet, na istoriya na nashey stropone. My vas zakopayem.), in English "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in." Basically he wasn't saying that the Soviet Union would destroy the U.S, rather it would outlast it, that the U.S would collapse upon itself. Ironically this did happen except it was the Soviet Union doing the collapsing while the U.S was doing the burying.
The FA's translator for when Fabio Capello first became England Manager!
An advertisement on this very wiki, for "Game4Power.com", asks "How can you enjoy the game so lightsome?"
Another ad went from "Live and work in USA" to "Live and work in NOW" because of a freak collision of different word order, acronyms and missing declension.
The German translation for a small toy fishtank with plastic fish: "Lebensunterhalt aus direkter Sonne leuchtet". Just retranslating this to English in the most literal of ways gives you "Keep out of direct sun light", which is probably the phrase it was originally translated from. But in this case they picked the German words representing the words secondary meaning or literal translation: The translation for Keep used here is the German word for the keep you earn... They also translated light as "leuchtet" (light up/glow), even splitting up sunlight into two words and literally translating each of them.
It says "sustenance out of direct sun illuminates."
According to this story, many Irish police stopping Polish motorists for driving infractions were reading the wrong part of the driving licence when taking their details. This came to light when it emerged that Prawo Jazdy (Polish for "driver's license") was the most wanted driver in Ireland.
When Bic went to Latin America, it thought that the word "embarazar" meant "to embarass." So, the billboards told you that "this pen won't leak in your pocket and get you pregnant."
According to this blog entry, "Most of us, however, have all along suspected that this phenomenon resulted from reliance on faulty translation software. Indeed, it is easy to prove that absurd English translations are being spewed out daily in China when individuals who don't know English merely plug Chinese sentences into the software and expect it to come up with reasonable renditions." A bug in one particular translation program has caused the word "fuck" to appear on shop signs and restaurant menus, etc.
The list isn't without mild mistakes, either. "Cuttlefish" is not the same thing as "octopus", for example.
That didn't stop a restaurant owner from putting up a sign that called his establishment "Translate Server Error".
Many Blind Idiot Translations of Chinese dish names are prime examples of various difficulties in translation. For example, the dish whose name literally translates "husband and wife lung slices" has that name because (a) the words for "lung" also means "tripe," and (b) the dish was reportedly invented by a couple who were street vendors in Sichuan in the 1930s. Likewise, "pock-marked grandmother tofu" is also supposed to be named after the woman who invented it. If you don't know the stories already, those names are as nondescriptive and unhelpful as, um, "hamburger" (named after the German city of Hamburg) or "sandwich" (named after an English nobleman). But even when the names are descriptive it doesn't necesarily help: a lot dishes are named as ingredient plus cooking technique, but the techniques are often typical to China and have no straightforward translation into European languages (e.g., there's different words for regular stir-frying and the "explosive" variant that uses hotter oil and finer-cut ingredients).
"Yesterday not throw the fire inside the battery". Literally, "never throw the battery in a fire". Or worse: "The Ni-MH battery absolutely not can throw in the fire inside, the battery suffers the heat will take place the bang."
A negligent translation to Russian and back allowed Margaret Thatcher's nickname to shift from 'Iron Maiden' (as in 'torture-box') to 'Iron Dame' to 'Iron Lady'. An improvement, no?
This became the linguistic version of an Ascended Glitch; that nickname certainly stuck.
The website Hanzi Smatter has many examples of poorly used Chinese and Japanese by English speakers. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, in tattoos.
Hanzi Smatter has uncovered an "Asian Font", which in true Blind Idiot style just assigns a random pictogram to each English letter, making it easy for foolish people to get a "tattoo of my kid's name in Chinese/Japanese" from an even more foolish tattoo artist. The result, correctly translated into whatever language it most resembles, is usually something like "man [gibberish] going [gibberish] [gibberish] [gibberish]".
It is not really gibberish as an intention. The very limited number of pictograms supplied can be used to make a proper generic banner that makes sense.
Some of the most glorious Chinese-to-English examples ever recorded could be found on Anime Jump's (the website has stopped updating, and Mike Toole now works for Anime News Network) Bootleg Toys Showcase. The Flying Headless Goku is a meme in itself.
Speaking of bad Chinese-to-English translations, has anyone read those red chopstick packets available at most Chinese restaurants? (Although most of these packets have been revised to display better English, you can still find a few badly translated ones here and there.)
The mentioned site contains what is probably one of the best (read: worst) Blind Idiot Translations ever: the INTERTLLR TERININATDR (also called Apolay Wayyioy).
An example from a Tokyo car rental brochure: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."
Some versions of this anecdote add a line instructing the driver as to the correct course of action should the driver's passage be obstacled by a horse: "wait for him to pass away."
Another example involved Tony Blair giving a speech in French about the "third way" falling foul of the fact that the literal French translation of "third way" (troisième voie) is more often used in conversational French to refer to Platform Three at a railway station.
John F. Kennedy supposedly did this in his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, where Berliner can refer to a type of pastry, but the belief that this was a mistake is an urban legend.
The story about Jimmy Carter in Poland, however, is actually true and wasn't his fault but the translator's; he was more familiar with Polish writing than speaking. Carter had said that he wanted to get to know the Poles better but it was translated as "I desire the Poles carnally." Further, when he meant to say he came from US, he implied that he abandoned the US forever. Finally, to top it off, he used Russian words in the finale, in a country with strong anti-Russian sentiments. The translator was soon replaced.
An information board in China was rendered as "propaganda board", perhaps aptly in a country whose government has a fairly hazy distinction between information and propaganda.
In a translation of a hymn about John the Revelator, who wrote the Book of The Seven Seals, 'seal' was translated using the 'aquatic pinniped mammal' meaning.
Translated into Norwegian with that meaning: "De Sju Selers Bok". Translated back into English in the same manner: "The Seven Harnesses' Book". It could also be read as "The Seven Seals' Book", as in "aquatic mammal".
Polish translators in general seem to be baffled by slang, for example translating the word "radical" to the Polish equivalent "radykalny" which, needless to say, is not and has never been a slang word. This makes the translated dialogue sound oddly disjointed or plain incomprehensible.
One translation which rendered the British anatomical slang term "bell-end" literally, as in "terminal section of a device that makes a ringing sound".
Signage in Wales is required to be in both English and Welsh, leading to regular examples of Blind Idiot Translation.
As shown in this picture◊ (from here), a sign that in English directed heavy goods vehicles to take another route, in Welsh said, "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."note The correct translation should be "Dim mynediad ar gyfer cerbydau nwyddau trwm. Safle preswyl yn unig."
Another sign located near a section of road under repair read "Cyclists dismount" in English, but "Bladder disease has returned" in Welsh. (Though the word order does mean it makes even less sense in the original Welsh.)
A temporary sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading 'Look Right' in English read 'Look Left' in Welsh.
This infamous synopsis of the opera Carmen. "All hail the balls of a Toreador!"
"The Sistrums Tinkeling!"
The phenomenon was referred to by Stephen Fry in an article when he was discussing why he never did any classical roles. He commented that he didn't 'have the sort of calves that could carry off a pair of tights' which he thought could be translated as 'possess the type of young cows that could transport away two drunks".
In one version of Adobe Director, a word was translated into double Dutch: the original "Left - Center - Right" were translated into "Koppelingen - Midden - Rechts", where "koppelingen" is Dutch for (hyper)"links", and "links" in turn is Dutch for "left".
The Dutch copy of Trackmania has a dialog button "Dichtbij", which means "Close", as in a short distance away.
And in the Dutch version of iTunes, where in a file's information you can type in the name of a show, it translates "Show" as "Tonen", as in making something seen.
the Windows (vista and 7) standard scan utility has scanning translated as "zoeken", which means search. How that ever left the factory, no one ever knows.
The first release of the Dutch version of Windows Mobile 5 was full of these. One memorable example was the Solitaire game had a button labeled "Tekenen", which is "Draw" as in "Draw a picture" rather than "Draw a card". It was clearly a case of translating the resource tables without looking at the application. Not to mention the numerous made-up and inconsistent abbreviations that WM5 was riddled with to make the (typically longer than their English equivalent) Dutch terms fit. To top it off, many of the naming of various items was also inconsistent with the Dutch version of the regular Windows (for example, Windows on PC translates "My Documents" into "Mijn Documenten" but left "Program Files" alone, while WM5 did the opposite, changing "Program Files" to "Programmabestanden" but leaving "My Documents" inexplicably in English).
The Brazilian Portuguese translation of Windows Vista had 'Sobre o Janelas', which means... 'About [the] Windows'. Sadly, it was fixed.
With the release of a system update to the Xbox 360 (2.0.16197.0, 26 Oct '12), Swedish was added as a system language. But there was a lot of simple translation errors despite the Windows OS having an almost perfect translation. (Hard Drive) "Storage" was translated to the word for "the shop's storage for goods", confusing the word for TV remote and gamepad (remote), car's transmission (game defaults) was translated to "transmitting" (correct, but confusing). And some "enable"/"disable" is switched which makes it hard to know the setting unless using any other language. These errors haven't been fixed yet.
Students of the Latin Language, once they have gotten to the point where they can begin to piece together reasonably correct sentences, graduate from Translation Train Wreck to this normally partway through their second year. With improper and incomplete knowledge of grammatical structures, the results are often more or less fine in English, but rather atrocious in Latin. For example, the sentence: Since I feel that I am not afraid of the kind of man who would pet a kitten, is correctly written as Cum sentio ut vereor homi qui palparet cattulam. Without knowledge of subjunctive, cum clauses, and characteristic clauses, such a student would write: Quoniam non timeor gentis viri quem sit tactet felecem. Unfortunately, this means: "Since (as in time) not afraid I am of the race of man whom he would be touches cat."
Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson and James May explored the workings of the world's first automobiles and were very confused by an instruction sheet translated from French. See here starting at 3:09
French Example: This◊ packaging for a snow shovel, which translates "snow pusher" to "revendeur de drogue de neige", uses the wrong sense of the word "pusher." Instead of "an object which pushes snow", it means "drug pusher", literally reading "Snow-drug seller". (A phrase which would have made more sense in a translation of Snow Crash.)
In Italian, "neve" (snow) is also a slang word for cocaine, so if the botched French translation was translated into Italian, you would get a label that defines the snow pusher as a cocaine seller.
The United States government did this when dealing with the Russian government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hands something to the Russian official and even says "We worked hard to find the right Russian word", just before the official points at one of the words and says "That's the wrong word." HillarityEnsues. (Hillary's face was a mixture of Oh Crap and trying not to laugh)
Hillary Clinton meant to write the word "Reset" on a big button. The button would be pressed, and the Russian-American relations would be symbolically reset to a clean slate. In Russian the word would be "Perezagruzka". Alas, the actual word written was "Peregruzka" - "Overload". Russian official Lavrov immediately parried with a false translation of his own: he (mistakenly) explained that "Peregruzka" means "Overcharged".
"Overcharged" can mean the same thing as "Overload" in English, it just isn't the dominant meaning.
Similarly, a hapless French MP attempting to welcome Quebec Premier Jean Charest to Paris "in Québécois" and hope he wasn't too tired after his trip unwittingly used an obscure and extremely vulgar idiom that basically translates as "I hope your c**t isn't dragging."
One still-existing kingdom in Africa has two state copies of The Bible. According to the King of that kingdom, one of them is a recent, pretty decent translation. The other one was a gift from Queen Victoria, and thanks to the state of knowledge of the language in question at the time, contains translation gems like "The Lord is the keeper of my sheep."
One brand of prawn crackers (the kind you fry yourself) proudly proclaimed them to have a "peculiar taste". Somebody ought to inform that translator that the use of "peculiar" to mean "unique" is archaic; it's far more commonly used to mean "weird".
The Spanish version of this wiki suffers from this. "Disonancia del Angustia" for Angst Dissonance(in Spanish all nouns are gendered, "del" is a male pronoun and "Angustia" a female one, thus the right LITERAL translation should be "Disonancia de la angustia"). La Decadencia Del Chingón for Badass Decay (means "The Badass Decadence", since "Chingón" is an aproximation for "Badass", but this is Mexican slang and not appropiate for that use everywhere).
Also, note that the word "tópico" for Trope exists, though "Tropo" (a linguistic concept) is what's being used due to catchiness.
And this is why most Spanish speakers just read the English version.
An English edition of the Helsinki Metro newspaper in Finland once titillated readers with the headline "150 kg ? Biggest heroine bust ever!"
Another one from Helsinki. To clarify, Helsinki is a bilingual city and hence all public buildings need to have signs both in Finnish and in Swedish. This sign is from a hospital and shows directions to various departments, etc. Only problem is that next to each Finnish text, the Swedish translation just says "Samma på svenska" which is Swedish for "Same in Swedish". You don't even need to know Swedish to know something is wrong since all five lines obviously have the same text.
A certain cleaning product advises English speakers to use an amount the size of a quarter, and French speakers to use a quarter of the bottle.
Using Google Translate leads to this quite a lot. "He was a colonel of aviation Israel".
Finnish is notoriously difficult to translate into, what with our copious suffixes and whatnot. As a result, Blind Idiot Translations abound, especially in user's manuals for various electronics. In a reverse example, a Finnish business college advertised itself with the "English" slogan of "Enter the Type". (The Finnish word "tyyppi" can mean either "type" or "character" [as in someone with a colourful personality].)
Google Translate is horrible with Finnish. While it has since been corrected, it once translated the lyrics "Ensi lumi satoi kahdesti, / Maalasi sieluni taulun." (The first snow fell twice, / Painted the painting of my soul.) as "The first two times it rained, / Soul painted billboards."
Type Tiellä on jänis. (There is a hare on the road) and you get The road is a hare
It often doesn't get Russian too well either. For example, it mixes up krasibo (beautiful) and krasnyi (red) very frequently. The result is electrician's manuals telling you to use the resistor with a beautiful-great-beautiful markings.
Clients From Hell, a site that publishes anonymous anecdotes about insufferable web design clients, featured this beautiful post:
Client: We need to get this all translated into Italian.
Me: Ok, well we’ll need to get a price for the translation.
Client: Can we not just do it in house? I’m sure between us we can speak Italian.
This trope was invoked by the defense of one of the accused during the trials of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Apparently the thing that got him arrested as a possible coordinator of the attacks was a Spanish translation of an Italian translation (the guy was living in Italy at the time) of a sentence in Arabic that could be interpreted in more than one way.
Also in 2004, two Brazilian surfers were arrested at the Miami airport for not knowing proper English: when asked what the large metallic object in their luggage was, they wanted to reply that it was a compressor - an air pump (bomba de ar)... Yes, what they actually ended up saying is that it was an air bomb. Cue the book being thrown, they being charged with everything from terrorism to making false bomb reports, Brazil being added to the list of terrorist countries, and the guys staying in jail for over two months until the Brazilian government managed to bring them back home.
On the pedestal of the St. Wenceslas statue at Wenceslas Square in Prague there used to be a sign: "Keep of the statue and the basement".
On the back of a piece of Chinese candy named "Soft sugar happy flavor" is this helpful description:
The candy, the sending out happy,
is being rich the happy gift which and
the after taste is accompanies us to grow
is childhood many joyful recollections.
There are frequent references by English-speaking record collectors and dealers to the Italian "Dischi label," referring to "Dischi Ricordi." But "dischi" in Italian means "records." "Ricordi" is the name of the label.
In Canada, all merchandise is legally required to have its label in both English and French. Needless to say, this occasionally leads to some... interesting results.
The machine washes the common cold separately.note Machine wash cold separately. Fall dry low.note Tumble dry low. Only the bleach of no-chlorine, when had need of.note Only non-chlorine bleach, when needed. Do not do the iron over the conception.note Do not iron over design. Do not dry neat.note Do not dry clean.
A Paul Harvey story recounts the experience by two Americans visiting Poland. Before leaving the hotel to explore the city, they were smart enough to write down the words on the sign in front of the hotel in case they got lost and needed to ask for directions. After wandering around the city for a while, they got lost. To get some help, they stopped random people on the streets and showed them the writing. No one was able to help them until they found someone who spoke English. They showed the paper to the English-speaking person who read it, then said, "Lots of hotels say 'no vacancy' on their signs."
A dark brown sofa set manufactured in China bore a label describing its color as "Nigger-brown". The problem was due to outdated translation software that displayed the phrase when "dark brown" was typed in. 
Cuba's Bay of Pigs (Bahia de Cochinos) doesn't actually refer to pigs, but to queen triggerfish. "Cochino" can also translate as "pig" in Spanish, though it's often used as an adjective (i.e. "piggish"). "Cerdo" or "puerco" is usually used for the noun.
Some Portuguese dishes names are also untranslatable. But as restaurant owners like to have "fancier" menus, you might come across some delicious "You covers" ("Tapas" is also the form of the verd "tapar" (cover) in the 2nd person of the singular) among others.
As of the 2016 Olympics, Brazil decided to have English translation in the signs but went too far when started to translate the names of the places... Good luck going to "Here and There".
An ad for what appears to be some kind of translator. The ad was in Swedish, and, judging by the quality of the translation, it wasn't a very good translator. Word-for-word transcript:
Läsa några webbplats på alla språk! En klicka översättning, hämta nu fria!
Läsa några: To read a few (plural)
webbplats: website (singular)
på alla språk: in all languages
klicka: (to) click
hämta nu: retrieve now
fria: free (opposite of incarcerated, not opposite of expensive)(plural)
fria can also be translated as propose (to someone you want to marry)
One promising-looking place in Quimper, France offered a crêpe aux avocats which was duly translated into the restaurants English menu as Lawyer crepe.Avocat is a homonym for two words in French, one meaning "avocado" and the other "lawyer."
In Subway restaurants in Japan, the written advertisements on cups are unintentionally suggestive. It's not technically bad English, but it doesn't make too much sense either:
"It's the way we welcome the sun with 35 sun-block. The way the best water, now mostly comes in bottles. It's the way we make time for exercise and like to enjoy reading. That's why SUBWAY offers the varieties of fresh and healthy subs. Because when you are through surfing, you might want to put on a bathing suit. It's the way a sandwich should be.
During the Cold War Soviet espionage conveyed lots of information about the Manhattan Project to Soviet nuclear scientists. Unfortunately the translation work was often uneven. The famous example is that because no one understood what the English phrase "squash court" meant, for many years the Soviets believed Enrico Fermi had constructed his first breeder reactor in a pumpkin patch.
Youtube's "Transcribe Audio" function can result in this, especially if the person's voice is speaking fast or is slurred.
Can? No it will be messed up every time.
Former Dutch prime minister Joop den Uyl once famously said "we are a country of undertakers." What he meant was "we are a country of entrepreneurs," as the Dutch word for entrepreneur is "ondernemer", with "onder"->"under" and "nemer"->"taker".
Conversely, Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff actually manages to do this when speaking Dutch... "De verdediging was geitenkaas" (the defense was goat cheese, instead of "gatenkaas", swiss cheese).
Johan Cruyff did this too when translating the phrase "Op een gegeven moment" (At a certain moment, literally: At a given moment) to spanish. He then introduced 'en un momento dado' to the spanish.
This happens a lot, to the point where one man published a book filled with only stupid translations between Dutch and English. Amongst other things, "I am the first female secretary for the inside and I am having my first period." What did she mean? Why, "I'm the first female State Secretary for Internal Affairs and this is my first term of office", of course!
Gaggia user manual (translated to English): "Whenever you make an Americano, God kills a kitten." It also contains such gems as (paraphrasing) Drink the first shot out of the espresso machine. We hope you didn't just do that, as it's deadly.
Thing is? That's the REAL words in Italian. What's missing is the TONE (jocular and sardonic, so nobody would actually do what is stated).
And also the cultural referent for "everytime you masturbate, God kills a kitten." Well, it was missing at the time.
The French translation of the notice "dishwasher safe" frequently uses the wrong meaning for "safe" (the "metallic box where you store your valuables" meaning).
Hebrew sometimes falls victim to this, as its structure is very different from English, with things like verb forms before the subject, prepositions and articles as prefixes, etc.
Icelandic is particularly prone to literal translation problems, combining a high tolerance for crudeness with an unusual affinity for creating new words out of existing ones (even technical terms - in almost all languages, for example, photon sounds like "photon", autism sounds like "autism", hippocampus sounds like "hippocampus", etc - but in Icelandic, they're ljóseind, einhverfa, and dreki, respectively). So it shouldn't be surprising that often you end up with words like smokkfiskur (squid), which literally means "condomfish", or rúðupiss (windshield wiper fluid), which literally means window-piss. But Icelandic is also rich in expressions that sound really weird when someone translates them literally dating back to ancient times - to pick a few: "Hann stóð á öndinni" (he was too excited to speak), literally "he stood on the duck"; "áfram með smjörið" (go for it, keep going!), literally "forward with the butter"; and "ég borga bara með reiðufé" (I only pay cash), literally "I pay only with an angry sheep."
The Butter one could be translated to Dutch as "Vooruit met de geit", which translated literally to English gives "Forward with the goat!"
"Sorry, today close".
When Lee Myung-bak visited America, Obama literally said to him "Not Welcome" or An Hwanyeongnghabnida (안 환영합니다). he should have just said Hwayeonghabnida, which is a phrase meaning "Welcome" or "Welcome to ___," but An means not. 
The Spanish word for "monkfish" is "rape". Imagine the problems when a Spanish-speaking restaurant couldn't figure out how to translate it into English, instead just turning the dish "rape al marinero" into "rape, sailor-style''.
"Rape" also means "Turnips" in Italian. Enjoy.
Râper is the French word for "grate," and dishes like carottes râpées are very common on French menus.
And, just for fun, rape is also the English name for a group of oilseed crops that include canola (and the infamous broom rape, which makes for fine...brooms).
There's this Taiwanese ad for a product called AUTO-MAT with pretty bad English (in both word choice and pronunciation).
Some signs in countries directly bordering Serbia (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia) try to have a native language plus Serbian underneath. The results range from perfectly comprehensiblenote particularly common for Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia; all were part of Yugoslavia, and Croatian and Bosnian are so close as to be nigh-indistinguishable from Serbian. to this trope to Translation Trainwreck. One sign on the Hungarian-Serbian border tried to warn people of falling rocks. They chose the word 'ledeno' for this, which can mean rock, ice, snow... or bribe money, to most Serbians under the age of thirty. It immediately became a meme for Serbian speakers.
It led to a minor controversy in Hungary when the English translation on the new armbands of Budapest's public transport ticket inspectors gave their profession as "revenue inspection". After a blog that specializes in collecting mistranslations picked it up, even the news ran a short report over the blunder.
There are many jokes and urban legends about the guy/girl who gets a kanji tattoo that is supposed to say "dragon" or "inner strength" or other dramatic expression, only to find out that the tattoo artist used a menu for reference, so they now have "includes free choice of sauce" or "tasty but cheap" emblazoned on their arm. Sometimes it's a shirt or other garment bearing the mistranslation instead.
It's said that at least one tattooist did this deliberately, with the tattoo in question saying something like "I got this tattoo because it looks impressive, and because I'm too dumb to know what it says".
This happened to someone in a post which appeared on Failbook: a girl got Chinese characters tattooed down her side and posted a picture of it on Facebook, saying it was the start of her new life. A Chinese friend of hers commenting on the picture informed her that they were the Chinese word for "picnic table".
Speaking of Urban Legends, allegedly this happened with the first English-Russian-English computer translations. When proverbs were translated from English to Russian and back again, you got such gems as "The wine is acceptable but the meat has spoiled" ("The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak").
Classical Greek is... weird. To the beginning student, once they get the hang of reading the alphabet, Ancient Greek sentence structure is highly varied and it's not uncommon to find two words spelled the exact same way but with completely different meanings, the only difference between the two may be either accent placement or, more frustratingly, context alone since placing the object of a clause isn't required as long as you've mentioned it somewhere above and you remember to use the right case leading to mistakes such as "I am an Athenian" (Ἀθηναῖός εἰμι) and "I will go Athenian" (Ἀθηναῖος εἶμι). To make matters even more difficult, unlike English, Ancient Greek has a third voice known as "Middle Voice" where a set of endings may change parts or even the entire meaning of certain verbs. For example: "καίω" in the Active Voice means "I set fire to X" while Middle Voice "κάω" means "I set myself on fire/I am on fire", the difference between the two is one letter.
A minor one, but it still counts: Many Pizza Huts (At least in the UK, you'll have to verify other countries for me) have a sign that says "Delicious pizza...buonissimo!" However, as "pizza" is a feminine word in Italian, it should actually be "buonissima".
One of the very few points of contact between Communist Romania and Western Europe in Cold War days was rugby union football. Tours by world-class countries and teams were eagerly anticipated and warmly welcomed. The then President of the English R.F.U. accompanied a goodwill visit by England's national side. At the after-match official reception - attended by Nicolai Ceaucescu himself - the President had to give a speech. Wanting to please his hosts and open with a Romanian phrase, he memorised the words written on the outside of the toilet doors, reasoning that they meant "Ladies" and "Gentlemen". His speech got a huge laugh and roars of approval. Gratified, the visiting English dignitary was pleased his jokes had gone down so well. And then an aide to Ceaucescu politely said that the Exalted Comrade had been most amused at the speech. But, President Ceaucescu wishes to know. Why did you begin with Urinals And Water-Closets?
Accurate translation between Arabic and English is difficult because the two languages use very different sets of phonemes, Arabic script is an abjad where vowels are not always marked and must be inferred by the reader, few idioms translate directly, and both languages have wide dialect variations. So this trope comes up a lot in translations between the two.
A translated-into-French ad for some vampire-themed browser game asked "Hey you! Like vampires?". Unfortunately, since they used the other meaning of "like", it came out as "Hey you! Similar vampires?".