One often hilarious side effect of globalization is that product names and commercial Slogans
do not always translate well into other languages and cultures. The problem is frequently compounded by the translator's ignorance of idioms or regional usages that a native speaker would understand and/or avoid. The result is a slogan that insults, offends, or unintentionally amuses the reader.
Note that many of the examples of this trope which can be found on the Web — like the infamous "Chevy Nova"/"no va" story
and the Trope Namer
itself — are in fact Urban Legends
with no basis in truth. But there are a few actual cases out there.
A subtrope of "Blind Idiot" Translation
and Unfortunate Names
. Compare with Gratuitous English
, My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels
, In My Language That Sounds Like
, Clean Dub Name
. The entire point of the Homogenous Multinational Ad Campaign
is to avoid this, and a Market-Based Title
is another way to. Have a Gay Old Time
is a subtrope (or at least a related trope).
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- This trope is named for one of the classic examples, an attempt to transliterate "Coca-Cola" into Chinese; the right sounds were used, but the wrong characters were written, with the result that instead of advertising soft drinks, the consumption of paraffin larval amphibians was encouraged. (Note that this was never the official name; rather, before there was an official Mandarin version, shopkeepers who sold Coke would use whichever transliteration they wanted). Dave Barry declared "Bite the Wax Tadpole" to be "the best name I ever heard for a soft drink." (The closest "bite the wax tadpole" could ever get to sounding like Coca-Cola would be 齰蝌蚪蜡 - cuňkēdǒulŕ. Close, but no cigar.)
- Coca-Cola has had other problems with Chinese. A simple dialect variation on the phrase that provides the trope name resulted in "Bite the wax-fattened mare". The eventual official transliteration—可口可乐, pronounced Kěkōu Kělč—ends up being a fairly close approximation (they couldn't actually transliterate it exactly and have a good name, as the only character read as "La" that has a meaning that sounds like anything you'd actually want to put in your mouth means "hot," as in hot sauce note ), with the added bonus of actually meaning "tasty and fun."
- It literally means "Can mouth, can happy" ("can" here is in the "is able to" sense), but then the Chinese words for "tasty" and "enjoyable, amusing" translate to "can mouth" and "can happy" respectively.
- Coca-Cola labels written in Arabic suffer a similar problem. In keeping with the traditional cursive style of lettering, instead of saying Coca-Cola, which would actually be kuka kula in Arabic, the first vowel in each words (the "wow", which makes the "u" sound) is connected to the next consonant, which makes the words most closely resemble "kfka kfla" or "kqka kqla."
- Pepsi has a similar myth, the slogan "Come alive! You're in the Pepsi Generation" was allegedly mistranslated in China as "Pepsi brings your ancestors Back from the Dead." This gets a Shout-Out in Mass Effect 2, where the soft drink Tupari Sport is advertised with the slogan "Tupari: Brings your ancestors back from the grave!"
- Calpis, a popular Japanese yogurt-based soft drink was derived as a portmanteau of cal from calcium and pis from sarpis (butter flavor in Sanskrit). In English, it sounds similar to "cow piss". The product's name was changed to "Calpico" in Asian supermarkets in English speaking countries, but still retains the original katakana spelling.
- In Australia and New Zealand, sarsaparilla (which is relatively similar to American root beer) is often abbreviated down to "sars." Apparently no one there is concerned about a soft drink whose name sounds like a disease... The important difference here is the second 's'. The second 's' in the drink is pronounced as in 'sole', while the 's' in the disease is pronounced as a 'z'. Interestingly, in the US sarsaparilla is pronounced 'SASS-parilla', thereby avoiding the problem (not to mention very few Americans actually drink sarsparilla anymore).
- The unfortunately named Pocari Sweat is a popular energy drink in Japan. It actually tastes pretty good, but you wouldn't know it from reading the label.
- Not to mention the spin-off drink Pet Sweat.
- The "sweat" part is because, like many energy drinks, it's designed to replace electrolytes lost that way, while Pocari is from the onomatopoeic word for the sound of falling droplets (of sweat, or possibly a tasty energy drink).
- A port called Cockburn's Dry Tang got its name changed in Sweden because in Swedish, "tĺng" means "seaweed" (and is also a rather obscure slang term for vagina, which puts the dryness in a whole new context). It ended up being changed to the hilarious-sounding (in English) "Cockburn's Dry Cock", proving this trope runs both ways. And this didn't solve the problem, because in Sweden, more or less everyone knows enough English to recognize the hilarity.
- You don't even need to go to Swedish to make a joke of it: Cockburn's Dry Tang: Do you smoke after sex?
- Cockburn's even had to make an advert just to clear up the confusion: it is pronounced co - burns. This doesn't change the fact that it looks like it's saying something dirty. We could go on about how the name is derived from an Old English personal name meaning "warrior with black sword," which doesn't help with the dick jokes, but you probably get the idea.
- Barry Humphries' Les Patterson character once remarked that he was informed of this pronounciation by "A plummy-voiced pom who presumably asks his wife every night for a fuh."
- The Irish whiskey-based liqueur Irish Mist was marketed in Germany under its English name until the makers realized that "Mist" is the German term for manure.
- Similarly, Rolls-Royce developed a model called the 'Silver Mist' that was due to be debuted at a German motorshow. A few days before the show opened, the mist/manure issue was pointed out to them. A new name was decided on quickly and new name plates manufactured which were flown to Germany and fitted to the car before the show opened.
- Another version of this story had Clairol attempting to market a product called the 'Mist Stick'.
- Even more hilarious, because it is similar to 'Miststück' ('bitch', literally 'piece of manure')!
- Surely, at least some of these companies didn't bother with research — as any good etymological dictionary shows, the English word "mist" is a word borrowed from Old German and originally had connotations of the steam rising from a freshly-deposited pile of dung. As time went on, the romantic light-fog association remained and the unromantic origin quietly disappeared.
- Intentionally invoked with the case of the Austrian town of Fucking (officially pronounced "Fooking," but you know). This inspired someone in Germany to market a beer called "Fucking Hell." Hell means "pale" in German and refers to a type of beer. The apparently humorless residents of the town were not amused and tried to sue them, but lost. EU authorities also initially refused to grant the trademark on the grounds that it contained an expletive, but the defendants successfully argued that "Fucking" referred exclusively to the town, and if anyone confused it for the English expletive then that was their own problem. The Austrians are apparently not alone in this, as a little over 100 miles away is a German town called "Wank."
- Then there was the Japanese whiskey brand that chose to adopt another name when they noticed that Black Nikka didn't quite meet expectations of political correctness in the USA.
- The Ford Cortina was originally going to be marketed as the Ford Caprino, until caprino turned out to be Spanish for 'goat-like' or 'goaty'.
- Well it's not a common word, unlike "cortina", that means "curtain". Kind of ridiculous.
- Honda has also fallen victim to this. A new model was to be introduced under the name "Fitta", when it was discovered that the word is a crude term for female genitalia used in Norwegian and Swedish. The car was renamed to "Jazz" in certain markets and "Fit" in others.
- To add even more hilarity, the car was advertised with the slogan "It looks small on the outside, but is huge once you get in".
- There is a bus company in Germany called Fücker. Many Germans speak enough English to find this amusing. One has to wonder if any of its routes go to the Austrian village of Fucking (linked site is probably SFW if not kid-friendly).
- Also, instead of using an umlaut as part of the "ü", the company Fücker uses something resembling a monobrow◊, resulting in the letter "ü" actually being recognized as a "u".
- The unfortunately named 'Lamers' bus line used to show up in video game forums all the time. Go Lamers!
- There's also a bus company called "DAU" in Germany. Not all that funny, unless you know that "DAU" is a common play on the nuclear facility term "GAU" (Größter Anzunehmender Unfall) meaning the "Biggest Imaginable Accident/Disaster". (Chernobyl was considered a Super-GAU). "DAU" means "Dümmster Anzunehmender User". Literally "Stupidest Imaginable User", and is used by computer- and electronic-savvy people as well as by the poor guys working in help call centers at the companies who produce that stuff, to refer to those really hopeless cases you have heard of who want help and make you want to headdesk - you know, the kind that buys a monitor and thinks that's a computer, etc. Even more funny since the DAU buses have actually been spotted in the parking lot in front of computer and electronics fairs and conventions - meaning someone actually must have travelled there in them.
- The Buick Lacrosse was renamed Buick Allure in Canada, because in Quebecois slang, not only is crosse a word meaning "to fraud, swindle, rip off" (which, for obvious reasons, is a bad name for a car, much like the "no va" urban legend), but can also refer to crossing your hands around "la verge". For the 2nd generation, the name was restored, and GM also began to offer replacement nameplates for those who are silly enough to want them.
- There is a public transport company in Locarno in Switzerland called FART (Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi, Italian for "Ticino Regional Railways and Buses"), much to the amusement of English-speaking tourists visiting the city. The Lonely Planet guide to Switzerland has a Crowning Moment of Funny with the line "that's the company name, not the means of propulsion". Many locals find this just as amusing, as most Swiss speak English.
- The wheelchair brand Quickie was actually meant to be a double entendre: one of its first slogans was "You need a Quickie."
- The Mitsubishi Pajero SUV is marketed as the Montero or Shogun in some regions because "Pajero" is slang in some dialects of Spanish for "Wanker". (One of these is Mexican Spanish, hence the "Montero" labeling in the US. Another of those is European Spanish, which is why the sight of imported Pajeros is always accompanied by a chuckle)
- The Nissan Moco (snot) and Mazda Laputa (the whore) had unfortunate names too.
- The Mazda Laputa was named after after the fictional island of Laputa in Gullivers Travels. Suppossedly, John Swift was actually aware of the name's meaning.
- Enco was the name planned for a consolidation of the Enco and Esso brands of Standard Oil of New Jersey, until it was learned that "enco" means "stalled car" in Japanese. They decided to rebrand their stations as Exxon, instead.
- Anthony Fokker's aircraft is a beautiful and historically significant piece of Dutch aerospace engineering. Among its many famous exploits, it was flown by the ace of aces, Baron Von Richthofen. But more importantly, it is a lot of fun to say over the radio.
"And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the very first Fokker airplane built in the world. The Dutch call it the mother Fokker."
-Custodian at the Aviodome aviation museum, Schiphol airport Amsterdam.
- The Toyota MR2 performance car was renamed to simply the Toyota MR in France. The reason is that MR2 is pronounced "em-air-deux" in French, or "est merdeux". Although a reasonably acceptable word in French, nobody would want a car called "Toyota is Shitty".
- The Nissan Cedric. According to legend, Australian advisors told Nissan that in Australia "Cedric" is or was slang for homosexual, to which the Nissan executives replied: "Australia has many homosexuals, therefore we shall sell many cars!"
- There is a story out there that when Chrysler began selling cars in Chinese markets, they did inexplicably poorly. It turned out that when "Chrysler" was transliterated into Mandarin Chinese, it became "about to die".
- The Alfa Romeo 164 was sold in Asia as the 168 due to Four Is Death connotations. More specifically, 164 in Chinese means "On the road to death", while 168 is "On the road to prosperity".
- South Africa's truck line, Tata, sounds like slang for breasts to Americans.
- A particularly unfortunate example is the German freight shipping company PAKi Logistics. They were very upset when they were banned from registering their name as a Europe-wide trademark due to its British English meaning. (Which for non-English-speakers is a very, very, offensive racial insult for a South Asian person, on the same level as "the n-word" in the USA.)
Electronics and related
- The Nintendo Wii's name was intended to invoke playing with other people; as they say in the commercials, "Wii would like to play". However, it inspired all kinds of jokes about piss, and gamers "running home so they can play with their Wii". While initially subject to relentless mockery, it didn't sink the product, the joke played itself out, and soon people were saying "Wii" with all seriousness and solemnity.
- Shortly after people in the UK ran out of piss jokes on the day the name was first announced, somebody else realized that Nintendo's UK distributor - the company charged with the task of steady streams of Wii into the channel - was a German-based company called Koch Media. Hilarity Ensued.
- Americans, meanwhile, while they know of the aforementioned usage, are more likely to think in terms of "playing with their Wii", as in A Date with Rosie Palms. Oddly enough, the fact that the connotation is even more dirty may have worked out better overall, as it seems to have caused the joke to have become played out fairly quickly.
- Because Wii sounds like "wie" (how) in German, it lead to some Who's on First?-esque jokes.
- It also sounds like the French word "oui" (yes). Which lead to some jokes among French gamers.
- The same happens with catalan speakers, as "hui" (today) is pronounced in the same way. This also allowed to recycle the existing wordplays with the aforementioned french word "oui".
- TrekStor was forced to rename the latest MP3 player in its i.Beat line — namely, the i.Beat Blaxx — due to the unintended racial connotations of the name.
- Of course, "i.Beat" by itself could be used in a couple gags a la "Wii". It's obviously nowhere near as bad, though.
- The word lund is Urdu and Punjabi slang for a man's genitalia, which is fair enough. Some British-Asian dialects spell and pronounce it lan, which causes predictable hilarity when GCSE Information Technology classes are taught about local area networking.
- Translation from computer-speak to the real world are often unintentionally amusing. Courtesy of the unix command line, one might casually finger a co-worker, then fsck and mount one's hard drive.
- Indeed, in French, "bite" (pronounced "bit") refers to a private part of the masculine anatomy. Hilarity ensues regularly in basic binary algebra classes...
- Also note late American race car driver Tiny Lund.
- The name of the video game company Sega also happens to be a crude Italian slang term meaning "to masturbate." This is why, when Arsenal Football Club was sponsored by Sega, its shirts sported the logo of the company's then-current flagship product rather than the word Sega itself, Arsenal often finding itself playing in Italy or against Italian opposition.
- The Italian soccer team U.C. Sampdoria did the same for the same reason, which is also why all Italian commercials always pronounced "Sega" as "seega".
- The Portuguese word "Cega" (pronounced exactly the same as "Sega") means "blind" (female form). The rest really writes itself.
- Sega means to procrastinate or do something slowly in Swedish slang as well as tough in terms of food. SEGA must have had a hard time convincing people that the blast-processing really worked quickly and that Sonic was actually fast.
- When Apple announced that its tablet was to be called the "iPad", it elicited many groans from all sides - half who were fans of MADtv, who did a parody commercial about a feminine hygiene product that combined an iPod with a maxi pad a full four years before a product with the name iPad would become a reality. And the other half who realized that if you thought about it, it was "Mac's iPad".
- It gets worse when thick accents are involved. In Newfoundland, Canada, the native Newfoundland accent pronounces both "iPod" and "iPad" almost interchangeably.
- The name for the company Pixar. It sounds perfectly clean in English, but in Catalan (the language spoken in Barcelona and vicinity), "pixar" means "to urinate."
- An example that looks funny in English: the German electronics company Siemens. Though the German pronunciation, ZEE-mens, is retained in English-speaking countries, dirty-minded anglophones unfamiliar with German phonetics don't have to stretch their imaginations too far.
- The Commodore VIC-20 was originally going to be called the Vixen, until Commodore realized it would be unsellable in Germany, since "vixen" sounds like wichsen ("to wank"). They shortened it to VIC and came up with a backronym (Video Interface Chip), but that too wouldn't fly in Germany, because "vic" sounds like Fick ("fuck"). They ended up calling it the VC-20 in Germany, VC standing for Volkscomputer, and VIC-20 everywhere else.
- Their first line of computers was called the PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) range, until they discovered that "pét" is French for "fart". Their last computer range was called Amiga — Spanish for "girlfriend".
- The location bookmarking app Rego got publicity in Brazil when it was discovered that their name means "drain" or "gutter" in Portuguese.
- Probably intentionally, a programming language compiler made in the Netherlands is called the Free University Compiler Kit, but since the Dutch word for "free" starts with a V, it's abbreviated VUCK.
- Google is often made fun of in France where the name sounds a lot like "gogol" (French for "retarded").
- Likewise, Facebook has become the Butt Monkey of many French jokes due to its close resemblance to the phrase "fesses de bouc" (goat's butt).
- Apparently, the new name chosen by the Sci Fi Channel, "Syfy", is Polish slang for "pimples" or "acne".
- As such, the Polish version of the channel maintained the name "Sci-Fi Universal", even as the Syfy name was being brought worldwide.
- Both Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi had the character "Chachi," which sounds a lot like the Korean word for penis ("chaji").
- A bit of an example of Separated by a Common Language, in Britain "bender" is a slang term for homosexual. While the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender changed its title to "The Legend of Aang", the movie adaptation was not so lucky, and since 'bender' is used constantly in both versions, it can be quite amusing for British audiences.
- Interestingly, "bender" has a slightly less commonly used slang meaning for American audiences, which refers to a prolonged period of excessive alcohol (or other drugs) use combined with undesirable behaviour: eg. "to go on a three-day bender" would mean to stay obnoxiously drunk for three days straight. Not as funny as the British version, but still worth a chuckle.
- So, did the British airings of Futurama raise a few chuckles?
- A few, yes. But a character's name being that isn't half as funny as it being a title that everyone strives to achieve.
- In Greece, Charlton Heston's name is spelled "Charlton Easton" due to his regular name sounding like Greek for "shit him" or "fuck him."
- When Ben and Jerry's first started selling their ice cream in Japan, they couldn't figure out why their "Chunky Monkey" flavor wasn't selling very well. Turns out that the name was mistranslated as "Chunks of Monkey".
- The "Black and Tan" flavour has never made it to Ireland due to that phrase having certain nasty historic connotations there.
- Since "chicken" is a Chinese slang term for a prostitute the KFC slogan "We do chicken right" when translated literally into Chinese is "It's right that we become prostitutes".
- Another KFC slogan, "Finger-Lickin' Good" was translated as "Eat Your Fingers Off."
- The Sharwoods Bundh curry sauce raised some eyebrows among Punjabi speakers, as it resembles a Punjabi slang term for someone's backside.
- And, of course, how can we not mention the problem of advertising a "cock soup" in the USA.
- Even better, chicken stock is also sometimes translated as "cock juice".
- Supposedly Perdue Farms' "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken" slogan was translated in Mexico as "It takes an aroused man to make a chicken affectionate".
- It's not a mistranslation, and you wouldn't notice the Double Entendre unless you were looking for it (tough = duro = hard; tender = tierno = affectionate).
- In Norway, "sodd" is an archaic word for soup, and has named a major label of canned vegetables. It doesn't have much of a foreign market.
- This can even take place between dialects of English, such as with faggots.
- And the Cornish gave us pasties (pronounced "PASS-tees"), a wrapped pastry case filled with beef, potatoes, turnips, and onions. These then spread to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, parts of Minnesota and Montana, and other places Cornish miners went. When people outside these areas read about eating pasties, they may be alarmed, and with good reason.
- The Latin American bread brand named Bimbo, which is after their mascot, a bear. Snickers among Americans ensue, where "bimbo" is an insult meaning "stupid girl."
- Bimbo packaging attempts to prevent this by instructing the consumer to "Say 'Beembo!'"
- In Southern California, where these snacks are found in every convenience store, truckstop and grocery, nobody thinks twice about the name.
- They should be glad they are not selling it in Germany, since here "Bimbo" is a very rude term for blacks.
- A German food corporation's tried to market a very successful product, a vitamin-boosted hot chocolate mix, to English speaking countries at one point. They neglected to change the name, however, which was the rather unfortunate Scho-vit.note
- Taco Bell once sold a tasty burrito with chili and cheese under the name of "Chilito" in some locations. After much snickering, they learned that "chilito" was Hispanic slang for "small penis" and went to "Chili Cheese Burrito" for the product name.
- West Africa produces a strong pepper sauce, which is actually quite tasty (overtones of a hot jalapeno) and is available through expat food stores in Great Britain and elsewhere. People from places like Ghana and Sierra Leone are also perfectly aware of what the name sounds like in English but see no reason to change it. In fact, they are very proud of Shitto Sauce. ("Shitto" just means "hot pepper").
- The bassoon is called a fagotto in Italian, plural fagotti.
- Also, it's called a fagot in Spanish.
- As the Polish word for a bassoon is the similar fagot, an English-Polish dictionary has a note warning Polish speakers that the English word "faggot" does not have the same meaning.
- The same goes for Swedish where it's called fagott, this causes hilarity when Swedes who are not well versed in English insults translate texts.
- In Dutch it's also called a "fagot", which led to "hilarious" you=fagot image macros featuring bassoons in the days of jeff-k.
- Bassoons are also called Fagotten in German. There's a famous story about Johann Sebastian Bach in which the famous composer gets into a fistfight/near-swordfight (it ended when Bach drew his sword) with a student of his, whom he called a Zippelfagottist—"nanny-goat bassoonist" in German. This causes much snickering in English-speaking music history students even if they don't know what Bach's insult means.
- In fairness, English has multiple meanings for the word, including "bundle of sticks for firewood" and "meatballs from Oop North". This lead to a miscommunication between an English witch-burner and an American soldier in Good Omens.
- In Portuguese it's called "fagote".
- This was also mocked by the Swedish comedy duo 'Anders And Mĺns' — the band 'Trojan', with an umlaut over the 'o'. This made it 'Tröjan', which means 'the shirt' in Swedish.
- In the 00s, London had a nightclub called "Huje". This caused some amusement among the local Polish community, as it literally means "dicks" in Polish. (No, it wasn't that kind of nightclub.)
- La Roux is named for singer Elly Jackson's flame-red hair and her androgynous look (roux is the French word for a male redhead;note la is the feminine definite article). However, "roux" also means a sauce base/thickener made from flour and butter or some other sort of fat. Not quite the effect they were intending for in some countries where Everything Sounds Sexier in French.
- One of the most prominent Polish piano manufacturers is Calisia. The company's name is the Latin name for its native city of Kalisz. Allegedly, Calisia pianos had to be sold under a changed name in Finland, since the company name was similar to the Finnish word for "long underpants".
- This sounds improbable, since the Finnish word for long underpants is "kalsarit", which doesn't sound remotely the same. On the other hand the name sounds very much like "kalisija", which in turn would mean "a clattering thing", "a clatterer", which doesn't exactly promise a high quality musical instrument.
- Not a translation error per se but more a cultural misunderstanding. In Irish the name "Keira" is spelt "Ciara" so naturally people assumed that singer Ciara (pronounced "Sierra") was called Keira and many still do.
- Electrolux's slogan for their vacuum cleaners, "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux," took on a rather negative connotation in America.
- This was done knowingly, but is still damned funny.
- And paraphrased later by the satirical "The day Microsoft makes something that doesn't suck will be the day they start making vacuum cleaners."
- Apple, on the other hand, will one day create a vacuum cleaner called the iSuck.
- Don't forget the electric fan: the iBlow.
- One attempt to create a visual, text-free ad for laundry detergent backfired in the Middle East: The advertisement was a before/after picture with the detergent in the center, intended to be read left-to-right (dirty laundry + detergent = clean clothes). However, Middle East countries read things from right to left....
- There was a similar story, though the ad was for a beverage. From left-to-right, it showed a famished man in the desert, then the guy drinking one of the products, then shows him healthy.
- Sadly, a simple top-to-bottom order would have easily solved the problem.
- According to another story, a manufacturer of ball-point pens tried to advertise in Spanish that their pens "won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you". But they mistook embarazar ("to become pregnant") as being Spanish for "embarrass", and wound up with ads saying the pens "won't leak in your pocket and impregnate you".
- Unlike other companies, IKEA makes it a point to not relabel their products for foreign markets, no matter how stupid they sound in the local language. It's still backfired, though: IKEA got in trouble when it advertised its "Gutvik" brand bunk beds in Germany — because while "Gutvik" is the name of a town in Sweden, it's an explicit sexual reference in German. note
- The remake of Battlestar Galactica was perhaps thinking of this when they included the use of the "Frak" mirror set from IKEA in the show. "Frak" is the show's signature Unusual Euphemism.
- The word "Frak" is in the original 70's series as well, it's just not used every 5th line like it is in the reimagining. IKEA did exist at the time, but didn't have any stores in the US and it's unlikely that the writers would have deliberately chosen the name of a set of mirrors from a (then) obscure foreign company.. it's just a coincidence.
- Also, some furor rose in Finland after IKEA named a toilet brush "Viren", which also happens to be the last name of a legendary Finnish runner.
- Even funnier in Germany: "Viren" means viruses.
- Germans could also laugh about a chair named "Kimme". That is a slang word for "ass crack" in some parts of Germany.
- Other awesome names: "Jerker", "Fartfull" and "Lessebo". "Jerker" is a male name, "Fartfull" translates to "Speedy" and "Lessebo" is a place name. All in Swedish.
- The "Sarna" chairs are quite the joke in Spain, considering it means "scabies".
- IKEA also hit the news in Czech republic when their ads announced the "sale of Hoven" (a carpet named after Swedish town). In Czech, "hoven" is plural genitive case form of the word meaning "shit". The name by itself wasn't funny for grammatical reasons and the sale announcement was the first time the name could be interpreted as a meaningful Czech word in official ads. The carpet was later renamed to Fare in Czech republic.
- The "Trampa" doormats. "Trampa" means "crap" in Portuguese. "Trampa" also means "trap" in spanish.
- It has been noted with amusement on a few occasions that the two San Francisco Bay Area Ikea stores are located in Oakland and East Palo Alto, both having infamy for high murder rates. The pronunciation used for "Ikea" in America sounds very much like certain dialectic pronunciations of "I kill ya."
- IKEA got into another translation faux pas in December 2013 with its stuffed Big Bad Wolf Lufsig; although its Swedish name is simply a corruption of a Swedish word meaning "to lumber", their site for the People's Republic of China referred to Lufsig as "Lů mǔ xi". Residents of Hong Kong found this funny, given that in Cantonese, it's pronounced "Lo Mai Sai", which sounds like "Lo Mai Hai" ("your mother's cunt"). Then again, people only noticed this unfortunate name after a protester threw one at unpopular Hong Kong leader CY Leung (It Makes Sense in Context, as he had been nicknamed "the wolf" by his particularly large opposition)
- It gets better; then people noticed that coincidentally enough, a Cantonese word for "throw" was a homophone of the infamous "Diū", commonly translated as "fuck"! Put two and two together, and, well, you've got a problem. As a result of both of these, Lufsig became a Memetic Mutation and anti-government mascot, and were flying off store shelves in Hong Kong and the mainland (with people lining up in the morning to buy them). Thankfully there's a plus side to this ordeal; the Lufsig plushies were being sold as part of an annual charity campaign supporting UNICEF and Save the Children. But in response, IKEA changed the Chinese name to "Lu Fu Xi" (which is not only a closer transliteration, but contains a character meaning "good fortune")
- There is a brand of lightbulbs called Osram. In Polish it means "I will shit on [something]".
- The Turkish appliance company Arçelik sells its products under the name BEKO outside of Turkey due to the percieved pronunciation (ARSE-e-lick). (In Turkish it's more like 'Ar-chel-ik'.)
- In Norwegian, shaving cream is called "Barber Skum".
- Fans of Red Dwarf are familiar with the all purpose, obscene sounding word "smeg"; "Oh, smeg, this is smeggin bad." "You're a smeggin idiot," etc. Is it possible that Lister keeps his lager in a refrigerator made by the Italian appliance manufactuer SMEG? Grant and Naylor insisted that they were unaware of the slang term "smegma" (often shortened to "smeg" in some regions of England), and chose it because they wanted a "futuristic" slang that had no existing English meaning.
- Marketers of the American toothpaste brand Colgate ran into problems when they decided to advertise in Latin America, as "colgate" (pronounced "call-GAH-teh") translates to "hang yourself" in voseante varieties of Spanish.
- It is sold in Spain as "Colgate", because Spaniards would say "Cuélgate" (KWEL-gah-teh) instead. Some of them still snicker.
- Barf detergent. It means "snow" in Persian but "vomit" in English.
- The cover of Left 4 Dead 2 shows a zombie hand holding up 2 fingers seen from the back, which happens to be the British equivalent of giving the middle finger. Considering the massive Fan Backlash when the game was announced, this seems appropriate. Valve did figure it out in time for the UK release though, and reversed the hand so it's seen from the front, becoming the victory/peace sign.
- Strangely, in Ireland some shops had the "fuck off" boxes and some shops had the "peace" boxes.
- The Japanese and German covers simply have the thumb tucked away rather than torn off, due to stricter ratings for violence and the former country's cultural association of missing fingers with the Yakuza.
- A Korean games company made a dictionary video game for the Nintendo DS. Its name? Well, they shortened "Touch" and "Dictionary" into "Touch Dic".
- The original Myst contained a world called 'Dunny.' The creators originally spelled it 'Dunny,' but then they realized dunny was slang in Australia for 'outhouse,' and changed it to be spelled D'ni.
- In Iceland, the "pika" part of Pikachu's name was spelled approximately (and pronounced exactly) like the native word for "vagina". The anime series was localized as well and no one bothered to come up with a new name for the poor thing. Although, since the games and trading cards were already there, that could mean translating the entire franchise.
- In Brazil, "pica" (pronounced the same way as "pika") is one of the dirtiest slangs around for penis. As such, the franchise and its mascot are the butt of many jokes among Brazilians since the series' debut, since there was no effort to change the aspect.
- In Czech, "Pichu" is pronounced like the word for female genitalia (the Country Matters equivalent). When the second generation of Pokémon arrived at the Czech Republic, kids everywhere had to joke about Pikachu's vagina. Pichu was censored out in some instalments, but no-one thought of changing the name. Later the pronunciation was adjusted to Pixu (x standing for the sound like 'ch' in German 'lachen', Spanish 'j' in 'Javier', or Scottish 'ch' in 'Loch Ness') or Pic-chu.
- While not nearly half as bad, in Spain there used to be children's jokes about Pikachu being the dumbest Pokémon ever because he kept saying "pica" (it itches) but he never scratched.
- The issue is further complicated by Pikachu's real-life inspiration, the pika.
- Mortal Kombat: Deception was renamed Mortal Kombat: Mystification in France due to the French word "déception" meaning "disappointment".
- World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is generating quite a laugh in Germany; Mist is German for "dung."
- This is unconfirmed, but it is possible that Tomba! was renamed into Tombi! for the European markets because "tomba" is Italian for "grave" (as in cemetery).
- Australian singlet (what Americans call wife beaters) makers Chesty Bonds had an ad campaign where the buff model makes an "ok" symbol touching his thumb with his pointer finger to form a ring. Unfortunately when they tried to do business in Greece, they found out this was a symbol for being homosexual. The gesture has the same meaning in several other countries, and is simply obscene in a variety of others.
- In another example of the trope going both ways, at least when averted, there was supposedly some Taiwanese maker of men's underwear which had to be dissuaded from using the literal translation of its brand name when it introduced its line to the American market: Little Yellow Pansy.
- A German bag manufacturer started producing a type of bag in the 1990s which an Anglophonic person would call a messenger bag. This manufacturer named it bodybag.
- Halla lumber mill in Kotka, Finland, had difficulties on orders in Arabic countries. Finally a whole cargo of premium pine was returned, untouched. It appeared the sawmill had stampled the ends of the boards with company logo, HALLA. Eventually someone pointed that Arabic is read from right to left. Defiling God's name is a severe crime in Islam.
- In Venezuela, there are several towns named Morón. It's pronounced different, with emphasis on the second "o".
- Those Moróns are probably named after Morón, Spain, which is coincidentally the site of a NATO air base. This was used as a joke in Terminator 3, when Moron briefly appears as one of the first two bases seized by Skynet.note
- There's also a city in Mongolia called Mörön, though it is also pronounced differently
- Fittingly, "Mongo" is German slang for "moron" (stemming from the word, "mongoloid," which is a rarely-used offensive term for someone who has Down's Syndrome).
- Which comes full circle, considering the offensive origins of the term.
- Moron is also the Welsh word for carrot.
- Although it is pronounced, as with all Welsh words, with a short 'o'
- At a travel agent's seminar, an anecdote was told about Ireland Tourism trying to come up with a snappy tag line, however, they quickly realized that "Come for the Craic" would probably not go over well in America (craic being Irish slang for fun, pronounced exactly as crack).
- The logo of the German company Fischers Aktien-Gesellschaft, which makes ball bearings, reads FAG.
- There is a mountain in Bavaria, called Wank (pronounced Vank).
- This wiki's trope Qurac, when pronounced, sounds exactly like Croatian slang for penis.
- It also sounds like the Turkish word for arid, which is quite fitting.
- The currency of Vietnam is the đồng, pronounced more like "dough" with a G at the end rather then like "long" with a D at the beginning. (To date, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have shown great restraint in avoiding headlines such as "Bank of Vietnam Wants Stronger Dong.")
- Played for great humour in the Top Gear Vietnam special, where James May gets given some extra fuel for his bike from a passer-by on a mountain in a rainstorm. James tells the audience of his gratitude, and decides to pay the man ... only to dully realise that 'my dong's going to be all soggy ...'
- The brand name Vicks was changed to Wick in Germany, because in German, "vick" is pronounced like Fick, which means "fuck". And they most likely left the "s" out, because "Wicks" would sound like the German word for jerking off.
- A village in Norway is called "Hell" (meaning "luck" or an archaic word for a specific rock formation, pronounciation is the same as in English). Most of Norway being bilingual, the locals have great fun with it. The effect is slightly lessened by a large number of locations in English-speaking countries also named Hell.
- It's the same as Jahnam, Al-Khaddafi native village, is very similar to the Arabic world for hell, Jahan-nam.
- The Mexican comic book called Memin Pinguin. It's possible you've actually read that last name as Pingüin (similar to "Pingüino", Spanish for penguin). That's because when the comic started being distributed outside Mexico, it was discovered that some South American countries use pinga as slang for penis, making the character's last name something awkward. In Mexico, pingo means something akin to little devil or mischevous kid, the character was named based on this word. Therefore, the surname change broke this cultural reference.
- The new animation studio founded by Hideaki Anno in 2006 is called "Studio Khara", named after the Greek word for "happiness" or "joy". Unfortunately, "khara" is also an Arabic slang word that means "shit"...
- And to compliment it, in Spanish "ano" is "anus"...
- There was once a post in Spanish on a message board whose language was usually English. Unfortunately the poster omitted the all-important tilde from "ańos", so instead of the intended "I am 25 years [old]", he said "I have 25 anuses"! Much fun was made of this.
- There is a town in Idaho in America called Nampa, which is similar to "nanpa", a commonly-used slang term in Japanese for the act of picking up a girl for a date, though it is often used to mean "soliciting a prostitute".
- In Iceland there is an apartment rental company called "Fagmenn" (it means "Professionals"). You can also go down to the mall and see signs outside Hagkaup advertizing "Krap" (like a slushee, krap means slush).
- Of course, there's always Wackenhut, a security firm named after its founder, now G4S.
- As anyone with a basic understanding of German will know, the German word for 'Father' is 'Vater', pronounced exactly like 'Farter'. (Americans, who mostly have rhotic accents, may be confused by this claim, since it's only true in a non-rhotic ... think Baahhston ... accent.)
- There is or was a German automotive-component manufacturer called KKK, initials infamously shared with the American racist hate group Ku Klux Klan.
- Ditto a Philippine revolutionary group, though that is more commonly known by the last K (Katipunan) because the other alternative was an Overly Long Name.
- Dikshit is a fairly common surname in India. 'Nuff said. It's pronounced exactly like you hope it wouldn't be pronounced.
- A common Jewish and/or German surname (many surnames are shared between the two) is "Lipschitz," also pronounced exactly like you hope it wouldn't be pronounced.
- Apparently there's a Spanish business named "Servicio de Hosteleria Industrial de Terrassa" (Terrassa's Industrial Catering Service) that uses the acronym S.H.I.T. in its sign. Surely the English speaking tourists get a chuckle of it, but it probably is funny even for the locals, because although fluency in English is not widespread in the Spanish population, most of them know enough to understand what "shit" means.
- An Argentinian political party is known as the "Frente Amplio Progresista" or "FAP". Those who speak English are quick to point it out.
- Walmart's name made many people scratch their heads in Germany, since it does sound like someone utterly incompetent butchered the word "Markt" ("market" in German). That already left a very bad first impression and it only became worse after it.
- In addition, "Wal" means "whale".
- Names are a very common source of this - a name that is normal, or even common in one language, can have fairly humorous and/or embarrassing connotations when carried over to another language.
- Wang and Dong are common surnames in several Asian countries.
- Fukyu (pronounced foo-kyoo, though English-speaking ears often hear it... slightly differently) is a very common surname in Japan.
- Even words formed in English from foreign roots (Greek, Latin, and French especially) can run afoul of this, due to both the linguistic phenomenon of false cognates (cross-lingual words that look like they're related but aren't) and the presence in English of many doublets (words formed from roots that have been borrowed more than once, independently, in entirely separate contexts). Thus, to take Greek as an example, "herpetophobia" is the fear of snakes, not the fear of getting herpes. "Rhinoplasty" refers to getting plastic surgery done on one's nose, and has nothing to do with the large, horned, hoofed animal. And in the eighteenth century there were serious proposals by left-wing ideologues of creating a utopian, libertarian socialist community known as a "pantisocracy" (from the ancient Greek roots that together mean "rule by all"). But to modern-day observers, "pantis" looks and sounds like "panties", which was not an existing word in the 1700s.
- Some Ashkenazi Jews have noted their personal awkwardness in speaking about Arnold Schwarzenegger, since when said in a Yiddish accent his last name sounds exactly like the offensive (and somewhat redundant) Yiddish phrase for "black nigger."