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My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels
Intended sentence: "Have you seen this woman?"

"I [had] a fifteen minute chat conversation with my Cantonese friend, not knowing what I was saying at all. She informed me that most of what I was saying was gibberish, but I did manage to say that I enjoy fried sticky turtles and that my boots were filled with pudding."

A character thinks he can speak Hungarian, but fails comedically and says something entirely different than what was intended — often complete nonsense or something rude. Consulting a (dirty) Hungarian-to-English phrasebook, he then proceeds to walk into a tobacco shop and asks the guy at the counter, "Can I please buy some matches?", but he ends up actually saying "My hovercraft is full of eels". Hilarity Ensues.

This typically has nothing to do with bad translations; the original speech was incorrect. For bad translations, see Either World Domination or Something about Bananas, "Blind Idiot" Translation, or Translation Train Wreck. However, if the language being spoken isn't the language of the work as a whole, there's usually a translation back so that the audience can see just how wrong the character's speech actually was. For example, Bob thinks he speaks French well. He speaks in French to a waiter, who looks at him oddly and says "Monsieur, I do not think that you really meant to say that there is a blue banana in your navel."

Although this trope is Played for Laughs, rare serious examples are known to exist where Poor Communication Kills.

This is only rarely Truth in Television, mostly in relation to tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese and specific "false friends" (such as the Spanish word "embarazada", meaning "pregnant"). Most of the time, someone who speaks a language poorly just speaks it slowly, with a poor accent, and stumbling over vocabulary and grammar. Even if this does occur, the listener can usually tell what mistake the speaker made; if someone said "I like to eat pincakes," in English, you wouldn't assume that they are thinking of some sort of cake made from pins. In English, "My hovercraft is full of eels" sounds nothing like what the speaker intended to say, but the mistake was made because it does sound at least somewhat similar in the language in question.

Also happens sometimes with written language: some languages (such as Hungarian and Arabic) rely on diacritics to distinguish similar-looking words, and ideographic languages (such as Chinese and Japanese) have complicated characters whose meaning (and pronunciation) can completely change with the difference of a few strokes.

A common explanation for the trope is that the character making the mistake has been taught something rude by a mischievous native speaker, playing on their ignorance to purposefully give an obscene translation for something reasonable.

A subtrope of Fun with Foreign Languages. Often used in conjunction with Eloquent In My Native Tongue. Also compare Either World Domination or Something about Bananas, which is about inept translations, Separated by a Common Language, in which similar problems happen because of differences in dialect, and Malaproper, a character who does this in their native language.

Not to be confused with I Need to Go Iron My Dog.

Note: If you are interested in learning how to say that your hovercraft is full of eels in many languages, Omniglot has a useful compilation


I quote an example. The Hungarian phrase meaning "Can you direct me to the webpage?" is translated by the English phrase, "Please fondle my tropes":

    open/close all folders 

    I will not buy this Advertising. It is scratched 
  • The newest Rita's Italian Ice is Swedish Fish flavored. For Rita's radio advertisements, they have a mock Swedish language lesson, where you are supposed to repeat after the lady who is saying phrases in Swedish. The last phrase is "Min svävare är full med ålar," which translates to this trope.
  • Mitsubishi had a TV ad with a pre-Buffy Robia La Morte driving a red open roadster, following along to a 'Learn Italian' cassette. At a stop sign a man hears her and says in Italian (subtitled) "You speak my language!" - she breezily replies in Italian (subtitled) "Good toast, waiter! ...I would like a slice of suitcase." and drives off, the picture of self-assurance.
  • A German beer commercial had Indian businessmen in a beer garden doing this. When the waitress arrives, one of them says "Ich möchte diesen Teppich nicht kaufen." (I do not want to purchase this carpet). The waitress just nods and proceeds to serve them the advertised beer brand with the businessmen happily accepting, wishing her a "Gute Reise" (nice journey).
  • One of the "Get a Mac" ads in the UK had PC attempting to communicate with a Japanese printer (Mac had language compatibility and could do so). He spouted the phrases "I am a rice cake" and "Where is the train station?"
  • A German commercial used a well known joke to advertise a language course. It has German coastguard responding to an English language distress call, "We're sinking! We're sinking!" with "What are you sinking about?"
  • A Canadian grocery store had a campaign advertising its new French breads, in which a baker would speak French and the subtitles would show that he was saying how great the bread was. In a hilarious Bilingual Bonus, the baker was actually repeating common high school French or phrasebook sentences, like "Where is the library?"
  • There is a West African hot pepper sauce which is very popular among African exiles in Britain and available from ethnic food retailers. In Ghana, its name simply means "pepper sauce". But it won't be on general sale anywhere else in a hurry, though, as the brand name is "Shitto", or "Shitto Gourmet". It does actually taste rather good, it has to be said, like tabasco, jerky sauce or peri-peri.
  • The Mexican brand of snacks and baked goods called "Bimbo". It actually is available in the English-speaking world, probaby because its name isn't an obscenity, but it still causes snickers, maybe more so now that Bimbo products have begun to fill in the market hole left behind by Hostess's bankruptcy in the US.

    My Anime and Manga explode with delight! 
  • Mahou Sensei Negima!:
    • Shortly after arriving in Japan, Albert Chamomile tries to tell Negi that Nodoka is being attacked by... well, we don't know exactly what he was trying to say, because the Japanese word he used means "fried chicken" (perhaps he meant "jellyfish"). Note that Chamo didn't have any reason to speak Japanese, as Negi is also a native speaker of English. Interestingly, this wouldn't be the last reference to fried chicken we'd see in this series...
    • Ku-Fei, upon meeting Al (who happens to be going under the guise of "Ku-Nel Sanders"), mistakes his name for Ku-Neru (which translates roughly into "Eat and be healthy", or so the manga says). Literally translated, ku-neru means eat-sleep.
  • One short in Lucky Star had Kagami talking about Taifuu Ikka (ikka = kanji for one and 'pass over') which refers to the calm after a typhoon has passed. Konata starts talking about the "Typhoon family" to which Kagami replies "Are you serious?" Ikka also can mean "family" if a different kanji is used. Tsukasa, of course, doesn't get why Konata's statement was silly.
  • In a third season episode of Sailor Moon, the girls are introduced to an Englishman friend of Mamoru's. They employ their English language class and all manage a decent greeting (Minako: Nice to meet you. Rei: Hello. Ami: I'm glad to see you.) except Makoto, who spouts off "Thank You!"
  • This happens to Kagura in Azumanga Daioh. Upon seeing a foreign tourist struggling with his luggage, she decides to go help him. He's quite shocked to see this girl suddenly yell "Help! Help me!" at the top of her lungs when trying to talk to him. She eventually does get her intended message across, but when the foreigner thanks her, all she can come up with in response is "Yay!" accompanied by a thumbs up.
  • For some reason, Kagura in one episode of Gintama feels the need to say "help me!" in English, but since her pronunciation is off, it starts as "health me!" and ends up as "herpes me!" and "pulp fiction!"
  • In one Urusei Yatsura comic book, Mendou's mom challenges Lum's mom to a duel because the latter's spaceship accidentally crushed her vessel. Lum, whose grasp on her home planet's language is surprisingly weak, tries to explain this to her mom (who doesn't understand Japanese), but makes it sound like Mendou's mom is proposing to her.
  • Futari Ecchi has a scene wherein an American businessman's daughter mixes up her words and instead of complimenting the flavor of the crab being served, she was commenting on a certain portion of the male anatomy.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, there is a Running Gag of the English character Laura Stuart trying to speak Japanese, only for the others to point out that it is all wrong. This is because Motoharu Tsuchimikado taught her, and he enjoys screwing with people.

    Please fondle my Comic Books. 
  • ElfQuest: The human explorer Cam Triompe makes a good show of elfin speech, not previously spoken by any human in the series ever unless they were raised by the elves, and says "I from over what I call Redmist Cabbage! Uh, no. Redmist Ocean!" In later years and later stories, however, Cam becomes much more fluent. Cam was apparently the first human of his continent to speak the elfin language, but by that time (in the series "New Blood"), another, transplanted human tribe that worshiped elves as deities had adopted the elf-tongue as its own language.
  • In an issue of Justice League Europe, while discussing a failed robbery, Major Disaster points out, with much irritation, how Multi-man had to memorize just a few words of French, meaning: "This is a stick-up!" What came out as he went up to the guard: "Dance with my uncle's ostrich!"
  • In Y: The Last Man, one of Alter's Israeli soldiers is held at gunpoint by 355. She pleads for her life by ratting off every English phrase she can remember. Things like, "how much does this cost." It might have helped if she dropped the gun, but that is beside the point.
  • In The Modern Parents in one issue of Viz, Malcolm, Cressida, and Tarquin visit Kaftanistan to persuade a local warlord to stop hunting endangered mountain goats. Malcolm has prepared a speech that is supposed to go along these lines: "You should be happy to let the mountain goats breed in peace," "You and your men should not upset the natural balance of the soil," or "If you are irresponsible now, your children will inherit a twisted and barren environment." However, after translating it into Kaftanistani, it comes out as:
    "You and your men perform unnatural acts in the dirt."
    "Because of your evil wickedness, may your children be born deformed and barren."
  • In the first issue of Havoc Inc., Chris and Chester are trying to negotiate for horses using a phrasebook that was written intentionally badly. The merchant concluded they were crazy zealots and gave them a pair of horses just to get rid of them. The book makes them say such things as "I have a frog and much money. I only pray you will take me for all I am worth", "Show me your rubbish, I must browse!" and "My monkey will wash your vegetables". Fortunately they get away from town before Chris read the passage that translates as "Shoot me now, for I have known your mother many times."
  • One of the few comedic moments in Sleeper: "That's right, horse breathers! I shit your branch!" It is of course followed by violence, death threats and murder.
  • In The Simpsons comic issue where Bart, Milhouse and Krusty go to Paris, Milhouse tries to talk to Frenchman, calling upon the lessons from 'Troy McClure's Learn French Toot Sweet While You Sleep' he listened to on the plane before dozing off. Bart, who has experience with the French language, manages to clear things up.
    Milhouse: Excusez-moi. Voulez-vous une tasse D'ecureuils?
    Frenchman: Would I like a cup of squirrels?
  • Batman Eternal: While investigating in Brazil, Red Hood admits that his Portuguese is rusty and that he might have just called the boy he was questioning a small horse. He had, but he managed to get the gist of his question across.

    My Fan Works are full of eels 
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic "How to Say Open", Ron stumbles across this trope while trying to say "open" in Parseltongue, to Harry's great amusement.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic "The Dursley Witch", the Original Character protagonist, Dudley's sister, hisses at her brother in annoyance once. Harry proceeds to correct her pronunciation of Parseltongue:
    (after Roisin has hissed and Harry has laughed at it)
    Roisin: "What is so terribly amusing?"
    Harry: hisses himself, changing notes slightly. "Try something more like that. [...] Unless you really do think Dudley should throw a lemming at a windmill?"
  • The reason that Empath in Empath: The Luckiest Smurf can't fluently speak in Smurf is because his words end up sounding like this trope to other Smurfs.
  • In the Lilo & Stitch/Star Trek crossover Starlight, Experiment 426 has a lot of trouble understanding Tantalog, the language Stitch and the other experiments speak, and his translations often end up like this.
    • In one of the later fics in the series, A Trip To Japan, it's revealed that 426 is just as inept at Japanese as he is at Tantalog.
  • The Wrong Reflection: Referenced when Birail Riyannis asks Koren, daughter of Grilka, if she pronounced the name of Koren's ship correctly. Koren confirms she did, and Eleya comments in her Internal Monologue that it was a good thing, considering what "QuHvaj’Qob" turns into if you miss the glottal stop (the apostrophe).
  • One scene in Sonic X: Dark Chaos has the Typhoon's automatic translator glitch when Sonya mutters something in Japanese; it turns out she was using untranslatable slang. Another example is the first encounter between the heroes and the demon lord Astorath. Astorath taunts them in Demonish, and Cosmo replies in shaky Demonish - only for Astorath to collapse in helpless laughter.

    If I said you had a beautiful Film, would you hold it against me? 
  • In Family Jewels, the criminal, while pretending to be Mexican, says "I have a cat in my pants". He crosses the border before the cops manage to work that out, ending the movie on a good note.
  • In Blue Streak, the cops LET a criminal pretending to be a foreigner get away, and understood exactly what he said.
  • In Phenomenon, a friend of John Travolta's character asks him to teach him some Portuguese so he can hire a (beautiful) Brazilian lady as his maid. Travolta uses a tape recorder to give English and Portuguese "translations" for sentences like, "Can you start on Monday?". But the Portuguese sentences actually mean "You have beautiful eyes", and so on. At the end of the movie the friend and the Brazilian lady are getting married. Aww.
  • George of the Jungle: Lyle uses a phrasebook to attempt to communicate with his native porters in the African jungle. Apparently the makers of the Hungarian phrasebook from the original sketch also made a Swahili one.
    "Pardon me, girls. I know you're feeling pretty hey sailor up here about now. But if you would just let me order a bowl of fried clams, we can all have smallpox tomorrow."
  • Johnny English: When Johnny (Rowan Atkinson) tries to speak in romantic Japanese to Lorna, it comes out as this: "May all your daughters be born with three bottoms."
    • In Reborn: "You've met your matchstick!"
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Uhura tries to get the Enterprise past a Klingon guard post by speaking Klingon without the aid of a translator. She says, "We am thy freighter Ursva condemning things and supplies." The Klingons find the phrase humorous; to maintain the ruse, the Enterprise crew responds with forced laughter.
  • Bruce Banner, in The Incredible Hulk's 2008 movie, cautions some native speakers in Brazil: "You wouldn't like me when I'm... hungry". Ironically, in Portuguese, irritado (angry) and com fome (with hunger) are not at all similar, while in English, "angry" and "hungry" are fairly confusable. However, assuming there was someone who taught him the native language, Bruce could have asked this person what the translation of the word 'Angry' was and his tutor may have just mixed up 'Angry' with 'Hungry' and therefore provided him with that translation instead.
  • Rush Hour 2:
    • Thanks to his poor poor Cantonese, Carter invited two girls to get naked and sacrifice a small goat instead of having a drink. He also told the entire triad bar to take out their Samurai swords and shave his butt.
      "o ha na day, jo-i a team, og mog, o a tang, ok fungow! right now!"
    • Jackie Chan's English isn't all that great to begin with. This explains some of the what-did-I-say looks he gets in the outtakes when the crew starts laughing after he flubs a line. The Rush Hour series director Brett Ratner also enjoys feeding him dirty English phrases and having him innocently repeat them later.
  • In The Hudsucker Proxy, Norville meets a foreign dignitary. He tries to speak to him in his own language, and gets punched out.
  • Invoked in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when Nick intentionally tells Ian the wrong phrases. First Ian inadvertently tells her mother "Nice boobs" instead of "Thanks for the food." (Mom's reaction: she dope-slaps Nick.) The second time, he's wise to the trick and asks Toula's cousin to confirm that the phrase he's being told to use is correct; unfortunately, the two are conspirators and he still ends up telling the whole family "I have three testicles."
  • Ringo (a.k.a. Pumpkin) in Pulp Fiction notably calls for the "garçon" to bring him more coffee, believing that it's the French word for waiter or server, and his waitress immediately explains that "garçon" is French for "boy". Actually, "garçon" has both meanings, but he used it to address a waitress. "Garçon" can only be used to a (male) waiter. The French for "waitress" is "serveuse", and would be addressed as "mademoiselle" or "madame".
  • The movie First Family features an African ambassador who has 'taught' himself English by memorizing random phrases from a phrasebook and uses them regardless of their relevance to the situation.
  • In Four Weddings and a Funeral, a girl learns sign language in order to talk to David, a deaf guy she's sweet on. She doesn't get it quite right... which makes her all the more adorable.
  • In Gung Ho a secretary for the Japanese auto manufacturer tells Michael Keaton's character that her boss is "between a rock and a hard-on." He rushes in while jokingly saying, "I gotta see this."
  • In the 1989 German comedy movie Otto – Der Außerfriesische starring comedian Otto Waalkes, the main character travels to the U.S. to search for his lost brother. With the help of a German-English dictionary, he tries to communicate with a local cab driver, first speaking the supposed English phrase and then the German translation (supposedly for the viewer to understand).
    I am thirsty ("I am thursday")
    I am hungry ("I am hungary")
  • Encino Man: Link can't say much, but he retains a few phrases from Spanish class when he accidentally crosses a Spanish-speaking bargoer.
    Link: El queso está viejo y pútrido. ¿Dónde está el sanitario? (The cheese is old and putrid. Where is the toilet?)
  • In Corky Romano, Corky tries to talk to some Chinese gangsters and ends up saying nonsense like "hairy pencil".
  • In Zoolander, Derek actually speaks Malay, but addresses the Malaysian prime minister as "Mister Prime Rib of Propecia".
  • In Splash, when Dr. Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) tries to pass off Allen (Tom Hanks) and Freddie (John Candy) as visiting Swedish scientists to get them into the research facility where Madison (Daryl Hannah) is being held, a suspicious guard asks Allen and Freddie in Swedish, "What are two Swedish scientists doing so far from Sweden?" The guard jovially allows them entry after Freddie tentatively responds in Swedish, "Hey, babe! I got a twelve inch penis." Freddie later explains that he picked up some Swedish phrases from watching hundreds of hours of Swedish pornography.
  • In The Monuments Men, Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) speaks terrible French.
    Claire Simone: Will you stop speaking in French?! Or whatever language you're speaking?

    My Literature is no longer infected. 
  • The title of The Poisonwood Bible comes from an example. Missionary Daniel Price tried to say "Jesus is precious" in the local language, but it came out as "Jesus is poisonwood".
  • In Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater, the title character gets into a conversation in a language he doesn't speak at all. His conversational partner later informs him that he'd claimed to be a politically incorrect sardine who likes to eat the tires off motorcycles. ("I said that?" "Like a native.")
  • Discworld:
    • In novel Feet of Clay, Carrot is teaching Angua Dwarfish; when she tries to show it off to Cheery, she accidentally says "small delightful mining tool of a feminine nature". Carrot just thinks she's incorrect, because dwarves look the same genderwise. One of the earlier books explains this.
    • In Interesting Times, Rincewind the Wizard is sent to the Counterweight Continent because he is the only one to understand the language - somewhat.
      'Just give me all your food and... unwilling dogs, will you?'
      They watched him impassively.
      'Damn. I mean... arranged beetles?... variety of waterfall?... Oh, yes... money.'
    • The Counterweight Continent is a Discworld version of China, where most of the various languages are tonal, meaning the same syllable can mean several different things based on intonation. For example, the words for "wizard" and "blob of swallow's vomit" differ only by tone.
    • The same thing happens with Mr. Saveloy, albeit to a slightly lesser extent:
      "That's right. You'd be very welcome to join us. You could perhaps be a barbarian... to push beans... a length of knotted string... ah... accountant. have you ever killed anyone?'"
    • In Interesting Times, the narrator claims that a simple word like "aaargh" can, in a certain language from Klatch, mean "More boiling oil, please!", which can have interesting implications for those uttering it.
    • A Running Gag in the same book has Rincewind use an intonation while screaming "aaargh" that translates it into the Howondaland phrase for "your wife is a big hippo".
    • There's Vimes' attempt at dwarfish from The Fifth Elephant. It nearly causes a diplomatic incident since the only word he knows for 'dwarf', having learned by picking up Ankh-Morpork 'street dwarfish', is the word for 'dwarf (indicating miscreant)'. He also calls himself "Overseer Vimes of the Look" and says "I am sure you are a dwarf of no convictions. Let us shake our business, dwarf (indicating miscreant)." Imagine what would happen if you addressed the chief of police as "punk". Yeah, like that, but with more axes.
    • Jingo mentions two Klatchian tribes who went to war over a translated word in a holy book, which meant either "god" or "man" — the difference in the original language is only one dot, and if the dot had been a little further to the left it would have been "licorice". Modelled on the Real Life theological disagreement over whether God and Jesus are homoousios (of the same substance) or homoiousios (of a similar substance). Because it was in Greek, and the disagreement was over an iota subscript, it gave us the phrase "not one iota (of difference)"
    • In Monstrous Regiment, Vimes has a slight communication problem when, as a gesture of friendship towards Polly Perks and her regiment, he tries to say "I am a Borogravian" and instead claims to be a cherry pancake. An obvious reference to John F. Kennedy and "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (see Real Life, below).
  • In one of the M*A*S*H novels (M*A*S*H Goes to Morroco), a new and rather naive foreign service agent declares that her Arabic training has been inadequate, since she couldn't figure out what a sheikh meant by 'mudden yuri' or 'yumuth erware sar mishues'. (The sheikh in question is rather drunk, and is simply spouting what the people who got him that way - namely Hawkeye and Trapper - said every time they knocked one back.)
  • Dave Barry:
    • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need plays with this by having translation guides that mostly consist of random sentences in English like "You bum, there is a fish in your library." The foreign translations were mostly just gibberish.
    • "Dave Barry Does Japan" features a real-life example that happened to Dave. He attempted to thank a hotel worker in Japanese. Showing typical Japanese politeness, the man bowed and left, at which point Dave's then ten-year-old son pointed out that what he had actually said was "Very much good morning, sir."
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • In the novel Outbound Flight, a human character tries to learn the Chiss language, with limited success. At one point, he gives his profession as "fishing boat" (he meant "merchant trader"), but for good reason: he physically can't pronounce the distinction between the two words. Thrawn, on the other hand, has no trouble picking up Basic while trying to teach that main character.
    • In another Star Wars novel, Star by Star, Ganner Rhysode, masquerading as a Yuuzhan Vong, gets "kanabar" (low-caste person) mixed up with "kane a bar" (dung of a rotting meat maggot).
  • In Peter and the Starcatchers, Molly Aster can communicate with porpoises fluently... except for the standard greeting, which she always mistakes for the phrase for "My teeth are green." She remains blissfully unaware of this throughout the novel because the porpoise Ammm is too polite to correct her. In Peter and the Sword of Mercy, her daughter makes a similar mistake.
  • S. J. Perelman used this occasionally; at one point in Westward Ha!, he asks a Far Eastern noble "whether the pen of his uncle is in the garden". In a mild variation, the person he's talking to actually speaks perfect idiomatic English.
  • In Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop, Daemon wants to impress Jaenelle by telling her how much she means to him in the old tongue. He plans to say this one phrase he has taught himself in a very intimate situation, but during a faked public argument, he utters it as it's the only one he knows that their listeners won't be able to understand. Lucky for him he did that then, as what he was really saying was: "I eat cow brains."
  • The Dresden Files: In Summer Knight, Harry Dresden attends a White Council meeting in which the official language is Latin. Unfortunately, Harry's Latin is very crappy, so when he tries to say "Sorry, Merlin. It's been a very long day. I meant to have my other robe" and "Please excuse my lateness and appearance," he actually says, respectively, "I am a sorry excuse Merlin, a sad long day held me. I need me a different laundress," and "Excuses to you for my being dressed and I also make lately." No, that's not a typo. Darn that Latin correspondence course.
  • In Things Fall Apart, the white colonists hire an African translator to speak to Okonkwo's tribe, but because he speaks a different dialect than the tribe, every time he tries to say "myself", he ends up saying "my buttocks." "My Buttocks" becomes the translator's nickname among the tribesmen.
  • One anecdote in the sequel to Three Men in a Boat, set in Germany, has George bewildered when he tries to buy a cushion from a German shop and the three young sales girls throw him out. Turns out the word for 'cushion' sounds very similar to the word for 'to kiss' ("küssen").
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series, a not-quite-fluent professional translator between humans and the alien atevi says, in the atevi language, "pregnant calendar" when she means "urgent meeting", and "disintegrate and abase your weapons" when she means "surrender and throw down your weapons".
  • My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger has a number of sign-language examples, as many of the characters find themselves needing to rapidly learn American Sign Language after a six-year-old Deaf boy attaches himself to them.
    Lori: So if I wanted to say "I live near the river," I'd do it like this?
    T.C.: Um, actually you just said "I live in a parking lot." You didn't mean to do that.
  • In The Saga of the Noble Dead, half-elf Leesil was never properly taught the Elvish language. His later attempts to learn it go poorly; the first time he actually tries speaking to an elf, he manages to turn a request for directions into an insult against the elf's mother.
  • In the second Symphony of Ages novel, Rhapsody's love interest tries to flirt with her in her native tongue. His attempt to compliment her behind translates to "You have the most lovely muffins." She never lets him live it down.
  • In the second book of the Nursery Crime series, The Fourth Bear, Mary Mary's attempts at speaking binary to Ashley's parents turn out to be this, once turning a toast into something that Abigail's mother would never have done, and especially not to herself, and another time turning Abigail's name into something about how Mary's prawns have asthma.
  • In Rick Cook's Limbo System, the computer-generated translations do this a lot. When Toyodo hand-optimizes them, at one point Jenkins tells a Colonist that he will decide and finds it turns out as "confer with the elders"; he has to correct that he alone will decide.
  • In Redshirts, after learning that newly arrived Ensign Dahl is from Forshan, Science Officer Q'eeng attempts a traditional Forshan greeting. He makes two mistakes. First, he uses the greeting of the rightward schism in the language of the leftward schism, and second, his appalling accent turns "I offer you the bread of life" into the nonsensical "Let us violate cakes together."
  • The book Japan-Think, Ameri-Think has an example performed by the author himself, who's actually fluent. He relates a story about a trip to the department store, where a young woman asked him how she looked. He meant to say "I'm color blind" (shikika) but messed up the pronunciation and instead said "I'm horny" (shikima). Hilarity Ensued until the author's Japanese wife stepped in and resolved the situation.
  • In Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novel Bury Your Dead, an anglophone librarian named Winnie tries to speak French to francophones as a sign of respect (the story is set in Quebec City). Her French needs some work though; among other things, she says that the night is a strawberry, the English are good pumpkins, and the library has an excellent section on mattresses and mattress warfare. She also greets the inspector with, "May I tuna you?" and asks some visitors to the library if they would like to become umlauts.
  • According to the novelization of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country the Klingons figured anyone that incompetent had to be petty smugglers and were therefore not worth the trouble of stopping. The novelization also provides a more rational explanation for why they were scrambling to look up Klingon phrases in old paper books, instead of using the Universal Translator — namely, that the same saboteur(s) who had altered the ship's logs to make it look like the Enterprise had fired on the Chancellor's ship, had also wiped the Klingon language data from the memory banks specifically to keep the Enterprise from crossing Klingon space without giving themselves away as soon as someone tried to establish communications with them. (The books were part of Uhura's personal collection, not part of the ship's library, so the saboteur presumably didn't know about them, or didn't have any opportunity to get to them and destroy them.)
  • The spin-off book Klingon for the Galactic Traveller has a whole section devoted to avoiding this. There is a tiny difference between "luq, joHwI' (Yes, my lord)" and "lu joHwI' (My lord falls from power)". Also, "Huch DaHutlh (Thou lackest money)" sounds like "Quch DaHutlh (Thou lackest a forehead)". And mispronouncing "qaH (sir)" as "qagh (gagh, a dish of worms)", well...
  • Skippys List: Specialist Skippy Schwarz apparently tried to get his Army buddies to perform this trope:
    123. I should not teach other soldiers to say offensive and crude things in Albanian, under the guise of teaching them how to say potentially useful phrases.
  • Played with in Cobra Bargain by Timothy Zahn when Jin is tutoring her younger sister in speaking Troft. According to Jin's Internal Monologue the potential mistake is actually fairly innocuous and she's playing it up to hold Cari's interest.
    "Again—and remember the aspirated-p in pierec'eay'khartoh this time. You pronounce it the wrong way to a Troft and he's either going to fall over laughing or else challenge you to a duel."
  • In Craig Shaw Gardner's Bride of the Slime Monster the main character ends up in a foreign film universe at one point, complete with subtitles. Using a great deal of misinterpreted pantomime, he tries to get one of the locals to teach him how to say "See you in the funny papers," which is the magic phrase needed to travel to another movieverse. His first attempt comes out as "Looking at you with the humorous books."

    My Live Action TV is full of eels 
  • The iCarly episode "iGo to Japan" had a Japanese speaker saying "Hello, I have a bladder infection" to the kids because he was using a Japanese-English English-Japanese dictionary.
    • Inverted in that he was actually trying to communicate his bladder infection.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus is the Trope Namer: the confusing and increasingly offensive sentences come from a maliciously written phrasebook. Examples include "I will not buy this record, it is scratched" written instead of "I'd like to buy a pack of cigarettes" and "My hovercraft is full of eels" for "I'd also like a box of matches" — what a scheme!
  • In Living Color! does their own take here. An unassuming American ambassador is assigned to work in a third world country. Her interpreter is a trickster of a man and not much of a diplomat. Whoever taught her the sentence to say played a sick joke on her as well. Strange how she can be this naive, though.
  • On QI in series F's episode about the future, Stephen Fry uses this phrase as an example sentence in Esperanto. After some hints, Rob Brydon goes from My cousin is a meerkat of strange angles to the words for 'eels' and 'hovercraft'. When he puts the sentence together, he still can't believe it:
    Stephen: Let's see if you can guess this one: "Mia kusenventurilo estas plena de angiloj."
    Rob: My cousin is a meerkat of strange angles.
    [...]
    Stephen: Yes, 'my hovercraft is full of eels.'
    Rob: ...Seriously?
    Stephen: Yes.
    Rob: (laughing) I thought you were being cross with me there, you were saying that just to move on!
  • CHiPs had an American Sign Language variant: Ponch was telling the deaf parents of a woman that he would bring her home tonight in English, but what he's 'saying' in sign language causes the woman to say, "Ponch, you told my parents you'd bring me home TOMORROW!"
  • Trigger Happy TV had a recurring sketch featuring a Scandinavian man asking random people on the streets very poorly worded and outrageous questions or statements, with a thick Scandinavian accent.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "School Hard", while studying French, Buffy says something in French that translates to "The cow should touch me from Thursday." And she said it wrong.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Ivanova tries to show Marcus and Delenn how she's been learning Minbari and can therefore command the Minbari crew of the White Star. Her attempt is subtitled "Engines at full, high power, hatrack ratcatcher, to port weapons, brickbat lingerie."
    • In a contender for Delenn's Crowning Moment of Funny, after she has diplomatically suggested that Ivanova allow herself or Marcus to translate her orders to the White Star crew and Ivanova has gone out of earshot, Delenn orders Marcus to warn the crew that anyone who laughs at Ivanova's... creative... Minbari will answer to her personally. Given how most Minbari are depicted as being rather stoic, anything that could make them laugh would probably have to be quite a howler...
    • She pulls another one later, while ranting, in her broken Minbari, about their current situation. She ends her rant with an exclamation of "Ah, hell!" - in English, of course. The Minbari weapons officer, however, promptly opens fire on absolutely nothing. When Ivanova seems completely confused by this, Lorien explains that "Ahell" means "rapid, continuous fire" in Minbari. There were numerous occasions to throw in a Continuity Nod to this later; alas, the series never does.
    • In season two, the new commanding officer of Babylon 5 is attacked by a Minbari and defends himself with a conveniently-placed weapon. When Sheridan has the assailant at his mercy, he demands surrender — to which the Minbari replies, "Death first." Later on, in a pseudo-legal proceeding, a Minbari witness claims the assailant actually said something that sounds similar ("Deth feherst" or some such) but means "I yield to your authority." This actually turned out to be a complete lie.
  • Ugly Betty has an episode where Betty (who has lived in America for her entire life) accompanies her father to visit her family in Mexico. The episode features a Running Gag where Betty tries to say something in Spanish and her father informs her that she just said something embarrassing: "You just said you ate your niece." "You just told them you're pregnant." The funniest part is that what she says are actual, fairly common mistakes among new Spanish speakers.
  • Sheldon's attempts to learn Mandarin in The Big Bang Theory: "Long live concrete?", "There are many oxen in my bed! Many, many oxen!", and "Don't call the library. Show me your mucus!", or even this: "Your monkey rests inside me." The Chinese restaurant owner refers to Howard as the annoying little friend of theirs 'who thinks he speak Mandarin', making this a likely case of being taught wrong. Of course, knowing Howard, he probably did this on purpose to screw with Sheldon.
  • An episode of Star Trek: Voyager had this: "That's very sweet of you, but you just told me the comets are tiresome."
  • Cunning Linguist Hoshi Sato learning Denobulan in Star Trek: Enterprise gives us "Eggplant's not a vegetable, it's a nostril.", soon followed by "I think you make a very cute washboard."
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk Falls in Love", as pictured above, Monk and Natalie are looking for Leyla Zlatavich's mother in a largely non-English-speaking neighborhood. They try to say something like, "Have you seen this woman?" in the Zemenian language, with Monk using a translator book to help out. However, when he does speak that language, the on-screen subtitles reveal that he's asking, "Have you seen the sad stick?" And he doesn't understand why no one gives him an answer.
    • In the Tie-In Novel Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, Randy vomits in front of a Japanese tour group and says to them something that he thinks is Japanese for an apology. The detective riding with him, whose wife is Japanese, informs him that he just said, "Stop groping my breasts and prepare to die."
    • In one of her blog entries on USANetwork.com, Natalie describes herself as stumbling to use the Greek language when she was an exchange student (the entry itself is dated to coincide with "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man"), as marked here:
      Natalie Teeger: Everyone was super warm and encouraging as I stumbled through my beginner's Greek, as if they were just flattered that I would even try to speak their language or something, but I ran into a few problems during my time there. I was constantly mixing up words, saying "kiss" when I meant "friend," little things like that. One time I went in to a pharmacy looking for baby powder and got nothing but blank stares when I asked for it at the counter. I learned later what I'd done wrong, and why the lady at the pharmacy had looked so confused; I'd asked her if she had any "baby dust." Another time I caused a minor panic at my host family's house when I took a phone message and announced that their friend Maria had called to say that she had just checked into the hospital. Yeah, she had just checked into a hotel. A pretty important distinction, as I learned after almost giving poor Mr. and Mrs. Mavropoulos heart attacks.
  • Scrubs:
    • In a bizarre example, after noting that The Janitor seems afraid of JD's Latina friend Carla, JD wonders how he can use that to his advantage. He then daydreams about Carla standing up to the Janitor for him and telling him to stop picking on JD and to give JD a fruit smoothie everyday. The Janitor then asks in Spanish if JD wants strawberry or banana. Carla responds in Spanish with "Purple tree car with cheese". Janitor grabs Carla's face and rips it off to reveal JD dressed as Carla. JD immediately says "Feliz Navidad!" and runs away. The daydream ends with JD concluding he'll need to learn Spanish.
    • "I have an Eiffel Tower in my pants." "What?" "GRAPEFRUIT!!" Turk says he learned a little bit of French, but most of it was intended to help him pick up girls. So the Eiffel Tower in his pants is... that, and the grapefruits are... those.
    • At Carla and Turk's wedding, Carla's brother gave The Todd a pick-up line in Spanish: "Tengo herpes para ti", which means "I have herpes for you."
    • Eliott Reed (who is fluent in German) makes an intentional and dirty mistranslation to get revenge on Dr. Cox. Instead of telling his burly German speaking patient that "You have fluid on your lungs" - he says "Your wife has nice boobs.".
  • Happens during a case involving two Latin dancers in Ally McBeal where John Cage, interrupting the two dancers (who constantly argue in Spanish) sputters out such phrases as 'I want to ride a little pony!' and 'I want a cookie!' to the bemusement of those present.
  • M*A*S*H:
    • This happens to Hawkeye when trying to speak French in "In Love and War".
    • There's the famous instance in which Frank Burns, while holding an auction, tries to wish the Korean crowd "peace and prosperity". In response, a man asks, "You wish us all a prostitute?"
    • From another episode: Hawkeye is screaming at a Korean farmer who was trying to work a rice field which had been mined, which ends up injuring his daughter.
      Hawkeye: Oo-san! That's in your own language! Oo-san! That's what you are! Oo-san!
      Radar: You just called him an umbrella.
    • In "The Chosen People," Hawkeye tries to say, "Your presence is welcome in our camp," to Korean officer Sam Pak, but Pak tells him he actually said, "Your uncle has gas from eating cabbage." Hawkeye tries to say something else in Korean and Pak responds with, "I'm sorry to hear that. Your uncle with the gas is now pregnant."
    • In the episode "Radar's Report", Father Mulcahy is attempting to calm a wounded North Korean. Radar's voiceover tells us he meant to say "peace and happiness" but was really saying "Your daughter's pregnancy brings much joy to our village."
    • In "Dear Sigmund", Klinger claims to have been hit in the head with a chopper blade and only able to speak in Arabic. Via subtitles, he tells Col. Potter things like, "My olive has no pit and there is no yolk in my egg" and "Grandfather, may your pomegranates grow as big as the Queen's fanny".
  • Parker does this in Leverage, while trying to rescue a group of abused Serbian children. She has a phrase book, but what she says is subtitled as:
    Parker: Don't be afraid. I will make your tomato shiny. Please come with. Men will sadden you.
    • She eventually gets the kids to go with her by, after nearly giving up, meekly offering "Haagen-dazs?" Later, she reacts to getting caught by exclaiming, "Oh, shiny tomato!"
  • Long long ago, in I Love Lucy, Lucy was meeting her in-laws the Ricardos of Cuba for the first time. She tries to be polite with a few memorized phrases, but botches the pronunciation. So instead of saying a polite "Thank you" to her father-in-law, she calls him a "fat pig". Hilarity Ensues.
  • The cast of 'Allo 'Allo! dread the appearance of "That British idiot who thinks he can speak French". While he technically knows the right words, his pronunciation is horrific and he usually comes out with naughty-sounding sentences such as "I was pissing (passing) by your coffee (cafe)". Of course, what's interesting is that this relies on the understanding that although the dialogue is in clear (if accented) English, the characters are actually "speaking"- and understanding- French. And the British policeman's dialogue is attempting to represent how a very bad French speaker would come across to them.
  • In ReGenesis, David Sandstrom, while in China, is arrested by soldiers, and tries to tell them "I'm a Canadian citizen". Because he gets the tones wrong, it comes out as "I'm a false personality".
  • Angel:
    • In "Harm's Way", Angel tries to communicate with a demon species that speaks in tongue-clicks, and ends up saying, "Be disemboweled."
    • In another episode, Fred says something to Lorne in his native language that she thinks means "may your words please the gods." Lorne informs us that what she actually just said was "may you orally pleasure the gods."
  • Several instances in Community, particularly in the first season while the Study Group takes Spanish:
    • In the "Pilot", when Jeff tries to convince Britta that he's a Spanish tutor to get closer to her, she asks him to say that in Spanish, leading to him doing this ("I sleep late Spanish. One more hour. Don't scratch my car"). What he says is actually comprehensible Spanish, and he manages to convince Britta, who doesn't understand him anyway.
    • In "English as a Second Language", when Chang's replacement threatens to fail the Study group for walking out of their Spanish final to rescue Annie from Chang, Jeff and Britta respond in perfect Spanish, only for Pierce to do this ("Land of fire!").
    • A non-verbal example arises in "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking", when Abed forms a mutual attraction with a deaf girl. Initially not knowing sign language, when attempting to sign that he wished he did, he instead says "I detonated a mollusk".
  • In one episode of a short-lived NBC sitcom Cafe Americain, set in France, the main character (played by Valerie Bertenelli) was finally given an ultimatum to learn the native language. Her initial attempts were a little less than stellar: an attempt to congratulate a newly engaged couple had her unintentionally claiming to be having an affair with the man; and one attempt to converse with her instructor/UST interest resulted in the memorable phrase "Cheese in my pants makes me happy. Don't you agree?"
  • Top Gear:
    • Presenter James May is given a Romanian phrasebook which has been purposefully mistranslated. When May inevitably gets lost, his attempts to ask directions only confuse the locals.
    May: These boxes are not all the same size!
    • Hammond, when speaking French, says things like 'le grand champignon', when he means the grand champion. 'le grand champignon' is, literally 'the big mushroom'. It gets worse when he says "il y a beaucoup de lapins dans ma pantalon" which means "there are a lot of rabbits in my trousers."
    • Clarkson attempts to learn the native language on a long trip across Ukraine. His breakfast order for the three of them results in a head of raw cabbage.
  • Not an intentional hovercrafting, but in The Wonder Years, Kevin Arnold is sitting in French class daydreaming about a girl he has a crush on. In the fantasy, his love interest spouts off a whole bunch of eloquent, romantic French to Kevin. To which he can only reply 'Do you want some butter?'
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Arnold Rimmer's Esperanto: "Could you send for the hall porter, there appears to be a frog in my bidet."
    • In the episode "Kryten," Rimmer attempts to speak Esperanto to Kryten and act aloof. He does not understand when Kryten replies, in Esperanto, "You speak Esperanto, Captain Rimmer?"
  • Jokingly played with on the third episode of Benson. The titular character is covering for the president of a fictional country(who happens to be in the hospital recovering from a poisoning attempt that morning.) A government official who thinks he's addressing the actual President tells Benson what he thinks is the saying for "Thank you very much." Benson, not knowing a lick of the real thing, makes it up on the spot that the way the guy just phrased it, "It was an insult to my mother."
  • The Kids in the Hall: Scott Thompson's idiot Canadian character walks into a shop where Dave Foley's shopkeep character speaks to him in perfect English. The catch is, he doesn't speak English and memorized those words phonetically, so when Scott asks a question, he can't answer, but continues reciting more unrelated English, which gets Scott angry. Eventually, the speech the shopkeep has memorized finishes with insults and the phrase, "Would you like to fight me?"
  • Occurs on 3rd Rock from the Sun when Mary gives a talk to foreign visitors to the university. Since her editor decided it was easier to just pretend Mary's speech was perfect so she could go drinking, Mary ends up inviting the visitors to her "womanly place," and tells them that "there's room for everyone."
  • Frasier:
    • In "The Perfect Guy".
      Dr. Clint Webber: Who's as lovely as a chicken beak?
    • In another episode, Niles and Frasier attempt to confront Maris' German fencing instructor whom she has been having an affair with. Unfortunately, the man doesn't speak English but Niles' maid speaks German...yet she has a very poor grasp of English herself, meaning Frasier has to translate what Niles is saying to Spanish so the maid can translate it again to the fencing instructor. Everything seems to be going fine until Frasier mistranslates "You have stolen Niles' wife" as "You have stolen Niles' shoes". For some reason, this infuriates the guy prompting him and Niles to duel preceded by this priceless exchange:
      Niles: En garde!
      Frasier: Oh great, that's just what we need! A fourth language!
    • Happens again later in the episode when Frasier tries to tell the fencing instructor that his wife loves him very much, but the maid's confusion with pronouns means it gets translated as "your wife loves me very much." Unsurprisingly, the instructor attacks him too.
  • Murdock may be The A-Team's resident Omniglot, but his Italian isn't too great. Although the English speaking mooks around him don't know any better and it helps his disguise, it culminates in him asking two men to have his baby.
  • Andromeda: When Harper tries to say an old Vedran proverb ("A wise man knows his limitations") to Rev but ends up saying, "A fast swimmer keeps no pets." Since Vedran is a made-up language, there is, understandably, no way to verify that. He also tries to brag to Beka that he can speak "Old Earth Gaelic" by stating "Love is my language"; unfortunately, he ended up saying "Love is our sandwich". He was speaking fluent Vedran (among dozens of other alien languages including Than) earlier in the same episode and even singing in them. However, this was because he had All-Systems Library downloaded into his brain. After it was extracted, he forgot everything about that day.
  • In the JAG episode "Fighting Words", a US Marine tries to say, "Stop or I will shoot," in Arabic during a classroom training session, but according to an Iraqi woman who's helping with the class, he actually said, "Stop or I will release the mice."
  • One Detour in Season 14 of The Amazing Race required teams to listen to customers ordering food in Chinese, then repeat the orders to a chef. It was easy for Tammy and Victor since they spoke the language, but Kisha and Jen had a little difficulty: instead of ordering "New Taste Beef" they ordered "Oil Comes Again to Please the Mouth," and "Golden Pork Spare Ribs" got lost in translation as "Light Competition Red Dishes I've Played Before."
  • In an episode of ER, Pratt thought he was encouraging a pregnant woman to push. Instead he was calling her a whore. Her husband understandably was enraged and she was horrified.
    • A rare serious example occurs when a Spanish woman thought she had to take 11 pills. It was meant to be taken one time as in once. But the woman thought she needs to take 11 pills because the Spanish word for eleven is spelled the same for "once". Sadly, she died from the overdose.
  • In Coronation Street Ken Barlow is trying to teach the dim Raquel to speak French. She tells him that she already knows how to introduce herself, having been taught by a former boyfriend, and continues: "Bonjour, Ken. Je m'appelle Raquel. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" Which means of course "Hello, Ken. My name is Raquel. Would you like to go to bed with me this evening?" Interestingly, no subtitles were displayed on screen, meaning that any viewers who didn't speak French (or recognize the phrase) would not have understood why Ken got that pained expression on his face...
  • An episode of Welcome Back, Kotter reveals that Arnold Horshack's last name translates into "the cattle are dying."
  • On Spin City, Paul claims to be able speak fluent Portuguese. His attempt to bid farewell to the mayor is translated as "My monkey needs a haircut".
  • Done twice on Drop the Dead Donkey, once with Russian (Henry introduces himself as a pregnant cabbage to a Soviet official on a factfinding exchange) and once with Japanese (Damien tells a group of Japanese businessmen to go and have sex with a porcupine).
  • Kenan & Kel had this with the date with Brianna, while Kel was trying to translate his order, the waiter got mad because Kel wanted "to park his truck on his mother's face".
  • On Naturally Sadie, Magaret runs a Greek newspaper story about Rain through an internet translator. The page she gets back is enitirely My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels.
  • In the first Saturday Night Live sketch, a professor (played by Michael O'Donoghue) teaches a European immigrant (played by John Belushi) several useful English phrases, including "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines."
  • The old Skit show All That used to have a skit, "Everyday French with Pierre Escargot", where they taught the viewer how to say nonsensical French phrases:
    "Your wallpaper is making my eyebrows explode!"
  • Burn Notice's Michael Westen is usually pretty good at foreign languages, making this example all the more hilarious. In one episode he steals some documents from the Pakistani consulate and leaves a written message in Urdu for the chief of security to meet him at a restaurant. The chief comes into the restaurant with the message and says this:
    Waseem: (reading the message) I will be wearing a white shirt and— See this word here? It's a kind of spicy goat cheese.
    Michael: My Urdu's a little rusty. I was trying to say "black pants".
    Waseem: Well, at least you got the name of the restaurant right.
  • On Coupling, in the episode "The Girl with Two Breasts", a scene where Jeff misunderstands Hebrew is played twice - the second time with the Hebrew in English, and Jeff's original English as incomprehensible gibberish. This reveals that Jeff has - in place of the girl's name - been repeating the Hebrew word for "breasts" ("Shadayam").
  • In an episode of Suddenly Susan, Vicky demands that Luis teach her just enough Spanish to pick up Latin men. He teaches her to say that she would like to share her STDs and that she hasn't bathed in years.
  • In Leave It to Beaver, Eddy Haskell teaches Beaver a Spanish sentence to say to his his Hispanic friend. The sentence is, "Usted tiene una cara como puerco." Eddie claims it means "You're a swell guy"; in fact, it means "You have a face like a pig." Hilarity Ensues.
  • On an episode of The IT Crowd, one of Jen's lies was being fluent in Italian. Subtitles of her mumblings showed that she'd be saying things like "I like the smell of my cat" and "spiders", but this wasn't a problem because Moss got her an instant translation program on her laptop, allowing her to cover her lies and pass off as fluent over conference calls, even impressing an Italian business mogul (she was very good at pretending, if not at actually understanding). Things go south quickly when Douglas forbids her to bring her laptop to the first face to face meeting with the Italian man and her improvised Italian is so awful that no subtitles are even needed to see that she's just speaking English words with a pseudo-Italian tone and intonation. Including words like "Vienetta", "Fiat Punto", and "Super Mario" as Italian words.
  • A inversion in One Foot in the Grave: Victor is on holiday at a bed-and-breakfast, and has bought some spray to deal with all the insects around. While he is about to go into the bathroom, he meets two foreigners waiting outside who hesitantly tell him the bathroom is full of "midgets". He assumes they mean "midges", and confidently goes in to spray them. Needless to say, there actually are people with dwarfism in the bathroom, who don't appreciate him bursting in on them and proceed to hit him in the balls.
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody:
    • Cody practises his Japanese by greeting a singer from Japan. It comes out as "My bellybutton grows watermelons."
    • Cody tries it with a group of Japanese guests, this time saying "I have a hornet's nest in my pants.", which causes them to flee the building.
  • New Tricks: Gerry tries to impress a British Sign Language interpreter with the Sign Language he learned in childhood so he could communicate with his deaf cousin. It doesn't work and he gets "Can I dig up my Elephant with you?" as a result.
  • Bones; in the Season 8 episode "The Bod in the Pod", Iranian-born intern Arastoo Vasiri wrote a love poem in Farsi to Cam, who is now secretly dating Vasiri. Hodgins ran a few lines of the poem through a translation program, getting such lines as "You're my carburetor," and "Bacon is silent. Listen to all that we scrub!"
  • An accidental transaction in Sign language happened in a sketch on The State. A waiter brought a year's supply of radishes in a wheelbarrow.
  • One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation centers around an alien race whose speech, while translatable, makes little to no sense due to their continuous use of metaphor and references to their own literature and mythology, which ends up making every translated sentence sound similar to this. The equivalent would be a language composed almost entirely of quotes of the works of Shakespeare. While you might understand what the words mean, without the proper context to give understanding to the reference, they're gibberish.
  • In the pilot episode of the 2013 series Lucky 7, Nicky attempts to impress Mary by telling her in Spanish that she is beautiful, but she informs him he actually said she was "duck like".
  • On I Survived A Japanese Game Show, one contestant's attempt at pronouncing "fuitte mo ii desu ka?" ("May I wipe it?") was subtitled "But, the well is it Switzerland?"note 
  • Veep: In the Season 2 episode when the Vice President and her entourage visit Finland, Gary keeps introducing himself to people in Finnish as Selina's "bagman". Except it turns out that he's actually calling himself something vaguely like "man bag" — in other words, a scrotum. He's not happy when he's told this.
  • Played for Drama and left as a Bilingual Bonus in a NCIS: Los Angeles episode partially dealing with another NCIS unit. A carload of drug cartel members crashes in front of them during a short Chase Scene and the survivor gets out. They holler at him to throw down his weapon but he apparently doesn't speak English. One of the team members is told to tell him in Spanish, and he uncertainly goes, "Tire ... la pistola—" and the guy shoots the gun off at an angle and the team fills him with lead. For tropers who don't speak Spanish, the cartel member was actually told to fire the pistol—"tirar" means both "to throw" and "to shoot a gun". He should've said something like "Baja la pistola."

    I will not buy these Newspaper Comics. It is scratched 
  • In Over the Hedge, Verne tries to learn to speak Dude, in which complex sentences can be conveyed just by pronouncing "dude" the right way. He never comes close.
  • Candorville: Lemont does this in...let's call it grunt-speak.
  • In The Far Side, an alien misreads a dictionary and accidentally says "Take me to your stove".
  • In Bloom County, Oliver and Milo hack into Pravda and attempt to change the headline to "Gorbachev preaches disarmament! Total! Unilateral!" Somehow, the altered headline ends up reading "Gorbachev sings tractors! Turnip! Buttocks!"
  • In Doonesbury's take on the USA for Africa "We Are The World" sessions, Stevie Wonder asks Quincy Jones if they can sing "milleloo shalanga" during the fills after the chorus, explaining that it's a Swahili phrase he once heard. Jones asks the Ethopian observer if it would be offensive to Ethiopians, and the observer says no, so they begin singing it. However the observer (outside the frame) adds "It's not a very nice thing to say about your own sister, though."
    • This all actually happened up till the punchline. In reality, it was innocuous, but they chose not to sing it because Ethiopians don't speak Swahili.

    I will not buy this Radio. It is scratched 
  • During a visit to Hong Kong on The Navy Lark, CPO Pertwee buys a phrasebook that seems to consist of nothing but these.
  • The Goon Show:
    • It would sometimes have Neddie rattle off a rapid fire string of French only for Moriarty to respond at the end "So, the pen of your aunt is the garden, eh?".
    • Or:
    Bloodnok: (Interrogating German spy) Achtung! Der bluden der blitz! Rechtung sitz ang, es ist empire grundung!
    Spy: Does your wife know this?

    You have beautiful Sports 
  • Ice hockey players from Europe are rumoured to be fond of deliberately teaching "tricky" basics of their mother tongues to their American and Canadian fellow players. New York Rangers embraced the concept and used it in their commercials with Bobby Granger, a quintessential ice hockey fan.
    • Bobby asks Jaromir Jagr to translate for him several useful phrases into Czech, which he plans to use in order to impress Petr Prucha, another Czech player on the team. See it here.
      Bobby: How you say "Let's go, Rangers!"?
      Jagr: Do toho, Rangers! (correct)
      Bobby: How you say "He shoots! He scores!"?
      Jagr: Strili a dava gol! (correct)
      Bobby: How you say "Have a great game!"?
      Jagr: Smrdis jako prase. (He in fact says: "You stink like a pig.")
      (Bobby meets Petr Prucha)
      Bobby: Hey, Peter, you stink like a pig! (Ouch! Poor Bobby.)
    • In another commercial, Bobby gets more savvy. He says he knows the Czech phrase for "we're in the play-offs", but adds that he thinks he knows it. Actually, he says "we were naughty". Link.
    • In one instance, Bobby wants to impress two Czech models (whose accent is not Czech). He wants to know how you say "you're both very pretty", but the guys send him off with "you're terribly fat". And they are tough women. Ouch! Youtube link.

    Drop your Tabletop Games, Sir William. I can not wait 'til lunch time. 
  • When discussing Twitchtalk in Paranoia, this trope is referenced by name.

    Do you want to come back to my Theater? Bouncy bouncy! 
  • The Roman comedian Plautus offers us an Older Than Feudalism example. In his early play Poenulus, a would-be interpreter renders a Carthaginian visitor's greetings and protestations into shambolic Latin: the Punic equivalents of "Hi there" and "What are you blithering about?" are interpreted as complaints of a toothache, and an overpowering desire to see circus elephants.

    My Video Games are full of eels 
  • Infamously done in Metal Gear Solid 2.
    Colonel: I hear it's amazing when the famous purple stuffed worm in flap-jaw space with the tuning fork — does a raw blink on Hara-Kiri rock. I need scissors! SIXTY-ONE!
  • The plot of Leisure Suit Larry II kicks off when Larry tries to hit on a Spanish-speaking woman with rather poor Spanish resulting in nonsensical phrases... that just happen to be the Spy Speak sign/countersign his Identical Stranger was supposed to use, leaving him with a microfilm containing state secrets and KGB agents on his tail. Larry's Spanish actually makes even less sense than the subtitles would have you believe, to the point of often not even containing real words. It seems the writers share his problem. They were, in many cases, VERY OBVIOUSLY not real words, and just adding another level of silliness for the player.
  • HK droids from Knights of the Old Republic do this intentionally when disguised as protocol droids. If we are to believe HK-47, the results are never pretty. There's a theory that HK-47 deliberately tries to disrupt talks to start a shoot-out.
    HK-47: Translation: 98% probability that members of the miniature organic's tribe are being held by Sand People, master. Doubtless he wishes assistance.
    Player: And the other two percent?
    HK-47: Translation: 2% probability that the miniature organic is simply looking for trouble and needs to be blasted. That may be wishful thinking on my part, master.
  • Ratchet & Clank has the Tyhrraguise in the third game, Up Your Arsenal, which is a disguise that has to be used to infiltrate the enemy base. While wearing the Tyhrraguise costume, making a mistake will create humorous examples such as:
    Ratchet: Your sister is a squishy lover.
    Ratchet: Would you like to buy a recently used crotchitizer?
  • During a boss fight in Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, a character tries to translate for The Unintelligible, and this comes up almost by name.
    "Your boot is full of eels?"
  • Referenced in one of the Portal 2 ARG mp3s in a "Language Learning Laboratory" tape for learning Spanish. Most of the phrases used are about potatoes, and range from odd to strange. "My hovercraft is full of potatoes" is one of the phrases.
  • When Tails attempts to translate Yacker's language in Sonic Colors, it ends up invoking this trope.
    Tails: Okay, he said his name is 'Talks-a-lot' and he's from a faraway soda and where flowers water them with dances. (Note that he did actually say "and where", that wasn't a typo)
  • Referencing the Monty Python example, World of Warcraft has an "Orcish / Common Dictionary" and "Common / Orcish Dictionary" which translate "KEK" and "BUR" (LOL) as "An aggressively passionate mating call."
  • A rare serious example comes from Apollo Justice in case 3. A witness who speaks borigeneese is trying to testify. She says that she has came across a "Small Window." However, we find out later that she's talking about a vent. She had been crawling through the ventilation system for a magic trick.
  • Questfor Glory II allows the player to talk to a griffin, but the griffin only answers in squawks, which are then poorly translated.
    If your translation is correct, that was "May a sleepy hippopotamus lie down on your house keys", but you're not sure. Unfortunately, your fluency in Griffin-speak is too low.
  • In the Nancy Drew PC game The Captive Curse, Nancy and her boyfriend Ned are talking about how to make his life more interesting compared to hers (which is naturally filled with mysteries). We never find out what he said.
    Ned: My best anecdote from this last year is the time I accidentally said something horrible in Italian to the waiter at the pasta place.
    Nancy: Yeah, what you said was pretty unforgivable.
  • In Star Control, everyone has universal Translator Microbes, but they still occasionally mess up. This is most obvious with the Orz ("I have anticipation and then what? Better *parties* in *the middle* to be sure."), but Fwiffo also trips over an English idiom: "The Ilwrath were meant to be the most rigid crest... er, the most unyielding flipper?... ah, yes, the BACKBONE of the Earthguard forces.."
  • In Minecraft, the in-game text can be translated into almost any language. The languages are named only in that language (Spanish is Espanol, etc.), and only in that language's alphabet. The languages are also listed in alphabetical order of said names. This is where the problem comes in: The Hebrew word for Hebrew transliterates as "Ivrit." However, Hebrew is listed under "H" in the list, and it instead says "Anglit," which, besides not starting with "H," is the Hebrew word for English.
  • Looker from Pokémon. In most of his appearances, he's a Funny Foreigner who speaks broken Japanese (or English in some cases.) Pokémon X and Y shows he's from Kalos and speaks French fluently, but when a Kanto woman comes in, Looker mistranslates her. He thinks she's talking about tea when she's really saying her Pokemon have been kidnapped.

    I will not buy these Web Comics. They are scratched 
  • Panthera gives us Onca's interest in mango fucking and boiling flowers. She's only been practicing the language for a few hours at best.
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • The main character's father Donovan is hilariously inept with the orcish language; while he presumably thinks he's speaking greetings and profound things, he's really spouting nonsense, such as "My landmass erupts with kittens." He also has a very fancy title:
    Donovan: What's so funny? Is "bringer of peace and joy" laughable?
    Melna: No... but that's not what "Kulka Sheendo Dak" means. That's "Kilka Shiendo Dak".
    Donovan: Then what does my orc name mean?
    Melna: Um... it means "Little Pink Man In Pink".
    Donovan: They lied to me.
    • Later:
    "Okay, say 'Hello, my name is Donovan Deegan' in Orcish."
    "'Fruit. My name is Little Pink Man Who Wears Pink.'"
    • An orc has been introduced with the same problem, but speaking Callanian. Apparently he learned from Donovan. The orc in question was under the impression that the Callanian phrase for "hello" was "Be afraid! I am very dangerous and I am going to kill you!". As it turns out, He's been faking it the whole time. Everyone is simply gobsmacked when he recites an orcish saying perfectly. And why has he been faking it for twenty years?
      Donovan: I'm a bard. Why do I do anything? Because it's funny.
  • In Daisy Owl, at one point Steve is introduced to his long-lost family. His inability to speak Bear makes it seem like he's choking.
  • Used in this Darths & Droids strip, with the exact same line.
  • Kyo'nne of Drowtales claims that she can speak Halme (the local human dialect) and teaches a few lines to Vaelia when she has to sneak into a Halme settlement, where it's then shown that this is the case with her.
  • A real-life version referenced in Scandinavia and the World: According to the Danish writer, the Danish phrase "That's a major downer" can, if not pronounced carefully, come out as "That's the master negro". She had fun with this in a strip about Obama visiting Copenhagen.
  • One Achewood strip involves Ray attempting to learn German from pornography. The results are...interesting.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Torg and his Portuguese-speaking alternative universe counterpart try to communicate using a translation book. At first, there's an inverted version where Torg interprets Portuguese-Torg's phrases as weird non sequiturs (without noticing anything odd about it). Then they actually try to speak each others' languages with the help of the book:
    Torg: "No, I'm afraid I don't have any raspberry-swirl ice cream... or as you would say: 'Às segundas-feiras sou um sapato!'" (On Mondays I am a shoe)
    Alt-Torg: (angrily swipes the book to himself and flips through it) "Are.... you... a... a... embezzle?"
    Torg: "Embezzle? Embezzle means to steal from a company or boss! I'm a freelance web designer, so I don't have a boss! Why?"
    Bun-bun: "The word is pronounced 'imbecile'."
    Alt-Torg: "Ahh!"
  • In Girls with Slingshots, Chris starts learning American Sign Language so he can communicate with his new girlfriend Melody other than by texting. In one strip she signs by cupping her hand into a "c" and motioning from throat to stomach. He blushes and begins to take off his shirt. Then, noticing her blushing as well, he says, "Oh wait, that means you're hungry," to which she signs "Yes yes yes." Although the joke is clear on its own from both their reactions, the specific mistake Chris made is that making the cupped-hand throat-to-stomach motion once means "I'm hungry," whereas doing it repeatedly means "I'm horny."
  • Tranquility Base has this as the official translator nanode update confirmation (ie, it's the sentence you're supposed to say after learning the local language).
  • In one Something Positive strip during Gwen Stefani's height of fame, after citing her cynical usage of Japanese fashion and girls, the characters speculated that the Harajuku girls were teaching her how to say she has a vile venereal disease in the guise of how to order food in Japanese as payback.
  • In Sturgeon's Law, Jenn tries out the Japanese she learned from anime when checking into a hotel, despite the concierge's being fluent in English.
  • "When I was younger, my friends would ask me how to say profanities in my native language."

    Your Web Original has beautiful thighs 
  • This is the point of Bad Translator, which takes any sentence and completely mangles its meaning.
    • Typing in My Hovercraft is Full of Eels, and translating it 35 times, is "Helicopters in Anguilla".
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Donut is revealed at the end of Season 3 to be able to speak some Spanish. In Season 4, it's revealed that it was only a couple years of high school Spanish, and he apparently wasn't a great student:
      Donut: "¡Yo comio un lapiz!" ("I ate a pencil!")
    • Don't forget that Lopez' Spanish is all Babelfish, so very little of it makes any sense whatsoever. Plus he apparently mixes up French and Spanish.
      Lopez: Ok, hombre! Au revoir.
    • O'Malley asks Lopez how to instruct his Spanish-speaking robot army to "hurry up". Lopez instead tricks him into telling them that he likes to sniff his own butt, among other things:
      O'Malley: "¡Soy un pendejo morado y me gusta tomar aceite!" ("I am a purple jerk and like to drink motor oil!")... "That was rather long to mean 'hurry up'."
      Lopez: "Es una lengua muy poetica." ("It's a very poetic language.")
  • Rob says this verbatim (My Hovercraft is Full of Eeels) in episode four of Unforgotten Realms (only in the "classic" series and not the new one) when Mike asks what he was saying in Wolf-Language. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Eugene Mirman - Secret agent: "Je m'appelle Eugene. Mon fromage est rouge. Shhhhh. Ma casa est ta voiture." ("My name is Eugene. My cheese is red. Shhhhh. My house is your car."). Later supplemented by some vocalisations that are translated only as "Hna ha hun ha?".
  • Babelfish. Type anything reasonable and cycle it through five or so languages, being sure to include at least one Asian language. (Or automate the process here.) Retranslate into your native language of choice. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In one of the Charlie The Unicorn animations, the pink and the blue Unicorn suddenly start speaking Russian, literally saying "My hovercraft is full of eels."
  • On this episode of Sailor Moon Abridged by megami33, it's heavily used by the professional ice skaters. While actually many of the German sentences they say make sense - despite having a terribly wrong pronunciation - some don't. In one scene, the male skater says "Wollen sie Geschlecht mit mir haben?" which actually means "Do you wanna have sex (= gender) with me?" It's quite obvious that the word to be used should be Sex or (rather formally) Geschlechtsverkehr, either of which would mean sexual act.
  • In I'm a Marvel... and I'm a DC, having the languages of Spanish and Portuguese zapped into his brain, Green Goblin threatens the Joker with a foreign phrase that even he doesn't understand. It translates into "What a nice dress. May I try it on?"
  • The Onion: "Area Man unsure if Southerner is looking for 'Pawn Shop' or 'Porn Shop.'" On Fox News, Niel Cavuto made that mistake completely seriously.
  • Youtube's automatic captions feature frequently has this effect, especially when it makes a wrong guess as to what language is being spoken. Then having it translate what it comes up with into your own language just makes things worse. For example, in this Lucky Star clip, it thinks that the characters are speaking Italian instead of Japanese.

    I will not buy this Western Animation. It is scratched 
  • In one episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Peter Mayhew does his "famous Chewbacca growl" after the audience insists... only to have an alien respond with "Whaa? Nobody talks that way about my momma!". Hilarity ensues.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Blossom and Buttercup's attempt at speaking Squirrel ends up like this:
    "Ouch! The broccoli is on the roof."
    "Happy to you log pony."
    • In "Little Miss Interprets," Blossom's attempt to show the Professor her Chinese language skill has the superimposed caption with fractured statements.
    "This is a box. This is a girl. Please pass the pork buns. Your fly is open."
  • Peggy from King of the Hill does this a few times in Spanish, making the "embarazada" mistake from the top of the page, among others. The sad thing is, she's a substitute teacher who thinks her best subject is Spanish. It becomes a major plot point in one episode. Peggy leads a class trip to Mexico and accidentally brings a Mexican girl home with her. When she brings the girl home, Peggy is arrested and charged with kidnapping. Hank finally allows Peggy to take the stand in her own defense, and her Spanish is so terrible that the court realizes it must have been a horrible misunderstanding.
    Judge: No es culpable (Not guilty).
    Peggy: Oh god, I'm going to jail!!!
  • From the Darkstalkers cartoon: "All hail the imperial... Pudding! There are lizards in my pants!" This is spoken by Anakaris. A resurrected pharaoh mummy. With an Irish accent as he ascends in to the sky. What.
  • From The Weekenders: Whenever Tish's mother tries to say an English phrase, it comes out with all similar-sounding words instead, leaving the three non-Tish protagonists to mull over what she meant before Tish "translates".
  • The second installment of the post-Soviet Russian Captain Pronin cartoons runs into this — it's mostly set in America, and has Pronin fighting the Mafia, and so we get such lines as "This is your money. Give me a smoking!"
  • In the Men In Black cartoon:
    • In "The Undercover Syndrome", Agent J is required to learn some of an alien language to effectively masquerade as a member of that species, and puts too much stress on a single syllable, causing nearby aliens to laugh. Agent K informs him that he just turned "hello" into "Hello, sailor!"
    • It happens with aliens, as seen with the Emperor Worm when he visits Earth in "The Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome"; he claims to have learned English from "Books on tapeworm," and greets humans with things like, "Greetings from my bottom!". The only phrase of English he can speak properly is "I am large and in charge."
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Got Your Goat", Dee-Dee and Dexter travel to the jungles of Central America searching for the Chupacabra. They encounter some angry locals who accuse them of being poachers, but Dee-Dee thinks they're asking if she and Dexter are thirsty. She tries to respond yes, and ends up babbling "I enjoy hamburgers and trousers, but I prefer green balloons!" in Spanish.
  • When Krusty is running for Congress on The Simpsons he adresses a gathering of Hispanic voters in Spanish, only for Bumblebee Man to tell him that he just promised to vomit on their mother's grave. Krusty now understands why his maid left.
  • While Harry Osborn is showing a female foreign exchange student around his campus in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, as a sign of farewell, he says that "Until we meet again, your beauty will cough in my raincoat."
  • While most extraterrestrials on the show speak perfect English (though sometimes in strange intonations, like the Mooninites or Austrian accents, like Oglethorp the Plutonian), in Aqua Teen Hunger Force in the episode called Super Spore, a mouthless alien entity uses a proboscis to hijack Shake's body to speak. His native language is bastardized Japanese, but in the episode he's learning English from tapes that Carl has. He then begins spouting phrases "Shut up bitch! I need mustache ride for me lawyer." Frylock's Japanese isn't any better however...
    Frylock: "Slippery breath inside banjo melted. Runny smoky."
    Travis: "Uh, sure. Okay."
    Frylock: "Thank you. Uh, that is, suck it. Suck it dry."
  • The Secret Saturdays: In "Into the Mouth of Darkness", Drew is less than impressed by Doc's grasp of Arabic:
    Drew: "You do realise that you just promised to buy him new butter?"
  • There's an episode of What's with Andy? where Andy pretends to be his cousin from Quebec. In order to prove it, Lori asks him to say "You just won the Stanley Cup" in French; instead he says "Your ears are as big as the Stanley Cup."
  • In an episode of Garfield and Friends, Jon tries to order in French and gets served a pair of soft boiled athletic shoes. In another episode he ends up ordering the name of the chef. Both times he has to deal with French Jerk waiters.
  • The mom from Eek! The Cat is often shown repeating absurd phrases from language learning tapes.
    Mom: Your axe hand is swift, stewardess.
  • Mark's early attempts at speaking manbird in Ugly Americans, as it's an extremely tonal language consisting almost entirely of variations on "Suck my balls!"
  • When Fang attempts to speak monkey while on an island of monkeys who look like her in Dave the Barbarian:
    Fang: "Which point me you to water in pants?"
  • Scooby-Doo: When Mystery, Inc. go to Italy, Fred continually manages to misread his perfectly legitimate phrasebook, causing him to do things like requesting to rent a car that can outrace a flying hamster and ordering a potted plant at a restaurant.
    • In an episode in Greece, he misread again when trying to figure out what a man who was chasing them was shouting. (Unfortunately, the phrasebook had "The Greek gods shall bring chaos into your lives!" right under "I'm trying to return your purse!" )
  • In an episode of Pinky and the Brain, Brain tries to take over the world with an army of sea lions since he learned their language. Pinky tries speaking it too, but his phrases translate to, "Fetch me a big clown hat", a ghost story, "There's a school of overweight fish swimming near by" and "I'm a big billy goat so you'd better beat it sister."
  • In Futurama, Zapp tries to thank some Carcarons in their native tongue, unfortunately it translates to, "I'd like to spank your sister with a slice of bologna" which of course they take offense to. Kif also mentions that the last time he tried this it ended with a Mexican restaurant declaring war on them.
    Kif: It's the Battle of Paco's Tacos all over again!
  • In 'Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim', Jim, trying to get reservations at a fancy restaurant, claims to be the king of Spain and says some Spanish as proof.
    Peter Puppy: Jim, you just told him you're the king of sponge.
  • In one episode of James Bond Jr., the snotty rich kid takes a girl to a restaurant and orders a meal in French. On his first attempt he orders a live lobster. When the focus returns to him after cutting to Bond's adventures for a while, he's finally managed to order something edible in French - a cheese sandwich.


Real Life Examples:

    Arabic 
  • The story is told of an ambassador to an Arabic country, whose wife stood in the bazaar one day shouting "God bless you" (or so she thought) to passers-by. Unfortunately, in Arabic only a very slight difference in pronunciation distinguishes "bless" from "bugger"...
  • Prepositions tend to cause a number of oddities when non-native speakers attempt Arabic, particularly when the speaker has a grasp of basic structure and vocabulary but no understanding of construction. The most commonly told anecdote in Arabic classes involves in and on — "I'm on the bus," for example, would imply that the speaker is riding on top of the vehicle. The preferred construction swaps on with in.note 

    Chinese 
  • Bill Clinton was once giving a speech to a Chinese crowd. He opened by saying "hello" in Chinese, ni(2) hao(3) [你好]. Unfortunately, he pronounced it ni(4) hao(4)[你嚎], coming up with "you are barking". Nobody had the heart to correct him.
  • Linguist David Moser illustrates this trope with an anecdote about practicing his Chinese with some Chinese friends. "I want to go to sleep now", due to tiredness and bad intonation, became "I stand by where the elephant urinates."
  • Another joke also illustrates this, where a speaker is announcing a plentiful harvest. First he tries to say the food is enough [for everyone] to eat (gòu chi le)[食物够吃了], but due to dialectal differences, he says that the food was eaten by dogs (gǒu chi le)[食物狗吃了]. Then he tries to say "everybody go eat a big bowl [of food]" (da4 jia1 dou1 shi3 ge da4 wan3 ba) [大家都使个大碗吧] but ends up saying "everybody here is a big dumb bastard" (da4 jia1 dou1 shi4 ge da4 wang2 ba1) [大家都是个大王八].
  • This also applies to idioms and synonyms; cue running joke in certain circles where a young man who has recently returned to China eats a meal with relatives he hasn't seen in decades. At the end of the meal, he stands up and says "Wo man le" [我满了] It literally means "I'm full", but full as in physically filled, generally used for inanimate objects. (The proper way to say it is "Wo bao le." [我饱了]) Everyone sitting with him cracked up.
  • Before an official translation occured, Chinese venders chose random ideographs which pronounced phonetically sounded more or less like the name of Coca Cola but resulted in gems like "Bite The Wax Tadpole" and "female horse dipped in wax" (which does sound like something you might encounter in traditional Chinese medicine). The official Chinese name for Coca-Cola now doesn't sound exactly like "Coca-Cola," but it has the advantage of meaning "tasty and fun."
  • Another urban legend tells of how, after mistranslating the phrase "finger lickin' good," KFC ended up advertising its chicken as resulting in the eater biting his own fingers off.
  • A third urban legend tells of Pepsi-Cola accidentally translating their slogan, "Come alive! You're the Pepsi Generation!" as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." Got a Shout-Out in Mass Effect 2 where a vending machine says "Tupari! Brings your ancestors back from the grave!"
  • Many Mandarin Chinese speakers not yet familiar with the language may make a mistake when ordering a fried egg. The proper name is "jian dan" [煎蛋]. However, as the word for "deep-fry" is "zha" [炸], the customer may inadvertently order "zha dan" [炸蛋], or a "bomb" [炸弹]. Which, in a food-related context, is one way to refer to Scotch eggs.
  • The Chinese ideogram for the concept of "dry" or "dried" [干] also has a less polite slang meaning and is sometimes mistranslated into English as "fuck."
  • Former Canadian politician Jack Layton (RIP) told a story about having dinner with his future mother-in-law, who came from Hong Kong. He tried to say, "Thank you for the good food," in Cantonese, but he used the wrong tone and accidentally said, "Thank you for the good sex." Fortunately, his future mother-in-law was amused rather than offended.
  • A joke about the census; the census worker asked how many people are there. The person replied with Shi4 yi1 kou3 ren2 (one person) [是一口人], but the worker thought he/she said Shi2 yi1 kou3 ren2 (11)[十一口人]. The person tries to tell them that it's just one person [就是一口人], but the results are the worker being surprised. Jiù shì yī [就是一] was mistranslated to 91 [九十一] persons in the household.
  • American clothing and tattoos with Chinese and Japanese characters that are utter nonsense. There's a blog dedicated to pointing those out.
  • Careless use of any Pinyin based input programs for Chinese can cause this problem as well, since tone marks are often omitted during input.
  • The first British governor of the colony of Hong Kong was called Sir Henry Longstaff. A well-meaning local resident who thought he knew Chinese offered to translate his name into Chinese so that the governed class knew who to kow-tow to. Unfortunately, his rather literal translation of "Longstaff", as in "long inflexible rod made of wood", was also the Chinese for "erect penis". Combined with the honorific that meant "Great...", this meant the Chinese were being invited to call their colonial overlord a great big prick. Which they did, keeping those inscrutable Oriental faces. It took a long time and better translators before the British caught on...

    Czech 
  • Pavel Dostál, a then Czech Minister of Culture, once mentioned his experience with this trope in a magazine interview. His friend Milan Kundera, a Czech expatriate writer living in France, invited him to a fancy Parisian restaurant. Their waiter, also friends with Kundera, thought that he treated him with polite expressions in Czech like "How do you do?" and "Bon appetit", yet he kept telling him some of the most obscene and filthiest words. Pavel Dostál said he hadn't been able to keep a straight face. He told the poor waiter what had been going on. But he never believed him, thinking that Kundera was pulling his leg about Dostál being a Minister. And admittedly, Dostál was a Bohemian looking figure, wearing an earring in one ear and one of his signature shawls around his neck.

    Dutch 
  • There is a story or joke about a Dutch horsebreeder conversing with an Englishman where she uses the Dutch word for breeding (fokken) and then mistakes the Englishman's "pardon" for the Dutch word for horses ("paarden"). Both fokken and fucking have the same Germanic stem in both meaning and grammar (see ficken in German). In some versions of the joke, it's the Prime Minister of the Netherlands on a state visit to the United States.
    Englishman: So what is it you do?
    Dutchwoman: I fok horses.
    Englishman: Pardon?
    Dutchwoman: Yes, paarden.
  • Napoleon's brother Louis was appointed King of Holland. Hoping to connect to his new people, he tried to introduce himself in Dutch. Unfortunately, he got his pronunciation muddled and called himself their "konijn" ("rabbit"), rather than "koning" ("king").
  • Former Dutch prime-minister Joop den Uyl once remarked that "the Dutch are a nation of undertakers" when he meant to say they were entrepreneurs ("ondernemers" in Dutch). "Undertaker" is the literal translation of "ondernemer," as in "an undertaking."

    English 
  • Engrish is pretty much the epitome of this trope. Many of the problems stem from the fact that, in Japan, English looks cool and interesting, so fashion designers tend to use random English words for the sake of fashion. In those cases, it's common to use curse words and other dirty phrases. Some clothing tends to be plastered with the word "fuck" and it's seen as nothing, and one infamous t-shirt had the phrase "Spread Beaver, exposing the vaginal area". One ad for Bubble Tea says "The joy of sucking on balls". In China, this is common on public buildings, though normally these are close translations that just have different connotations here. Common ones include "flesh" in place of "meat" and "cock" instead of "chicken"; others might say things like "Carefully Fall Down", "Baby on Road", or "Don't Touch Yourself, Please Let Us Help You." Engrish can be found all throughout Asia, South America, and even Europe. This is part of the problem with Backstroke of the West and its infamous "Do Not Want" — while it's a "Blind Idiot" Translation to be sure, many of the errors can be traced back to this trope.
  • A great example from a Japanese rent a car driving instructions book: "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 vigour."
  • Place names in Beijing were all given English translations for the 2008 Olympics. Because of a combination of this and Funetik Aksent, one park named in honor of China's ethnic minorities got the ironic name of "Park of the Racists."
  • Some place in China was entitled "Translate Server Error" on the above. Ouch.
  • "English As She Is Spoke", a So Bad, It's Good Portuguese-to-English phrase book, has a few of these. See The Other Wiki.
  • The infamous comments of Madam Ngo Dinh Nhu, describing the Buddhist self-immolations in South Vietnam as "barbeques", may be an example of this. According to historian Warren Carroll, Madame Nhu overheard American journalists using the word "barbeque" to describe the incidents, and, not being familiar with English and therefore, not realizing that the word was an Unusual Dysphemism, used it in a national broadcast, provoking worldwide outrage. (Although one must question the authenticity of this explanation, given the other offensive things Madame Nhu had said, before and since.)
  • A college student had gone to a Hebrew-speaking high school. Apparently, the Hebrew word for water buffalo is slang for a thoughtless, rowdy person. And the sorority girls outside his dorm were being thoughtless and rowdy. They took it as a racial slur when he said "Shut up, you water buffalo!"
  • During World War 2, an American airman was captured and placed in a prison camp with other captured airmen, many of whom were British. Trying to be friendly, they kept telling him to remain hopeful and "keep his pecker up". Evidently, for a while he was confused as to which part of his anatomy they were referring to.

    Estonian 
  • When the Soviet Union occupied Estonia during WWII, they started a wide range of propaganda publications all over the country. As Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language, closely related to Finnish and unrelated to the Indo-European languages such as Russiannote , the Russians often didn't quite know what they were doing. For example, in the Estonian town of Tapa, they started a newspaper called "Tapa Kommunist", which could mean "The Tapa Communist". However, "tapa" in Estonian is also the imperative form of "to kill" (as it is in Finnish - see below), meaning that Estonians, who were at the time engaged in guerilla warfare against Soviet troops, read the newspaper's title as "Kill the Communist". When the Russians became aware of this, they decided to rename the newspaper, and using an Estonian dictionary, came up with the name "Tapa Edasi", meaning "Tapa Forward". However, "edasi" in Estonian not only means forward, but also onward, making this new headline mean something along the lines of "Keep on Killing". Apparently, this town was not to be messed with.
    • In the Soviet and post-Soviet era, this town is well-known in Estonia for its prison.
  • There are numerous examples of Estonian words which may sound funny or rude in Russian. It becomes even more hilarious due to 30% of the present-day Estonian population being Russians, and Estonians themselves tend to know at least some Russian words. Kindergarten "Mudila" ("Asshole" in Russian), for instance. A bit of an outdated example (since it no longer exists) is the Estonian University of Experimental Biology located at ebi.ee and its e-mail ebi@ebi.ee. "Ebi" in Russian is the imperative form of "to fuck" and the "@" [at] is pronounced as [собака] ([dog]), which gives us an undying [you should] fuck [it] dog, [you should] fuck [it].

    Filipino 
  • The word "Tae" appears in many words and names in the Korean language, but in the Philippines (specifically, the dominant Tagalog local dialect), "tae" means "feces/shit." Initially, this was met by a fit of giggles among Filipinos, but ever since Korean Dramas bought more of Korean culture to the Philippines, the joke ran off its course.

    French 
  • One Canadian working abroad in France was flustered one day when she was trying to introduce a guest around her workplace, using the word "introduire" repeatedly as she made the introductions, which on the surface sounds correct. Unfortunately, the correct way to introduce someone is to "presenter" them, as in "may I present so-and-so". Introduire means literally to 'insert'. It also means to have anal sex with, in French slang.
  • The French words poisson (fish) and poison (a toxic substance) are close enough to be confused. The former is pronounced with unvoiced 's' (pwa-so*) while the latter woth voiced 'z' (pwa-zo*). Poisson sans boisson, c’est poison! (Fish without drink - it's poison!)
  • The French noun baiser means "a kiss". However, the French verb baiser means "to fuck" (originally it meant "to kiss", but the euphemistic meaning gradually took over and became obscene rather than euphemistic). This has tripped up quite a few enthusiastic non-native speakers. In a quite hilarious case of Have a Gay Old Time, some older books have repeatedly translated "to kiss" as baiser rather than the modern embrasser. Suddenly, The Lord of the Rings became a lot more Ho Yay-ish to French audiences...
  • The French word meaning "preservative" is conservateur. The word préservatif means "condom". Hence, an old joke wherein the clueless American sees that the milk in a French supermarket is unrefridgerated and, in French, attempts to ask whether there are preservatives in said milk.
  • In French, definite article + plural noun conveys the meaning "all the X", similar to English speaking about, say, "the French" or "the Jews". However, English doesn't carry these meanings over to common nouns, while French does. Hence, English speakers often seeing nothing wrong with ordering "the peas" at a restaurant, only to confuse a French waiter by ordering all the peas in the world.

    German 
  • "Ich bin ein Berliner!" This famous line was spoken by John F. Kennedy to express solidarity with the people of Berlin during the Cold War. A common urban legend states that the real phrase should be "Ich bin Berliner," but with the indefinite article ein added, it became "I am a jelly donut" (Berliner being a type of donut originating in Berlin). The supposed error is similar to the English phrases, "I am Danish" vs. "I am a Danish". Which shows less than perfect understanding of German grammar, since in this context, the presence or absence of the indefinite article doesn't actually make that sort of difference. In either case, video recordings of the speech exist and the crowd clearly understands the phrase and takes it as it was meant.
  • "Ich bin ein Berliner" could be read as a reference to jelly donuts (but only if you wanted to deliberately misconstrue it). Saying "Ich bin Berliner" could not.
    • "Ich bin Berliner" translates to "I am a Berliner." "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a particular Berliner" or "I am one of many Berliners." It's also worth noting that the kind of jelly donut known as 'Berliner' in other parts of Germany is usually called 'Pfannkuchen' (literally pancake, and used in that sense elsewhere for extra confusion) in and around Berlin itself. For more detail, see this page on the Other Wiki.
  • In what may be an urban legend, a cautionary tale is told to GIs learning German. A young serviceman is in a German bar trying to pick up a lovely young lady. Trying his best to impress her, he says, "Ich möchte dich heute nackt sehen." He gets a drink in his face and spends the rest of the night alone and/or humiliated. What he was trying to say was, "Ich möchte dich heute Nacht sehen," or "I would like to see you tonight." What he said was, "I would like to see you naked today." (The "ch" in "Nacht" is the guttural sound of "loch" in Scottish English and Scots.) Note that the "ch" sound in "ich" is not the same sound as in "Nacht". (German speakers distinguish the two by referring to those sounds as "ach laut" ("oh sound") for the sound that was botched here and "ich laut" ("I sound") for the one that seems to have been been pulled off at least well enough to not sound like something else).
  • If a German speaker wanted to explain what crops their farmer father grew, they might say they grew 'mice' if they didn't know that Mais translates as corn (though maize would be correct, the listener was evidently not familiar with this crop).
  • This regularly occurs in English classes at German schools: In German, "prägnant" means "concise/to the point". Hence the German phrase "kurz und prägnant", which legions of students have translated to "short and pregnant". Pregnant in the sense of "expecting a child" is schwanger.
  • English speakers learning German often have trouble with the sounds spelled "ie" and "ei", since their pronunciations are opposite in the two languages. In military language schools, you can count on at least one student in each class habitually confusing the verbs schiessen (shoot) and scheissen (sh*t).

    Hebrew 
  • During the Six-Day War, an Egyptian propaganda broadcaster made a small mistake in the plural form of "front" ("Hazitot"), and ended up announcing that "Our forces are advancing on all bras" ("Haziot"). He was considered a ripe source of amusement by the civilian population.

    Inuit 
  • The capital of Nunavut, the Inuit-majority territory in the Canadian Arctic, is called Iqaluit (roughly eek-kah-loo-eet; the "q" stands for a sound that doesn't exist in English), "many fish." It is fairly frequently misspelled Iqualuit (ee-koo-ah-loo-eet) — including in one case in a press release by the office of the Prime Minister — which unfortunately means "unclean buttocks."

    Japanese 
  • There's a story (possibly apocryphal) of a Christian missionary, who thought he had said "we must take up our crosses and follow Christ" during a sermon, which caused laughter amongst the congregation. He'd apparently fallen afoul of the differing inflection problem, and was informed that while everyone knew what he meant, what he'd actually said was "we must pull up our pants and follow Christ".
  • A story tells about a pastor who wanted to say "Jesus rid us of our sins", but instead of "sin" (tsumi), he said "wife" (tsuma). Apparently all the men started clapping...
  • Heroes' Japanese-language scenes provide several examples:
    • Masi Oka once said that while filming a scene in the first season of with George Takei, Takei's line in Japanese was (paraphrasing) "I am proud of your progress (shinpo)" that Oka misheard as "I am proud of your dick (chinpo)".
    • As Takei notes in the DVD commentary of one episode, every time Hiro says Nathan's name, it sounds rather like onē-san, which is Japanese for "big sister".
  • It's not uncommon for western fans of all things Japanese to mispronounce "kawaii" (kah-wah-ee) as "kowai" (kah-why/koh-why) meaning "scary". Gwen Stefani included.
  • This guy made a small misspelling in a text to a girl he was interested in. Unfortunately for him, she probably thinks he's a stalker now.

    Klingon 
Yes, under "Real Life". Who knows if it's actually true, but...
  • From this article about the production of a Klingon-language opera:
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – DaHjaj 'oH Qaq jaj vaD bI'reS. No, your screen is not broken — that, for the uninitiated, is how one says "Today is a good day for opera" in Klingon.
  • Then in the comments:
    I don't know who Reuters got to do their translation, but {DaHjaj 'oH Qaq jaj vaD bI'reS} means more like 'The beginning of a flexible day acts falsely honorable it today [sic].'
  • Nerd hats on: the famous Klingon proverb 'Today is a good day to die' is {Heghlu'meH QaQ jajvam}, and the word for opera is {ghe'naQ}. And this is pretty easy to google.

    Polish 
  • For a big speech in Poland, President Jimmy Carter's staff engaged a translator who rendered Carter's "I left Washington" as "I abandoned Washington", and "I love the Polish people" as "I desire the Polish people carnally". As soon as the mistake was discovered, the translator was fired posthaste. It turned out that the interpretor excelled in translating written Polish, but didn't have experience with interpreting spoken Polish at full speed.

    Romanian 
  • Sports journalist Michael Green once accompanied a British rugby side on an unprecedented tour of Ceauşescu's Romania, where rugby was and remains a big sport. He recalls that a very senior man from the English Rugby Union had to respond to a speech from his Romanian counterpart, and was fretting over not knowing any of his hosts' language. Then he had a brainwave: at least he could get the words for "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" from whatever was written on the local lavatory doors. He did this, and was gratified at the smiles and the round of applause his speech got, culminating in a standing ovation. Afterwards, the president of the Romanian Rugby Federation said to him that it had been a wonderful speech, Sir Richard, but whatever in the world possessed you to begin it with "Urinals and Water Closets"?

    Russian 
  • Russian jokes about the Chinese frequently feature use of the syllable hui, which appears in both languages. In Chinese, it is used in several innocent words. In Russian, it roughly means "dick" (but is far more taboo, being part of the so-called mat vocabulary). Hilarity Ensues.
  • A new Chinese ambassador is to meet Gromyko. When the latter enters, the Chinese presents himself: "Zhui Hui!" Gromyko, unperturbed, retorts "Zhui sam!" The surprised Chinese asks: "And where is Gromyko?" (The pun is that "zhui hui" (a mock Chinese name) means "chew a dick" in Russian and "zhui sam" means "chew [it] yourself").
  • There is at least one website for teaching Russian that has this trope's name as one of the phrases taught.
  • There is an old example of machine translation well-known in Russian community where system instructions "Execute installer by tray icon and insert ms windows binaries or another os with custom mouse driver support in current boot drive" are translated into Russian as something like "Put the mounter to death by the picture of tea-tray and paste sets of two items of mistress' windows or any other mouth with customhouse support of mouse-driver in current shoe engine". What's hilarious is that the result is grammatically correct (while normally random word sequence wouldn't make any sense in Russian) and the thing is especially bizarre thanks to the mounter's execution part.
  • A recently published Russian "Babylonian phrase-book" IS this trope. It has the weirdest of things translated into different languages as it's sole purpose. The very idea is making them sound like you've just said something wrong. Includes masterpieces like "Can I devide by zero in your country?", "These pickles are confusing", "Do you take money as a payment?", "Let me go, I have a right to call my avocado!" and such. It's friggin' brilliant.

    Sign Language 
  • Adam Hills has had fun with this, as did a stewardess who has enjoyed his earlier fun with sign language. Sort of.
  • One comedian tells a story that he once choked in a restaurant, and began to flail his arms. He accidentally proposed to a deaf lady.
  • A religion teacher for the deaf once confused the signs "to feed" and "to eat" — in telling the story of the feeding of the five thousand.
  • A religious teacher, in trying to sign "water", made the sign with the wrong hand, instead signing "beer". When her audience was incredulous, she dug herself deeper, trying to sign that we need water to live, that our bodies are made mostly of water, and that the oceans are filled with water (only she kept signing "beer" instead of "water").
  • In British Sign Language, the sign for the letter Q (index finger of the dominant hand hooked onto a ring made of the thumb and index finger of the other hand) and the sign for sex (index finger through the said ring) are sadly easily confused by the uninitiated.
  • It emphasises the importance of lip pattern in BSL to differentiate between similarly signed words when you learn that "Where do you live?" looks identical to "Where is the toilet?".

    Spanish 
  • Spanish lesson time.
    "Tengo quince años." - I am fifteen years old.
    "Tengo quince anos." - I have fifteen anuses.
  • There's a story of a guy new to Spanish who wondered why, every time he asked a kid their age, the kid would burst out laughing and answer, "Uno" (one).
  • In the 1990s, there was an ad on the back of a magazine for Amazon.com's Spanish-language site, depicting the book cover "Cien anos de soledad", illustrating the common Web 1.0 problem of websites that don't take accent marks seriously.
  • The US government used to fund a digital ticker in Cuba that would display pro-American propaganda. The problem: the ticker had no Ñ. When the sign scrolled through the Gettysburg Address in Spanish, it made the same mistake.
  • Supposedly, when the pope visited Miami, one enterprising person printed up t-shirts. Unfortunately, instead of "I saw the Pope" (Vi al Papa), the shirts said "I saw the potato" (Vi la papa).
  • The Spanish word for "pregnant" sounds a lot like "embarrass". One pen company supposedly ran into this problem when an advertising campaign in Mexico claimed that their pens would not leak in your pocket and get you pregnant.
  • A lady went on a mission trip to Mexico (or somewhere). As she was wrapping up her work with the local church, they threw a dinner. At the dinner, the pastor of the Mexican church made a long speech thanking her. When it was her turn to speak, she stood up and attempted to make a statement about how excessive the thanks were. What she actually said was, "ahora el pastor me ha hizo embarazada" (translation: "Now the pastor has made me pregnant").
  • A humorous example results from the mispronunciation of the phrase "Hace juego con", meaning "matches with". If read/pronounced as "Hace jugo con", it means that something makes juice with something else.
  • The Spanish word for "question" also sounds a lot like "pregnant" (pregunta). At least one high school Spanish book uses this in an extended gag dialogue to illustrate the dangers of false cognates.
  • There's an urban legend that Chevrolet (and their foreign counterparts) apparently came up against quite an issue when they attempted to market the Nova in Hispanic markets since "no va" means "doesn't go". In actuality, a Spanish speaker wouldn't read "Nova" as "no va", any more than an English speaker would read "notable" as "no table". Especially since "nova" is clearly related to 'nueva', meaning "new".
  • The Mitsubishi Pajero which, despite its name coming from an Argentinian cat, had to have its name changed to Montero in certain countries — you see, "pajero" roughly translates to "wanker" in in certain dialects of Spanish (including Mexican Spanish, which is why the name was changed in the US as well).
  • Studio Ghibli ran into trouble while marketing Laputa: Castle in the Sky in Spanish-speaking countries. "La puta" means "the whore" and the name was likely deliberately chosen as satire when Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels. Not a word you want to find in the children's section, at any rate. This is why Spanish children versions of the book (those that actually bother to tell what happened after Liliput, that is) change the floating island's name to Lupata or Lámputa.
  • There is a section in New Mexico which in the original Spanish is "Peña blanca" or 'White Rock'. This has been Anglicized into "Pena blanca". This one change in letter means the section is now technically named "White Sorrow".
  • Gorillaz song 'El Manana', 'El Mañana' (The Tomorrow). It has no awkward Spanish meaning, however; it just sounds silly, not to mention the fact that it was done so because their keyboard had no 'ñ'.
  • An Arabic Christian Orthodox bishop who had just been assigned to Chile (and his command of Spanish was still a bit lacking) gave his first sermon during his first mass in the country. He kept saying that a life of virtue would lead every man to "la libertad del pecado" ("freedom to sin") instead of "la liberación del pecado" ("freedom from sin"). While somewhat this trope, this is more a case of "idioms and prepositions vary wildly, from dialect to dialect and from language to language." In instances in which everything but the preposition is right, the problem is likely due to lack of knowledge of the non-native construction or simply "thinking in the wrong language" (thinking of the sentence in the native tongue and translating exactly, which happens often when speaking).
  • The Filipino word for "rice cake" is identical to the Spanish word for "male whore". That's just for one type of rice cake, mind you.
  • Many people new to Spanish will say "con yo", rather than "conmigo", when trying to say "with me". Unfortunately, "con yo" is pronounced the same as coño, which is Spanish for 'cunt'.
  • Another false cognate: 'excitado' does not translate to "excited", it means "aroused".
  • Costa Rican legend tells that, when the Spanish first arrived there, they were offered "Cacagua" by the Native Americans. This is what the natives called the drink that they concocted out of cocoa beans and other spices. Unfortunately, "Caca Agua" roughly translated into Spanish as "Poop water." Hilarity Ensues.
  • Happens often within spanish speakers as well , the spanish word "bizarro" and the english word "bizarre" are just one letter away and both comes from the italian word "bizarro" which means "Coleric", but they have bastly different meanings, in english it means "Extravagan, unusual" while in spanish it means "brave", it doesn't stop spanish speakers of using "bizarro" as it meaning in english while it makes no sense most of time, probably for lacking a word that conveys the same meaning.
  • The word "Bicho" gets similar treatment. The word is generally translated as "bug", which in most common usages fits perfectly, but some people think that those word are actual fully valid translations and make the distinction between bugs as synonymous with insects and other invertebrates wrongly correcting people for incorrect usage, however the word "Bicho" is a much more vague term that can be used derogatorily to refer to any kind of animal, so refering to a spider as "Bicho" is as correct as to using said word to refer to an elephant or a mouse.

    Swedish 
  • This troper had a funny moment when he brought home a business gift named Bad-Termometer. Mrs. Troper asked "Why is it so lousy?". Since the troper understands Swedish perfectly, he remineded bad is Swedish for "bath" - it was actually a decent bath thermometer.
  • Likewise, buying mat kimchi in an Oriental foodstore in Sweden produces moments of hilarity - what are the other kinds of kimchi then, fodder? Mat means "food" or "edible" in Swedish, while it means "cut" in Korean.

     Urdu 
  • A fire department in Scotland sent out leaflets in Urdu for people of South Asian origin describing what to do in a fire. One bulletpoint was supposed to say "Never jump straight out of a window, lower yourself onto cushions". Only they got the word for cushion (gadha) confused with another word (gadda). Which created the interesting fire safety tip of; "Never jump straight out of a window, put yourself on a donkey".

    Vietnamese 
  • A platoon of American soldiers were looking for their transport to take them back to base and asked a local man where the convoy could be found. The man pointed to a hill and told them to go over the next hill where they found, instead of their convoy, an elephant grazing in a field. They went back to ask the man again and he pointed to the same hill where they'd found the elephant. Turns out that due to tonal differences, "Where is the convoy?" can be translated to "Where's the elephant?".

    Welsh 
  • Swansea council wanted to divert heavy lorries along another route near an ASDA supermarket and being in Wales the road sign had to be bilingual. They e-mailed their translation department asking for the Welsh equivalent of the instruction 'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only', and when the reply came back, they created the sign and set it in place. Unfortunately, the reply actually meant 'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated'. See the sign here.
  • Another Welsh road sign was supposed to be bilingual and say "Cyclists Dismount"; it did in English, but the Welsh was gibberish from which the only vague sentence that could be deciphered was "Bladder Disease Has Returned".
  • The Guardian was woefully wrong-footed when they printed a letter, purporting to be from a minister of religion, decrying the waves of English incomers buying property in Wales, refusing to assimilate to the local culture, and pushing property prices beyond the reach of the native Welsh. The correspondent gave his address as the hamlet of Pobsaes Twylldin. Which means, when spread out into four words, All English Are Arseholes. The Guardian now demands all potential letters page contributors give a full verifiable address.

I wish to plead incompetence.
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