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Blind Idiot Translation / Literature

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  • One of the most egregious examples could be English as She is Spoke, an 1800s book by a Portuguese man, who only spoke Portuguese, writing an English phrasebook with the help of a Portuguese-French phrasebook and a French-English dictionary. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Early English translations of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (literally: "at the search [again] for time lost") translated the title as "Remembrance of Things Past." Later translators corrected this, opting for "In Search of Lost Time" instead, which is the closest English translation, both literally and otherwise.
  • Harry Potter
    • For a while, there were several Russian 'translations' floating around, all fairly terrible, featuring straight translations of figures of speech that have Russian equivalents. It got to the point where, back in 2004, a newspaper held the "Worst Harry Potter translation" contest. Since then, better translations have been made available (though the old sucky ones are still out there)
    • And let's not forget that many Spanish-speaking readers of the series were told that Neville had a turtle. That's right, a turtle that liked to jump from its owner's hand. It was fixed in later releases, fortunately.
    • The Russian translation of the second book received a prize for the worst translation. It was noticeably better than the first. One of the best-known mistakes (not exclusive to HP) is translating "ebony" as "ebonite". And a certain nonofficial translation of Book 6 translated the words about a "breathless girl", not as a "zapykhavshayasia" — that is, out of breath, but as "bezdykhannaya". Dead, that is.
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    • The German translation has a couple of mistakes as well. For example, in the fourth book, "eel farm" was translated as "Eulenfarm" (owl farm).
    • The Portuguese translation of Philosopher's Stone was far from perfect.
      • They translated "London Underground" as in a literal underground, a pitfall warned about in grade school.
      • They did it AGAIN in Chamber Of Secrets when Harry tells Mr. Weasley about "taking the underground" to which he replies "Really? Were there "escapators?", the latter word being translated as "fugitives" which makes the entire conversation take on a weird new meaning.
      • They had the somewhat understandable error of not realizing that "witch" and "wizard" are gender-specific (though exceptions exist in other works). That coupled with the vague descriptions of certain characters caused certain characters to spontaneously change genders between books.
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    • While the official Hungarian translations are generally of extremely high quality, there was a somewhat big mistake in the first prints of Order of the Phoenix. In the scene when Harry's group was cleaning up the salon of the Black mansion, there was this insignificant offhand comment about an unopenable locket. The word "locket" was translated as "padlock". Later prints had it fixed.
      • The exact same error appears in the Italian translation. It's a case of bilingual homophones (or "false friends") for both languages: the translators mistook the word "locket" for "lakat" and "lucchetto", which mean "padlock" in Hungarian and Italian respectively.
    • In the Danish translation, Voldemort's real name (Tom Marvolo Riddle) is made to be "Romeo G. Detlev Jr." ("G" standing for Gåde, meaning "Riddle"). Since he was named after his father, it was stated that his father (Tom Riddle Sr.) was also called Romeo. While many fans certainly didn't like that an Evil Overlord was called "Romeo" (as the name gave many different associations to them), they had to cut the translator some slack since the translation initially didn't create any PlotHoles, and it does take some creativity and thinking to translate the "I am Voldemort" anagram. But then, as the sixth book with Voldemort's past rolled around, it became a plot point that there are more than one person called Tom as when Dumbledore told Voldemort about the bartender Tom. So they Retcon Voldemort's father's name to actually be Tom and explains that Merope simply used to call him her "Romeo". A nickname that sort of works, considering her love for him. You would almost think that the translator managed to solve this translation problem gracefully. But in the fourth book, when Voldemort shows his father's gravestone, it spells "Romeo Gåde". It's quite doubtful that the stonecutter would spell an unknown nickname from an Abhorrent Admirer instead of the man's real name in the gravestone... So the hate of the translation "Romeo" began again.
    • In the Swedish translation of Philosopher's Stone:
      • The lemon sherbet that Dumbledore offers McGonagall has been replaced with a lemon popsicle.
      • The text of the Mirror of Erised is completely unchanged from the original, so in order to understand what the text meant, the Swedish readers were required to read backward and speak two languages. (Luckily, later editions fixed this, and replaced the backward text of the original with backward text in Swedish.)
    • The Finnish translator was rather competent if almost excessively imaginative, and only got the odd word completely wrong.
      • Confusing "bogeys" with "bogeyman" when talking about flavors in Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans.
      • The password "caput draconis", which is Latin for "dragon's head", and refers to something in both astrology and geomancy. It got translated as "menköhön hirmustus", a garbled phrase that would mean something like "monstrosity begone" (presumably having to do with the word "kaput").
      • Hogwarts ("Tylypahka"): She dug down so far into the different meanings of "hog" that she came up with a meaning you can't even find in most dictionaries, meaning something like "grim". She wrote later that she noticed her wrong guess with the hogs in the place's heraldry.
      • A mention has to go to the Dub Name Change of Professor Trelawney, which is "Punurmio". This looks like gibberish in Finnish (and it is) until you realize that "tree" = "puu", "lawn" = "nurmi", and "-ey" and "-io" are both name endings in their respective languages. But, you know. In English, it's a regular name, not a crossword puzzle.
    • The bogey-boogeyman confusion also occurs in the Hungarian translation. Ear wax was also translated literally as "fülviasz", which is a perfectly correct medical expression, but the common everyday term would have been "fülzsír" (ear grease). Both of these were carried over into the film dubs.
  • One of the Guinness books of World Records translated into Russian had the Goosebumps series called Goose Bumps (i.e. bumps made by geese).
  • The Norwegian translation of The Saga of Darren Shan is kinda like an adaption rather than a translation, and the translator seems to have relied on TriTrans a little too much. Vampaneze is changed into vampan. Mr. Tall is changed to Herr Høy, using Herr which means Mister instead is okay but Høy can also mean high and hay which neither fit him, lang which directly means long had fitted him way better. Mr. Desmond Tiny is changed into Matt Order which sounds more like a masochistic judge than a creep, when playing by combining is it M. Order which is used, while morder means murderer does it not fit the last book's title. R.V. claims he's a rightful vampaneze, being it just as much as the other vampaneze. Well in Norwegian he calls himself "rettferdig vampan", while rightful can mean "rettferdig" does rettferdig mean mainly fair, as he felt that the world had been unfair to him does it not fit him, the translator should have used rettmessig which actually means only rightful.
  • Joseph Conrad's writings have occasional odd turns of phrase due to false cognates between French and English since he learned English partially from a French-English dictionary (like most Slavic aristocrats of the time he was fluent in French).
  • J. R. R. Tolkien: For more than one of his works having been translated this way:
    • The Lord of the Rings:
      • The ones due to the fault of Åke Ohlmarks:
      • The original Swedish translation became infamous, due to a tenuous grasp of English idioms and mistook the meaning of various words. In one sentence, "roamed" was translated as "råmade," which despite phonetic similarity actually means "bellowed" or "mooed." The word "stripped," as used by Orcs, was translated as "piskade," meaning "whipped."note  The idiom "turn over a new leaf, and keep it turned" became "pick a fresh leaf, and hold it in your hand." Tolkien, being a Cunning Linguist, wrote to the publisher and sent a blistering blow-by-blow criticism of Ohlmarks' translation, which can be found in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien.
      • An error that occured in the Hungarian translation also happened in Åke Ohlmarks Swedish translation—-according to him, it was Merry, not Éowyn, who killed the Witch-King.
      • The French translation often gives the wrong lines to the wrong characters, repeatedly fails to notice that Isildur and Elendil were different people (possibly on account of Tolkien's comma usage), and, due to a change in phoneticization, ends up with Bilbo having a slightly different name between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings — despite the fact that the translator (Francis Ledoux) was the same in the two cases. Not to mention gross misinterpretations like "noiselessly" instead of "noisily", "birds" instead of "beards", and the infamous misreading of "Hobbiton" (on Tolkien's map in The Hobbit) as "Les Lapins" (Rabbits)!
      • The Finnish translation is considered as one of the best foreign language translations, but it also contains one grave error. Poet Panu Pekkanen, who translated all the poems (while Kersti Juva translated the prose), translated All that is gold does not glitter as Ei kaikki kiiltävä kultaa lie (literally "all that glitters is not gold", which is a more familiar everyday expression.) Pekkanen later noted his error and changed it into Ei kaikki kultainen kiiltävää lie, carrying the original implication.
      • The Russian translation habitually ignores Tolkien's own explanation for the etymology of names, resulting in names that appear to be straightforward in English (e.g. Glorfindel seeming to come from the root "glory") having a very different meaning in the fictional Sindarin language ("golden-haired"). So some now know the character as Vseslavur ("all-glory"), although the official translation just goes with the transliteration.
      • Tolkien's works in Hungarian generally fared very well, and the translations are regarded as utter masterpieces, save for a single instance: in this version of The Lord of the Rings, it was Merry (called Trufa in the translation) who landed the finishing blow to the Witch-King, not Éowyn.
      • The infamous Polish translations by Jerzy Łoziński, of which that of The Lord of the Rings is the best known (he also did Dune):
      • Calling dwarves "krzatowie". That can be most closely translated as "ixies" - "pixies" (skrzaty) without the first letter. It probably isn't that bad in itself, the "default" translation of "dwarf" being kind of a neologism as well (an augmentative of the Polish name for the garden gnome-style dwarf, mirroring Prof. Tolkien's shift from soft to hard plural form) — but let's proceed down the rabbit hole...
      • Translating "Strider" as "Łazik". Instead of the proud Strider, we get something like "Rover" as in "lunar rover" or "Land Rover", or worse even, "Stroller" or "Rambler". It sounds just as childish.
      • Trying to localize all the personal and place names. Frodo Baggins of Bag End becomes Frodo Bagosz of Bagoszno. Rivendell became "Tajar", which is supposedly a portmanteau of "Utajony" (hidden, secret) and "Jar" (ravine).
      • And inevitably, he twisted the original names: to fit his translation of "Brandywine", the river Baranduine turned to Goranduine, twisting the name's meaning from "Brown River" to "River of Dread". Yeah...
    • The Hebrew translation of The Silmarillion barely averted this trope. The Elves were originally intended to be called b'nei Lilith (children of Lilith) - Lilith is the evil she-demon of the Semitic lore. Fortunately, the translator was informed that Tolkien's intention was to pose Elves as what human beings would have been without The Fall, and b'nei Lilith could have not been further from this intention. The name used is alph, plural alphim, a neologism from English word "elf".
  • Discworld:
    • The German translator: For example, the "bloody stupid robe", worn by the big bad in Guards! Guards! becomes "blutroter Seidenumhang" (blood-red silk robe). Every character talks exactly the same way, with the exception of the trolls, who talk in infinitives. ("I be a big troll. I will be scary")
    • They also made a literal translation of a wordplay in Soul Music. In English, "club" can mean both an establishment and a weapon, so confusing the both is possible. In German though, there are two different words, and confusing them makes no sense whatsoever.
    • There are many, many mistranslated puns... Pratchett loves puns, his translator apparently does not. Also, translated names, usually horrible. The former German translator, Andreas Brandhorst, once said it is often impossible to translate some of the puns. However, he tried to make up for the missing ones where it was possible. The new translators, on the other hand...
    • There are several different translations of Discworld into Russian. The good one translates Granny Weatherwax as Vetrovosk (Windwax, which sounds better in Russian than the straight Pogodovosk). The bad one translated her as a Groms-Hmurry - Thunders-Gloomy. Which in no way corresponds to her actual name.
    • Sometimes done deliberately in-text, with Dwarfish and Trollish lines accompanied by footnotes that almost translate them to well-known phrases. (e.g. Ruby's version of "Falling in Love Again" in Moving Pictures, which apparently contains the line "Vy iss it I am a blue colour?")
    • A translation of Sourcery into Croatian is terrible from the very start: the title was translated as “Sour Spellcasting”, probably because the blind idiot translator considered it a pun on “sour cherry” instead of “source of magic”, as it is explained in the book itself.
    • Happened a lot with the Hebrew translations of the early novels. In one book, the librarian is described in English as "the sad orangutan". It was translated to "the sad orange jam". Israeli Discworld fans still wonder what the hell the translator was smoking.
    • Even worse was the whole witches vs. wizards deal. There are two possible words for magic-user in Hebrew: mechashef and kosem. The translations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic chose to use mechashef. Unfortunately, there's only one word for "witch": machshefa (kosemet would only mean "female magic-user"). So when Equal Rites comes along and they make a big deal over the fact that Esk is the first female magic-user as opposed to witch, it would have made sense to put a translator's note at the beginning saying "up until now we used mechashef, but in this book a wizard is a kosem" — and made Esk the first kosemet and Granny Weatherwax a machshefa. But if they'd done that, It wouldn't be entering on this page, right? They made Esk the first kosemet and Granny Weatherwax a machshefa - but they left wizard as mechashef! So they made a big deal over the first kosemet appearing, and accidentally implied that there was no such thing as a male kosem!
  • Danish SF lore tells of some horribly bad translations of science fiction done in the 1950s. In one case, a story dropped several rungs on the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness when a hydraulic power plant that supplied energy to a human settlement became a "hydraulisk kraftplante" (hydro active force-weed, more or less).
  • The Hebrew translator of Dragons of Summer Flame translated "draconian" (a lizard-like humanoid) to "dracon" - which is the Hebrew word for "dragon". Apparently Caramon Majare was so strong he killed two DRAGONS by bashing their heads together. This translator also called Tasselhoff Burrfoot "Barefoot Tasselhoff", and translated the word "Elf" everywhere it appeared to "Shed" - meaning "Demon". Tanis Half-Demon, how cool is that? And let's not even get into the frequent typos, like the one that turned "Lord Soth" into "Lord Menstrual Cycle".
    • Another translator got it right through the magic of inversion, translating "dragon" as "dracon" and "draconian" as "dragon". Both translators ignored the fact that there was already a loanword for "draconian", "draconi". So "dracon" is Hebrew for "dragon", "dragon" is now Hebrew for "draconian" (noun), and "draconi" is Hebrew for "draconian" (adj). Simple, really.
  • An error in the Traditional Chinese translation of Warrior Cats has caused Blackstar to have black claws instead of black paws. Apparently, they've also referred to Hawkfrost as Brambleclaw's older brother (he's really his younger half-brother), among other minor errors.
  • The infamous "Magenta Dune" is a "translation" of the first Dune book to Russian, done so ludicrously bad—no page contained less than 3 errors and 8 typos—and having so little in common with any sane use of either language that it kept its "fame" from 1990 to this day. The problem: later lazy translators created several mutated clones trying to polish it instead of working from scratch. Let's just say "the pile of rocks that were" note  home of Atreides family and there was 19 g. And so on. Amen.
    • Ironically, Pavel Vyaznikov, the author of a much better translation, now considered almost canonical, who also wrote a scathing review on "Purple Dune", has unknowingly embarrassed himself there. He didn't recognize the Serbian "Ima trava okolo i korenje okolo"note  in the novel as such, and accused Herbert himself (not the anonymous translator) of As Long as It Sounds Foreign. In his defense it must be said that the phrase in question does sound like a very broken Russian to people who don't know Serbian.
  • Renne Nikupaavola is an infamous translator who has butchered numerous fantasy novels into something resembling Finnish and consistently translates the English "uncle" into the Finnish word for "maternal uncle" (eno), even when someone who had been paying the slightest attention would have been aware that the word was being used to refer to someone's father's brother (setä).
  • Walt Disney's Uncle Scrooge has been translated as setä (paternal uncle) in Finnish, while in reality, he is Donald's maternal uncle, eno. Likewise, the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie originally were veljenpojat (fraternal nephews) while they are siskonpojat (sororal nephews). Today they are translated as ankanpojat ("ducklings"). Not surprising, since English doesn't have separate words for paternal and maternal uncles, and the canonic relationships were established long after Disney Comics were published in the Nordic countries. It was a 50/50 guess, and someone made the wrong one. Both these errors were also made in the Swedish translation. There, the errors have become so established by now that no effort is made to correct them.
  • Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson was subjected to an epically horrible Finnish translation full of bizarre neologisms and general badness. The most memorable and horrifying detail was the mangling of the name of the Dark Lord (Lord Foul) into something that sounds like a humorous, family-friendly Harmless Villain (Vallasherra Falski) when he is actually anything but. The cherry on top is that the name means "False" while the character has never once lied during the entire series. This trainwreck of a translation killed all further translations of Donaldson into Finnish which is more than even Renne Nikupaavola can claim.
  • Finnish translation of 1984 by George Orwell contains some hilarious mistrantlations such as alikonekivääri (under/lesser machine gun) for submachine gun (instead of correct konepistooli). [At least it wasn't translated sukellusvenekonekivääri (sub[marine] machine gun)...]
    • The original translation also muddled up the iconic "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four" line into "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make two". The translator must've cherished the right to practice bad arithmetic and have nobody correct you.
  • The first Polish translation of Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light has a well deserved bad reputation among fandom. The translator apparently didn’t notice the difference between the word "soup" and the phrase "to soup up" – and as a result, Yama was eating ("tucking away") generators. The line "Because I want you to" became "Because I desire you". One of the funniest quotes from the original book, where Olvegg admits that he’s a Christian, but only occasionally, when he runs out of Hindi swear words, in translation was drastically butchered and turned into some gibberish about breaking the word given to Hinduism. Add omnipresent typos and many factual errors (like, for example, Krishna playing kobza instead of flute) and you’ll get one of the masterpieces of literature transformed into Translation Train Wreck. Thankfully, there is a new translation.
  • The Bible:
    • The Message, an English translation/paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson:
      • "Sex, sex, and more sex"!
      • The overall technique of The Message is to take the original Biblical phrases, which have since become cliches in English — and replace them with other English cliches that were never in the Bible to begin with.
    • The [[Cut-and-Paste Translation "translation"] directed by King James the First of England:
      • Occasionally mixes up Jesus (the son of God) and Joshua (Leader of the Israelites in Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua) because their names are the same in Greek and similar in Hebrew. What isn't as understandable is that the two appear literally almost half a book apart.
      • Thessalonians 5:22 in the King James Version, which reads "Abstain from all appearance of evil.", which seems to mean you shouldn't appear to be evil even if you aren't, and seems to imply that not appear to be evil is somehow more important that actually not being evil. The word rendered as "appearance" is the Greek word eidos, which really means "shape" or "form. Thus, a more accurate translation would be something like "Abstain from every form of evil."
    • Myles Coverdale's translation was hampered by the fact that the translator couldn't read Latin, Greek or Hebrew, and was working from a Lutheran translation in German, which he wasn't fluent in either. Strangely, this resulted in the English idiom: "The iron entered his soul"- the expression should have been "His neck was put in iron".
  • Stephen King's works:
    • "In the Deathroom", a character is described as such: "He looked like a movie Mexican. You expected him to say, "Batches? Batches? We don’t need no stinkin' batches" - a reference to the famous line from the movie The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. In the Hungarian translation (in Hungary, the line is not well-known) "batch" was translated into "halom", meaning "pile".
    • The Shining: the boy is supposed to be walking around saying "Red rum" (opposite of "murder"). The Russian translation ends up being funny because the opposite of "ubiystvo" is "ovts yibu", which sounds an awful lot like "[I] f***k sheep". Reportedly, King laughed his ass off after learning about this. The Russian dub of the movie keeps the potentially funny/scandalous translation.
    • The Waste Lands, riddles play an important role. One of them is "When is a door not a door? When it's ajar" (a jar). This was translated literally to Hungarian, resulting in something like "When a door is not a door? When it's half-open."
  • Rob Grant's Incompetence has the main character attempt to fix his boiler using an instruction manual that was "translated from Japanese to English by a Kalahari bushman whose closest encounter with either language had been a chance encounter with a German explorer trying to ascertain the going rate for a second-hand camel in terms of petroleum and shiny beads."
  • The Grapes Of Wrath was supposedly translated into Japanese as "The Angry Raisins", but (un)fortunately it is merely an urban legend.
  • Stieg Larsson's Men Who Hate Women (aka The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo:
    • The English translation has one while giving the backstory to why Mikael Blomkvist is nicknamed Kalle Blomkvist. In his youth he helped stop a gang of robbers known as Björnligan, which is the Swedish name for The Beagle Boys. In the English translation, they're called The Bear Gang, which is a literal translation of "Björnligan". Translating the gang's name directly rather than correctly replacing the Swedish name for the Beagle Boys with the English one, thus ruining the Disney reference that the name constitutes, makes no sense. Another problem with the translation is that Björn doesn't necessarily reference bears—it's a reference to the Swedish first name Björn. (In the Swedish translation of Disney comics, the Beagle Boys' founder is named Björn Bandhund.) It's as if a reference to Björn Borg would have his name changed into Bear Borg.
    • The French translation is infamously bad. So bad it caused an uproar on the Internet and led the (whiny) translators to issue an open letter to explain themselves.
  • The first Croatian translation of The Da Vinci Code is a notorious example. The translator apparently knew nothing about religion, which is kind of ironic for a country where about 90% of the population declare themselves Catholic. The term immaculate conception is the best-known mistranslation in the book: translated back to English, it would be something on the line of “exceedingly honorable concept”.
  • Dave Barry parodied this in the two funniest things ever written. One is an instruction manual "translated from the Japanese," including instructions like "Never to hold these buttons two times!" "This is a very maintenance action," and "However." The other was inverted, in a section of a book on travel, which includes some phrases like "Je donne a madame chat plus que ca a manger," translated as "I give my damn cat more than that to eat."
  • Mark Twain's short story The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was translated into French. Suspecting that the lukewarm response to it was due to poor translation, Twain relates that with the assistance of a dictionary he translated it word for word back to English (producing a "Blind Idiot" Translation of a "Blind Idiot" Translation).
  • "the dark brethren of the elves" was translated to "de onda alfernas bröder" (brothers of the evil elves) in the official Swedish translation of a fantasy book. note 
  • Observe what the Hungarian version of Luring A Lady translated the following lines as:
    "Man, get a load of those buns.note  They are class A" Sydney swallowed. She supposed they were.
    "You man, fetch me a load of those beaver-boards! They are class A" Sydney swallowed. She hoped they were.
  • Used in-universe in The Flying Sorcerers. The human explorer introduces himself by his English name, which his computer translates into the native tongue "as a color, shade of purple-grey". He spends much of the book being called "Purple" because of this, but he eventually sets them straight: His name was Asimov ("As-a-mauve").
  • In the German translation of Dracula. In the pivotal scene where Mina is visited by the Count at night, she tells the reader that she "couldn't resist him." In the original, she says that she "didn't want to resist him" (she thinks that's part of his terrible power)—a small, but important difference.
  • The first printing of Michael Chrichton's Jurassic Park in Hungarian had some instances where the names of various characters got inexplicably mixed up. Gennaro becomes Hammond for a line (right when he's talking about Hammond), and Muldoon gets to be Malcolm briefly. The translator also had trouble keeping the word "hypsilophodont" consistent — sometimes, it's left like that, but it also appears as "hypsilophodontida" and "hypsilophodonta". Then, of course, the dinosaur Maiasaura is always written as "Maiasaurus", which wouldn't work, as the name means "good mother lizard", and "-saurus" is usually seen as a masculine suffix.
  • The Hungarian translator of Fifty Shades of Grey went memetic (for the curious and bilingual) because of this trope. After he arrogantly denied mistranslating anything, when an interviewer asked him why on Earth did he translate Kings of Leon as The Lion King a local blog called Leiter Jakabnote  took issue with the statement and tone. To date they found 6 lengthy blog posts worth of egregious examples of these and are only 1/4 through the book.
  • In-Universe example in Human Error, a short story by John Jackson Miller (Can be found in the Armored anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams). When humans first discovered intelligent alien life linguists were a bit overzealous in wanting to be helpful with space travel, so they sent "know boxes" containing every single word to ever exist in the English language, regardless of current usage. When aliens begin to create computer interfaces for humans, the results are anachronistic and silly.
    • A standard error message is "What deviltry be this?" and an inquiry is "Prithee, dude, what is up?"
  • The Danish translation of Robert Harris' WWII novel Enigma translated the text of a classic propaganda poster warning people to beware of enemy spies ("Keep mum, she's not so dumb") as "Keep Mother, she is not so stupid".
  • This one's not evident unless you are versed on European fauna, but the Spanish version of the Earth's Children second book translated chamois (Spanish gamuza) as fallow deer (Spanish gamo). This way, the text ended with constant mentions of people going into the mountains of Ice Age Europe to hunt fallow deer, an animal that does not live in mountains and that is only recorded in Europe during warm periods to boot.
  • The 1998 thriller Op-Center: Balance of Power is an already bizarre depiction of Spain without taking into account the Gratuitous Spanish that litters the text from time to time. Some of this seems to have come out of an early online translator (fusilar is used as a translation for "gunman", when it actually is "executing by firing squad") while others are plain made up ("chop shop" is translated as cortacarro, "car-cutter", and that's without taking into account that cars aren't called carros in Spain, they are coches; the correct word for such a place would be desguace).
  • In the Spanish translation of Perdido Street Station, "caterpillar" is translated as ciempiés ("centipede"). So you have centipedes that turn into chrysalides and then emerge as moths. Somehow none of this tipped the translators that they were off the mark.
  • In James Clavell's Shogun, the shipwrecked English sailor Blackthorne makes a blunder in Japanese. He assumes "onna" is the Japanese name of the woman who has forcibly bathed him and got his personal hygiene up to acceptable local levels. He asks for her to deal with some trivial matter or other. But actually onna is a generic word for "woman"; so, instead, his hosts assume he wants a woman for the, er, obvious. Hilarity ensues when three women come to him, he points at the one he knows and says "Onna!", and she shrugs and begins undressing.
  • The German edition of one of Margery Allingham's (of Albert Campion fame) novels tranlates the title as Schwarze Pflaumen (black plums) rather than Black Plumes. This is especially silly since the text leaves no doubt as to which it should be.
  • In Tales from Jabba's Palace Jabba believes that the chef Porcellus has been using a "fierfek" on his food. It is commonly accepted among non-Hutts that this is Huttese for "poison" and Porcellus proves that it was actually his assistant poisoning the food, only to be sentenced to death anyway. As C-3PO explains Huttese doesn't have a word for poison since a substance that can poison Hutts is so rare. Jabba suspected Porcellus had a placed a "fierfek" or "hex" on the food due to the bad luck of those who ate it.
  • In Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold:
    Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. [...] The fourth iteration of ["Ask Sealer Greenlaw"] was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, "But Greenlaw said to ask you!", except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, "Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!" note 
  • Invoked in The City & the City: Inspector Borlu has to mentally translate a phrase ("The public has a right to know") back into English before he can make sense of it because the Besz word for "right" is too polysemic for the naive translation to work.
  • The German translation of Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell is called "Das Universum in der Nußschale", a nearly literal translation that is no longer an idiom and therefore nonsensical (except that it still matches the cover art, which took the title literally as well).
  • In his seminal essay How to Build a Universe that Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later, Philip K. Dick describes a peculiar and rather amusing mental glitch when the German translator got to one particular line in the novel Ubik. At that point, when the translator got to the point where the, shall we say, ubiquitous product notes, "I am the Word", the translator decided that the best direct approximation was, "I am the brand name." "I am the Word" would be blasphemous, see John 1,1.
  • The Dresden Files: In-universe example. Harry comes across a group calling themselves the "Ordo Lebes", which Harry, drawing on the stupid Latin correspondence course, translates as "Order of the Big Cooking Pot". His apprentice points out that a predominantly female group of minor spellcasters was more likely going for "Order of the Cauldron", which Harry agrees is more fitting.
  • The Spanish to English translation of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels are full of errors. Not only do they open with giving the nameless narrator a name, but in these books, there are tons of typos, and names get switched around as if the translators are choosing speakers by throwing darts. On the plus side, bad orthography and identity crises (as well as questionable cover choices, some of which they backtracked from) tend to avert the attention from any potential less objectionable mistranslation.
  • Played with in Bigend Books: Many characters make fun of the Engrish translation of Japanese Mecha-series "Breast Chaser Glavion", with one character wondering if it was supposed to be "Beast Hunter Glavion". It turns out that the translation is correct, if a bit wonky; Gravion (not "Glavion") is the titular Humongous Mecha, and it is a Chaser-class machine with its main weapon mounted in its breast, i.e. upper torso.
  • Frank DaCosta's 80s programming guidebook Writing BASIC Adventure Programs for the TRS-80 received a unique spin in its Hungarian edition. The translator wasn't familiar with the word "orc", mistaking it for "orca", which he then mistranslated as "swordfish", confusing the Hungarian word for killer whale ("sword-finned whale") with a completely different type of marine creature. Not only are orcs consistently referred to as swordfish throughout the book, but they also became a recurring symbol for chapter headings, even showing up on the cover, inexplicably living on land.
  • In the Finnish translation of Warcraft: Durotan, the prequel novel of the 2016 film, the name of the orc clan Bleeding Hollow received the rather perplexing translation of "Vuotavan vajouma", which roughly means "shallow hole of the leaking one". The clan's name is supposed to be derived from the tradition of their chieftains partaking in ritualistic Eye Scream, "hollow" in this context referring to an empty eye socket, and the translator presumably wasn't aware of this.
  • The Spanish translation of The Stars Are Legion often translates the verb "to sign" (saying something using sign language) as "señalar" (pointing something). As a result, dialogues in sign language become quite jarring.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Foundation Series' Foundation (1951): One translation of the English Foundation to Russian translates the words "Logarithmic slide rule" as "Pravilo logariphmicheskogo skol'zheniya". Literally "The law of logarithmic sliding".
    • A Choice Of Catastrophes: In the (Spaniard) Spanish translation of this non-fiction book, there were gems such as black holes (mis)translated as ventanas negrasnote  instead of the (Spaniard) Spanish typical translation agujeros negros.
  • The German translation of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (adapted into a feature film that was released in 1975) was published under the title Einer flog über das Kuckucksnest, a literal translation that loses its idiomatic meaning and therefore nonsensical. The word "cuckoo" in the title does not refer to the bird but a mental patient while the "cuckoo's nest" refers to an insane asylum. A more accurate, less literal translation would be something like, "Ein Verrückter in der Irrenanstalt," meaning "A Madman in the Insane Asylum."
  • The European Portuguese translation of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion was translated under the title A desilusão de Deus, a mistranslation of the original title. In Portuguese, "desilusão" means "disappointment," not "delusion," while the proper term for "delusion" in Portuguese is "delírio." Averted with the Brazilian Portuguese translation, properly titled Deus, um delírio.
  • The handful BIONICLE books released in Hungarian have this in spades.
    • In Tale of the Toa, the exclamation "Hurry!" was mistranslated into "Hurray!" in one scene as the Toa run across a tunnel. In another scene, the word "gravely" was mistranslated as "from the grave". The name of the Manas beasts is changed to "Mana", as the translator mistakenly thought their original name was plural. Yet in the guidebook, they are correctly called Manas.
    • In Beware the Bohrok, the line "ne légy túl boldog" ("don’t feel too glad") was mistyped into the nonsensical "e lény túl boldog" ("this creature is too glad").
    • The book Makuta's Revenge involves six individual villains called Bohrok-Kal, but at random points the translation suggests that there's multiples of each six.
    • The subtitle of Tales of the Masks, "A new Quest" got misinterpreted as "A new Question".
    • In the official guidebook, the section discussing Le-Koro slang expression "lowduck" used the wrong meaning of the word duck, the bird rather than the act of crouching. The guidebook also contains cipher text that is absolutely mangled. The publisher added an extra note to the book that the cipher font lacks accentuated letters. Yet despite this, they ignored their own self-imposed rule and tried to use accentuated characters in the text, which did not show up in print, leaving awkward gaps in random words. One bit of coded text is a genuine Translation Trainwreck: each word was individually translated from English to Hungarian but not reordered to match the language's word order, resulting in the sentence not making sense even if you decode it — "you will not find the Seventh Toa" became something like "the Seventh Toa you find not will".
    • All of the books are also full of typos and very basic grammatical errors. Past, present and future tenses, plural and singular randomly switch within sentences, capitalization is onconsistent and so is the name order of Bionicle terminology. The Toa Nuva team is at times called Nuva Toa (which is technically correct in Hungarian grammar), and the monster Rahi Nui is sometimes named Nui Rahi (which is not).
  • The German translation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has the book titles translated to nonsense like All Cheese! (English: Double Down), Bad Trap! (English: The Long Haul), It Wasn't Me! (English: Dog Days), and Gone Stupid! (English: The Third Wheel)
    • The ebook version of German Rodrick Rules contains three notable errors: the blue background lines are missing from the last two pages, one illustration is left blanked of text (Susan's "when your child is being deceptive" column), and another is missing altogether (Rodrick reading Greg's allegory essay and saying "Monkeys can't understand English, stupid"). While the last one may have been removed for explicitely mentioning a language, the joke is that Rodrick doesn't understand that the monkey is actually based on him, thus leaving the German translation without the punchline.
    • In The Ugly Truth, Greg writes a paragraph of his biography, about his friend Rowley: "I used to live near this kid. I think his name was Rupert or Roger or something." In the German translation, Rowley's name is Rupert, and this line was translated literally, ruining the joke.


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