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Blind Idiot Translation / Real Life

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The enormous one of the life lasts (Real Life)

  • Japanese is notoriously tricky to transcribe into Latin script in a way that makes sense to a speaker of a Western language, due to having a very different set of phonemes; the most well known is L / R (light vs. right, free vs. flee, etc.) which results in the stereotypical stupid Japanese accent, as the equivalent sound in Japanese is somewhere between both. There's numerous others, though: B / V, S / TH (probably most notable for producing "Aeris"), SI / SHI (prompting giggles at words like "shituation" or "shitty life") and others. This is aggravated by the difference in writing systems, as Japanese doesn’t have consonant clusters, which means that consonant clusters can't be transliterated without adding in some vowels. If something's a proper noun, be prepared for guesswork.
    • An infamous example was after World War II, during the American occupation of Japan, there was an incident where an Allied official had some members of the Japanese bureaucracy fired after a Japanese translator misconstrued a martial arts club's name. The name is Budokai, intended to mean "Martial Arts Club", but the translator mistook the kanji for "Military Virtues Association", something that the Allied authorities would never tolerate given the demilitarization policy at that time. When the same Allied official realized the mistake and tried to keep the bureaucrats in their office, it was too late; General MacArthur insisted the association be banned and that any members in the Japanese government be fired.
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    • An even more infamous — and tragic — example was the final trigger for one of mankind's worst catastrophes: when asked by journalists about the Potsdam Declaration, the Japanese Foreign Minister (as the proper politician he was) replied with the weasel word "mokusatsu", which can mean both "No comment" and "I am ignoring it in contempt", the translation that got back to the Americans. Had it been translated correctly the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings may well not have happened.
  • A surprising number of Japanese translations, videogames in particular, directly translate symmetrical sentence structures. This is usually further run through the English-language concept of not using the same word repeatedly in a sentence to get weird sentences that re-state themselves in a slightly different way for no apparent reason.
  • Pick any online text translator. Pick a block of text—the beginning of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy, for example. Now translate it to any other language, and back again. This is sometimes known as "Babelfishing", after AltaVista's (later Yahoo!'s) Babel Fish, one of the first online translators (it now exists as Bing Translator).
    • English → French → English
      To be, or not to be—c' is the question: If ' ; tis nobler in l' spirit to suffer the supports and the arrows from unworthy fortune Or to take arms against a sea of the troubles And by l' opposition stop them. To die, sleep— Not more—and by a sleep to say we let us stop sorrow d' love, and the thousand normal shocks This flesh is heir with. ' ; Tis a consumption Being desired with enthusiasm. To die, sleep— To sleep—perhaps with the dream: ay, there' ; S the strip contact, for in this sleep of dead which dreams can come When we scrambled in addition to this mortal rolling up, Must give us the pause. There' ; S the respect That makes the calamity thus long life.
    • English → Japanese → English
      Because of a certain, or because it is not,—That is question: ' Whether or not; In order the topping lift and the arrow or the arm of a nobler tis inhuman good fortune to take with the heart which suffers vis-a-vis the sea of trouble and finish those with in the opposite direction. In order to die, in order to sleep,— Above this—And as for us that meat of mental agony and thousand natural impacts which finish with the sleep which is said is to the successor. ' Because it is desired from Tis consummation heart. In order to die, in order to sleep,— In order to sleep,—In perchance dream: there' ay; Whether perhaps, any dream comes, when mixing from the coil where we do not escape this death friction for the sleep of s death, separated, we must give pause. There' s point that makes the disaster of such long life.
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    • English → Spanish → English
      To be or not to be, that one is the question; If ' tis more noble in the head to undergo the slings and you shoot with an arrow of the indignante fortune, Or to take the arms against a sea from hardships, and being been against, to finish those. In order to die, to dream; Not over; and by a dream to say we were finished the pain and the thousand natural shocks that meat is the heir - ' tis a consumation devoutly to being wish' d. In order to die, to sleep; In order to sleep, to perhaps dream. Ay, there' s the rubbing, stops in that dream of the death what dreams can come, when we have mixed ourselves of this mortal coil, we must occur stop. There' s the respect that so makes terrible of long life.
    • There are actually translators that do this deliberately like Bad Translatornote . As in, that's the sole reason for their existence. Same with Translation Party. For instance, the classical To be or not to be, that is the question, after an English-Japanese-Chinese-French-German-Italian-Spanish-English trip, becomes
      Due to the regulations due to it stops as they give under him is not: The needs of the argument
    • In some conlanging communities (people who create languages), there is something called a conlang relay. A message in English is translated to another conlang, which itself is translated into another conlang and so on. It is actually pretty funny.
    • There is an Urban Legend about the earliest attempts to use computers to translate between Russian and English. Supposedly, the program was tested by the same method as above; translating English to Russian and then the resulting Russian back into English. The story goes that the phrase "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" came back as "the wine is acceptable but the meat has spoiled" or "The vodka is lustful but the meat is rotten."
  • One of the first websites to deal with this phenomenon, particularly as applied to hilarious usages of English in Asian countries, is
  • During the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union the leader at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, addressed Western ambassadors at the Polish embassy in Moscow. During the reception, he apparently said "Мы вас похороним!" (My vas pokhoronim!), meaning "We will bury you!", and many people took it as a threat. However, this is a case of Quote Mining. The actual sentence was this: "Нравится вам или нет, но история на нашей стороне. Мы вас закопаем", (Nravitsya vam ili nyet, na istoriya na nashey stropone. My vas zakopayem.), in English: "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will dig you in." Basically, he wasn't saying that the Soviet Union would destroy the U.S, but that it would outlast it — that the U.S. would collapse upon itself and the USSR would still be around when the U.S. was dead and buried. Ironically, this did happen, except it was the Soviet Union doing the collapsing while the U.S was doing the burying. Khrushchev was likely paraphrasing Marx's thesis that the bourgeoisie would make the proletariat its own grave-digger.
  • An advertisement on this very wiki, for "", asks "How can you enjoy the game so lightsome?"
    • Another ad went from "Live and work in USA" to "Live and work in NOW" because of a freak collision of different word order, acronyms, and missing declension.
  • The German translation for a small toy fishtank with plastic fish: "Lebensunterhalt aus direkter Sonne leuchtet" ("sustenance out of direct sun illuminates"). The most probable source is the phrase "Keep out of direct sunlight", but in this case, they picked the German words representing the words' secondary meaning or literal translation: The translation for "keep" used here is the German word for the keep you earn... They also translated "light" as "leuchtet" (light up/glow), even splitting up "sunlight" into two words and literally translating each of them.
  • According to this story, many Irish police stopping Polish motorists for driving infractions were reading the wrong part of the driver's license when taking their details. This came to light when it emerged that Prawo Jazdy (Polish for "driver's license") was the most wanted driver in Ireland.
    • Something similar happens routinely with Russians in China due to Russian passports having the holder's name in both original Cyrillic and Latin transcription. Quite often the person in say, a bank, will try to write Cyrillic text as a last name and then become frustrated after noticing there seem to be two slightly different versions.
  • The transcriptions on Russian passports are bordering on this trope, as the rules seem to change randomly. Well, they did use French in the USSR and some time after that, but now it does not make sense – for instance, one name could be written as Alexandre, Aleksandr, and Alexandr. As you can imagine, trying to prove to the Chinese bank that you are the account holder becomes virtually impossible...
  • When Bic went to Latin America, it thought that the word "embarazar" meant "to embarrass." So, the billboards told you that "this pen won't leak in your pocket and get you pregnant".
  • What happens when a Chinese restaurant fails their translation.
  • According to this blog entry, "Most of us, however, have all along suspected that this phenomenon resulted from reliance on faulty translation software. Indeed, it is easy to prove that absurd English translations are being spewed out daily in China when individuals who don't know English merely plug Chinese sentences into the software and expect it to come up with reasonable renditions." A bug in one particular translation program has caused the word "fuck" to appear on shop signs and restaurant menus, etc. because the Simplified Chinese character 干 can mean either "dry (fried)" or "do (fuck)" depending on context.
  • There is a persistent but highly dubious story that in the 1800s, Britain's first imperial governor of Hong Kong, Sir Henry Longstaff, knew local culture just well enough to understand that he should adopt a "chop", a bespoke stamp with his name transcribed into Chinese pictograms, to give legitimacy to statutes and decrees. Local Chinese people got used to seeing proclamations from the Governor stamped by a chop that apparently said "Lord Henry of the Impressive Penis". One slight problem: No Governor of Hong Kong was ever called "Henry Longstaff", or indeed "[Any other name] Longstaff", nor indeed is there any record of any British colonial servant of any significance named "Henry Longstaff", at least not in East/Southeast Asia. Hence "highly dubious."
  • The government of China has released an official list of food name translations in the hope of stopping this problem for the Olympics. (It also appears that the list is online, in Chinese.) The list isn't without mild mistakes, either. "Cuttlefish" is not the same thing as "octopus", for example, but at least they aren't calling it "flower branch" (cuttlefish) or "eight claw fish" (octopus).
  • Many Blind Idiot Translations of Chinese dish names are prime examples of various difficulties in translation. For example, the dish whose name literally translates "husband and wife lung slices" has that name because (a) the words for "lung" also means "tripe," and (b) the dish was reportedly invented by a couple who were street vendors in Sichuan in the 1930s. Likewise, "pock-marked grandmother tofu" is also supposed to be named after the woman who invented it. If you don't know the stories already, those names are as nondescriptive and unhelpful as, um, "hamburger" (named after the German city of Hamburg) or "sandwich" (named after an English nobleman). But even when the names are descriptive, it doesn't necessarily help: a lot dishes are named as ingredient plus cooking technique, but the techniques are often typical to China and have no straightforward translation into European languages (e.g., there's different words for regular stir-frying and the "explosive" variant that uses hotter oil and finer-cut ingredients).
  • In Aung San Suu Kyi's official Facebook statement about Xi Jinping's visit to Myanmar in January of 2020, president Xi's name was auto-translated from Burmese to English as "Mr. Shithole"note . Facebook later apologized for the auto-translation error.
  • "Yesterday not throw the fire inside the battery". Literally, "never throw the battery in a fire". Or worse: "The Ni-MH battery absolutely not can throw in the fire inside, the battery suffers the heat will take place the bang."
  • A negligent translation to Russian and back allowed Margaret Thatcher's nickname to shift from "Iron Maiden" (as in "torture-box") to "Iron Dame" to "Iron Lady". An improvement, no?
    • This became the linguistic version of an Ascended Glitch; that nickname certainly stuck.
  • The website Hanzi Smatter has many examples of poorly used Chinese and Japanese by English speakers. Unfortunately, a lot of the time, in tattoos.
    • Hanzi Smatter has uncovered an "Asian Font", which, in true Blind Idiot style, just assigns a random pictogram to each English letter, making it easy for foolish people to get a "tattoo of my kid's name in Chinese/Japanese" from an even more foolish tattoo artist. The result, correctly translated into whatever language it most resembles, is usually something like "man [gibberish] going [gibberish] [gibberish] [gibberish]".
  • Some of the most glorious Chinese-to-English examples ever recorded could be found on Anime Jump's (the website has stopped updating, and Mike Toole now works for Anime News Network) Bootleg Toys Showcase. The Flying Headless Goku is a meme in itself.
    • Speaking of bad Chinese-to-English translations, has anyone read those red chopstick packets available at most Chinese restaurants? (Although most of these packets have been revised to display better English, you can still find a few badly translated ones here and there.)
    • The mentioned site contains what is probably one of the best (read: worst) Blind Idiot Translations ever: the INTERTLLR TERININATDR (also called Apolay Wayyioy).
    • As pictured on the main page, we have a fire extinguisher that was labeled as "hand grenade", which is clearly wrong. What's interesting is that fire extinguishers can actually function as a hand grenade (though they won't create a fiery explosion like a real grenade would and will put out fire instead). Also, old-fashioned fire extinguishers consisted of frangible glass vials that were used by throwing them at a fire, and were actually called hand grenades.
    • A sign in an Chinese shop with the English translation "Vegetables said Taiwan", while the correct translation is "vegetable weighing counter". Taiwan is an one of the serious political controversies on the Chinese mainland and a very big deal over there, so it was mocked on Twitter.
  • Lots of this sort of thing can be found at
  • An example from a Tokyo car rental brochure: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."
    • Some versions of this anecdote add a line instructing the driver as to the correct course of action should the driver's passage be obstacled by a horse: "wait for him to pass away."
  • Another example involved Tony Blair giving a speech in French about the "third way" falling foul of the fact that the literal French translation of "third way" (troisième voie) is more often used in conversational French to refer to Platform 3 at a railway station.
  • There is a well-known urban legend in the Anglosphere stating that John F. Kennedy unintentionally called himself a jelly doughnut in his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech. Contrary to popular belief, this was not an embarrassing mistake on the part of Kennedy or his translator is a misconception. The doughnut "Berliner Pfannkuchen" is shortened to "Berliner" in most of Germany, but in Berlin (where Kennedy was giving the speech) it is called "Pfannkuchen" note . Also, while "I am a (literal) citizen of Berlin" is "Ich bin Berliner" (without the article), the intended meaning "I am a citizen of Berlin in spirit" is "Ich bin ein Berliner (im Geiste)", so the wording was correct. Most Germans were not even aware of the legend until the 2000s.
  • The story about Jimmy Carter in Poland, however, is actually true and wasn't his fault, but the translator's; he was more familiar with Polish writing than speaking. Carter had said that he wanted to get to know the Poles better, but it was translated as "I desire the Poles carnally"; presumably, the translator was claiming Carter wanted to know them in the biblical sense. Furthermore, when he meant to say he came from the US, he implied that he abandoned the US forever. Later in the same speech, the translator misinterpreted Carter's statements praising the Polish constitution to mean that he was saying their constitution was to be ridiculed, and his statement that he was happy to be in Poland was interpreted to mean that he was happy to "grab Poland by the balls". Finally, to top it off, he used Russian words in the finale, in a country with strong anti-Russian sentiments. The translator was soon replaced.
  • An information board in China was rendered as "propaganda board", perhaps aptly in a country whose government has a fairly hazy distinction between information and propaganda.
  • In a translation of a hymn about John the Revelator, who wrote the Book of The Seven Seals, "seal" was translated using the "aquatic pinniped mammal" meaning.
  • Polish translators in general seem to be baffled by slang; for example, translating the word "radical" as "radykalny", which is not and has never been a slang word (it actually means "extreme" — "radical" has a much wider semantic field than "radykalny"). This makes the translated dialogue sound oddly disjointed or plain incomprehensible.
    • One translation which rendered the British anatomical slang term "bell-end" literally, as in "terminal section of a device that makes a ringing sound".
    • Not only slang: a short story largely set in the vicinity of Phoenix, Arizona translated "prickly pear", a kind of cactus that is properly translated as opuncja, as "kolczasta grusza"—meaning "thorny pear tree."
  • Signage in Wales is required to be in both English and Welsh, leading to regular examples of Blind Idiot Translation.
    • As shown in this picture (from here), a sign that in English directed heavy goods vehicles to take another route, in Welsh said, "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."note 
    • Another sign located near a section of road under repair read "Cyclists dismount" in English, but "Bladder disease has returned" in Welsh. (Though the word order does mean it makes even less sense in the original Welsh.)
    • In 2006, a school in Wrexham had to remove a sign which translated "staff entrance" into Welsh as "enchant the wooden stick".
    • A temporary sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading "Look Right" in English read "Look Left" in Welsh.
    • A sign in an Asda grocery store read "alcohol free" (as in non-alcoholic beer) in English and "free alcohol" in Welsh. The store then had to post additional signage to clarify that they weren't giving away alcoholic drinks.
  • This infamous synopsis of the opera Carmen. "All hail the balls of a Toreador!" Plus "I besooch you" followed by "Oh, rupture, rupture".
  • The phenomenon was referred to by Stephen Fry in an article when he was discussing why he never did any classical roles. He commented that he didn't "have the sort of calves that could carry off a pair of tights" which he thought could be translated as "possess the type of young cows that could transport away two drunks".
  • In one version of Adobe Director, a word was translated into double Dutch: the original "Left - Center - Right" were translated into "Koppelingen - Midden - Rechts", where "koppelingen" is Dutch for (hyper)"links", and "links" in turn is Dutch for "left".
    • The Dutch copy of Trackmania has a dialog button "Dichtbij", which means "Close", as in a short distance away.
    • And in the Dutch version of iTunes, where in a file's information you can type in the name of a show, it translates "Show" as "Tonen", as in making something seen.
    • The Windows (vista and 7) standard scan utility has scanning translated as "zoeken", which means search. How that ever left the factory, no one ever knows.
    • The first release of the Dutch version of Windows Mobile 5. One memorable example was the Solitaire game, which had a button labeled "Tekenen", which is "Draw" as in "Draw a picture" rather than "Draw a card".note  It was clearly a case of translating the resource tables without looking at the application. Not to mention the numerous made-up and inconsistent abbreviations that WM5 was riddled with to make the (typically longer than their English equivalent) Dutch terms fit. To top it off, many of the naming of various items was also inconsistent with the Dutch version of the regular Windows (for example, Windows on PC translates "My Documents" into "Mijn Documenten" but left "Program Files" alone, while WM5 did the opposite, changing "Program Files" to "Programmabestanden" but leaving "My Documents" inexplicably in English).
  • The Brazilian Portuguese translation of Windows Vista had "Sobre o Janelas", which means... "About [the] Windows". Sadly, it was fixed.
    • With the release of a system update to the Xbox 360 (2.0.16197.0, 26-Oct-2012), Swedish was added as a system language. But there were a lot of simple translation errors despite the Windows OS having an almost perfect translation. (Hard Drive) "Storage" was translated to the word for "the shop's storage for goods", confusing the word for TV remote and gamepad (remote), car's transmission (game defaults) was translated to "transmitting" (correct, but confusing). And some "enable"/"disable" is switched, which makes it hard to know the setting unless one is using another language. These errors haven't been fixed yet.
  • The early Polish versions of Windows presented "Open with" context menu option with the literal translation of "Otwórz z", which, if deciphered by the reader at all, suggests something along the lines of "I opened the door together with Alice as it was very heavy." Justified partially by the fact that a direct translation doesn't exist thanks to Polish rendering "doing thing with tool" structure exclusively using noun declination. The wording used in modern Windows, "Otwórz za pomocą" ("open utilizing"), is rumored to have been known from day one, and rejected due to length.
  • Students of the Latin Language, once they have gotten to the point where they can begin to piece together reasonably correct sentences, graduate from Translation Train Wreck to this normally partway through their second year. With improper and incomplete knowledge of grammatical structures, the results are often more or less fine in English, but rather atrocious in Latin. For example, the sentence "Since I feel that I am not afraid of the kind of man who would pet a kitten," is correctly written as "Cum sentio ut vereor homi qui palparet cattulam." Without knowledge of subjunctive, cum clauses, and characteristic clauses, such a student would write "Quoniam non timeor gentis viri quem sit tactet felecem." Unfortunately, this means "Since (as in time) not afraid I am of the race of man whom he would be touches cat."
  • Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson and James May explored the workings of the world's first automobiles and were very confused by an instruction sheet translated from French. (See here starting at 0:35.)
  • French Example: This packaging for a snow shovel, which translates "snow pusher" to "revendeur de drogue de neige", uses the wrong sense of the word "pusher." Instead of "an object which pushes snow", it means "drug pusher", literally reading "Snow-drug seller". (A phrase which would have made more sense in a translation of Snow Crash.)
    • In Italian, "neve" (snow) is also a slang word for cocaine, so if the botched French translation was translated into Italian, you would get a label that defines the snow pusher as a cocaine seller.
  • The United States government did this when dealing with the Russian government. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hands something to the Russian official and even says "We worked hard to find the right Russian word", just before the official points at one of the words and says "That's the wrong word." Hillarity Ensues. (Hillary's face was a mixture of Oh, Crap! and trying not to laugh.)
  • American editors have a compelling need to take very British books, set in Britain, by British authors, using British characters, employing British humour - and to translate them into American English throughout. You end up with things like the American edition of Good Omens where whole jokes are lost in the wholly unnecessary translation into AmE.
  • One still-existing kingdom in Africa has two state copies of The Bible. According to the King of that kingdom, one of them is a recent, pretty decent translation. The other one was a gift from Queen Victoria, and thanks to the state of knowledge of the language in question at the time, contains translation gems like "The Lord is the keeper of my sheep."
  • One brand of prawn crackers (the kind you fry yourself) proudly proclaimed them to have a "peculiar taste". Somebody ought to inform that translator that the use of "peculiar" to mean "unique" is archaic; it's far more commonly used to mean "weird".
  • The Spanish version of this wiki suffers from this. "Disonancia del Angustia" for Angst Dissonance (in Spanish all nouns are gendered, "del" is a male pronoun and "Angustia" a female one, thus the right literal translation should be "Disonancia de la angustia"). La Decadencia Del Chingón for Badass Decay (means "The Badass Decadence", since "Chingón" is an aproximation for "Badass", but this is Mexican slang and not appropriate for that use everywhere).
  • An English edition of the Helsinki Metro newspaper in Finland once titillated readers with the headline "150 kg? Biggest heroine bust ever!" So Rob Liefeld and Tite Kubo finally teamed up? Whoever this heroine is, her back must be killing her. "Heroin" would have the correct word (for the drug); a "heroine" is a female protagonist. See The Big List of Booboos and Blunders.
    • Another one from Helsinki. To clarify, Helsinki is a bilingual city and hence all public buildings need to have signs both in Finnish and in Swedish. This sign is from a hospital and shows directions to various departments, etc. Only problem is that next to each Finnish text, the Swedish translation just says "Samma på svenska", which is Swedish for "Same in Swedish". You don't even need to know Swedish to know something is wrong, since all five lines obviously have the same text.
  • A certain cleaning product advises English speakers to use an amount the size of a quarter, and French speakers to use a quarter of the bottle.
  • Using Google Translate leads to this quite a lot. The original language is unknown, but a passage apparently about one of the Columbia astronauts translated to "He was a colonel of aviation Israel".
  • Finnish is notoriously difficult to translate into, what with our copious suffixes and whatnot. As a result, Blind Idiot Translations abound, especially in user's manuals for various electronics. In a reverse example, a Finnish business college advertised itself with the "English" slogan of "Enter the Type". (The Finnish word "tyyppi" can mean either "type" or "character" [as in someone with a colourful personality].)
    • Google Translate is horrible with Finnish. While it has since been corrected, it once translated the lyrics "Ensi lumi satoi kahdesti, / Maalasi sieluni taulun." (The first snow fell twice, / Painted the painting of my soul.) as "The first two times it rained, / Soul painted billboards." Type Tiellä on jänis. (There is a hare on the road) and you get The road is a hare. Google translates "Liitoshitsaaja", which is "Joint welder", to "Flying shit recipient". This is technically correct, as the word "liitoshitsaaja" could be either liito(glide)-shit-saaja(recipient) or liitos(joint)-hitsaaja(welder), but welders are probably talked about more often.
  • Clients From Hell, a site that publishes anonymous anecdotes about insufferable web design clients, featured this beautiful post:
    Client: We need to get this all translated into Italian.
    Me: Ok, well we'll need to get a price for the translation.
    Client: Can we not just do it in house? I'm sure between us we can speak Italian.
  • This trope was invoked by the defense of one of the accused during the trials of the 2004 Madrid train bombings. Apparently the thing that got him arrested as a possible coordinator of the attacks was a Spanish translation of an Italian translation (the guy was living in Italy at the time) of a sentence in Arabic that could be interpreted in more than one way.
  • Also in 2004, two Brazilian surfers were arrested at the Miami airport for not knowing proper English: when asked what the large metallic object in their luggage was, they wanted to reply that it was a compressor — an air pump (bomba de ar)... Yes, what they actually ended up saying is that it was an air bomb. Cue immediate detainment, the book being thrown, the hapless surfers being charged with everything from terrorism to making false bomb reports, Brazil being added to the list of terrorist countries, and the guys staying in jail for over two months until the Brazilian government managed to bring them back home.
  • On the pedestal of the St. Wenceslas statue at Wenceslas Square in Prague, there used to be a sign: "Keep of the statue and the basement".
  • On the back of a piece of Chinese candy named "Soft sugar happy flavor" is this helpful description:
    The candy, the sending out happy,
    is being rich the happy gift which and
    the after taste is accompanies us to grow
    is childhood many joyful recollections.
  • There are frequent references by English-speaking record collectors and dealers to the Italian "Dischi label", referring to "Dischi Ricordi." But "dischi" in Italian means "records". "Ricordi" is the name of the label.
  • In Canada, all merchandise is legally required to have its label in both English and French. Needless to say, this occasionally leads to some... interesting results.
    • For example, this washing label. The French is roughly:
      The machine washes the common cold separately.note  Fall dry low.note  Only the bleach of no-chlorine, when had need of.note  Do not do the iron over the conception.note  Do not dry neat.note 
    • Rather inexplicably, numerical quantities will sometimes get butchered in translation, resulting in such hilarious (and terrifying) oddities as a food product having different cooking temperatures in English and French, a rechargeable battery going from 500 recharges in English to 300 recharges in French, or a 10 year limited warranty being reduced to one year in French.
    • Other inexplicable mistakes include a "wash hands" pictogram which is captioned with "after use" in English and "before use" in French, an item which is "dishwasher safe" in English and "hand wash only" in French, and a product made in U.S.A. in English and in the "People's Republic of U.S.A." in French.
  • A Paul Harvey story recounts the experience by two Americans visiting Poland. Before leaving the hotel to explore the city, they were smart enough to write down the words on the sign in front of the hotel in case they got lost and needed to ask for directions. After wandering around the city for a while, they got lost. To get some help, they stopped random people on the streets and showed them the writing. No one was able to help them until they found someone who spoke English. They showed the paper to the English-speaking person who read it, then said, "Lots of hotels say "no vacancy" on their signs."
  • A dark brown sofa set manufactured in China bore a label describing its color as "nigger-brown". The problem was due to outdated translation software that displayed the phrase when "dark brown" was typed in.
  • Cuba's Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) doesn't actually refer to pigs, but to queen triggerfish. "Cochino" can also translate as "pig" in Spanish, though it's often used as an adjective (i.e. "piggish"). "Cerdo" or "puerco" is usually used for the noun.
  • Some Portuguese dishes names are also untranslatable. But as restaurant owners like to have "fancier" menus, you might come across some delicious "You covers" ("Tapas" is also the form of the verb "tapar" (cover) in the 2nd person of the singular), among others.
  • An ad for what appears to be some kind of translator. The ad was in Swedish, and, judging by the quality of the translation, it wasn't a very good translator. The ad proclaims, "Läsa några webbplats på alla språk! En klicka översättning, hämta nu fria!", which roughly translates to "To read some website in all languages! To click a translation, freenote  to get now!"
  • One promising-looking place in Quimper, France offered a crêpe aux avocats, which was duly translated into the restaurants English menu as Lawyer crepe. Avocat is a homograph for two words in French, one meaning "avocado" and the other "lawyer."
  • In Subway restaurants in Japan, the written advertisements on cups are unintentionally suggestive. It's not technically bad English, but it doesn't make too much sense either:
    "It's the way we welcome the sun with 35 sun-block. The way the best water, now mostly comes in bottles. It's the way we make time for exercise and like to enjoy reading. That's why SUBWAY offers the varieties of fresh and healthy subs. Because when you are through surfing, you might want to put on a bathing suit. It's the way a sandwich should be.
  • During the Cold War, Soviet espionage conveyed lots of information about the Manhattan Project to Soviet nuclear scientists. Unfortunately, the translation work was often uneven. The famous example is that because no one understood what the English phrase "squash court" meant, for many years, the Soviets believed Enrico Fermi had constructed his first breeder reactor in a pumpkin patch.
  • YouTube's "Transcribe Audio" function can result in this, especially if the person's voice is speaking fast or is slurred.
    • Can? No, it will be messed up every time.
    • Youtube will further be confounded if the speaker uses technical jargon or a thick accent. Scott Manley is known for his use of both, and actually read aloud such a translation of one of his videos.
  • Former Dutch prime minister Joop den Uyl once famously said "we are a country of undertakers." What he meant was "we are a country of entrepreneurs," as the Dutch word for entrepreneur is "ondernemer", with "onder"→"under" and "nemer"→"taker".
    • Conversely, Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff actually manages to do this when speaking Dutch... "De verdediging was geitenkaas" (the defense was goat cheese, instead of "gatenkaas", swiss cheese).
  • Johan Cruyff did this too when translating the phrase "Op een gegeven moment" (literally: At a given moment) to Spanish. Instead of translating it to the literal "en un momento dado", which is correct, he decided to say "en un momento cualquier", which doesn't make any sense.
  • This happens a lot, to the point where one man published a book filled with only stupid translations between Dutch and English. Amongst other things, "I am the first female secretary for the inside and I am having my first period." She meant "I'm the first female State Secretary for Internal Affairs and this is my first term of office".
  • There can be misunderstandings within the wider linguistic community regarding variant meanings of the same words in Dutch and Afrikaans. In the Netherlands, een poes is an affectionate diminutive for a cat. In South Africa, the word poes means something else completely. note  Imagine, therefore, a Dutch person in South Africa trying to call his cat back to the house. Poes, poes, poes....
  • Gaggia user manual (translated to English): "Whenever you make an Americano, God kills a kitten." It also contains such gems as (paraphrasing) "Drink the first shot out of the espresso machine". We hope you didn't just do that, as it's deadly.
  • The French translation of the notice "dishwasher safe" frequently uses the wrong meaning for "safe" (the "metallic box where you store your valuables" meaning).
  • Some more menu item mistranslations, from English into several other languages. For example, "Ham and Bamboo Shot [sic] Salad" was translated into Chinese as "awkward actor and bamboo salad".
    • The Japanese translations of the menu fall victim to this too – "Creamy Italian dressing" is turned into "Italian's dressing [clothes]".
  • Hebrew sometimes falls victim to this, as its structure is very different from English, with things like verb forms before the subject, prepositions and articles as prefixes, etc.
  • Icelandic is particularly prone to literal translation problems, combining a high tolerance for crudeness with an unusual affinity for creating new words out of existing ones (even technical terms — in almost all languages, for example, photon sounds like "photon", autism sounds like "autism", hippocampus sounds like "hippocampus", etc. — but in Icelandic, they're ljóseind, einhverfa, and dreki, respectively). So it shouldn't be surprising that often you end up with words like smokkfiskur (squid), which literally means "condomfish", or rúðupiss (windshield wiper fluid), which literally means window-piss. But Icelandic is also rich in expressions that sound really weird when someone translates them literally dating back to ancient times — to pick a few: "Hann stóð á öndinni" (he was too excited to speak), literally "he stood on the duck"; "áfram með smjörið" (go for it, keep going!), literally "forward with the butter!"; and "ég borga bara með reiðufé" (I only pay cash), literally "I pay only with an angry sheep."
    • The Butter one could be translated to Dutch as "Vooruit met de geit", which translated literally to English gives "Forward with the goat!"
  • "Sorry, today close".
  • Cake Wrecks:
  • So, how do you translate Diesel Fuel and No Smoking in Arabic?
  • The Spanish word for "monkfish" is "rape". Imagine the problems when a Spanish-speaking restaurant couldn't figure out how to translate it into English, instead just turning the dish "rape al marinero" into "rape, sailor-style''.
    • "Rape" also means "Turnips" in Italian. Enjoy.
  • Râper is the French word for "grate," and dishes like carottes râpées are very common on French menus.
  • Rapea is "crispy" in Finnish. Hope you enjoyed your dinner!
  • Rape is also a Finnish man's name/nickname, which allows people accompanied by a person named Rape to greet English speakers with "Hello. My name is Bob, and this is Rape." (It wouldn't actually work, though, since it's pronounced "Ra-pe" ("pe" sounds like "pet" with the "t" cut off).)
    • And, just for fun, rape is also the English name for a group of oilseed crops that include canola (and the infamous broom rape, which makes for fine... brooms).
  • Je suis a bit fromaged off avec...
  • There's this Taiwanese ad for a product called AUTO-MAT with pretty bad English (in both word choice and pronunciation).
    Narrator: Do you think this high temperature will only steam the banana or cook eggs? Of course not, this 70 plus temperature will melt the plastic model easily then it will also cause the hazardous gas to cause cancer in your car. These are not the only things what will happen in the car with this high temperature.
  • Some signs in countries directly bordering Serbia (Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, and Bosnia) try to have a native language plus Serbian underneath. The results range from perfectly comprehensiblenote  to this trope to Translation Trainwreck. One sign on the Hungarian-Serbian border tried to warn people of falling rocks. They chose the word "ledeno" for this, which can mean rock, ice, snow... or bribe money, to most Serbians under the age of 30. It immediately became a meme for Serbian speakers.
  • It led to a minor controversy in Hungary when the English translation on the new armbands of Budapest's public transport ticket inspectors gave their profession as "revenue inspection". After a blog that specializes in collecting mistranslations picked it up, even the news ran a short report over the blunder.
  • There are many jokes and urban legends about the guy/girl who gets a kanji tattoo that is supposed to say "dragon"(龍 or 龙 for future reference) or "inner strength" or other dramatic expression, only to find out that the tattoo artist used a menu for reference, so they now have "includes free choice of sauce" or "tasty but cheap" emblazoned on their arm. Sometimes it's a shirt or other garment bearing the mistranslation instead. It's said that at least one tattooist did this deliberately, with the tattoo in question saying something like "I got this tattoo because it looks impressive, and because I'm too dumb to know what it says".
  • This happened to someone in a post which appeared on Failbook: A girl got Chinese characters tattooed down her side and posted a picture of it on Facebook, saying it was the start of her new life. A Chinese friend of hers commenting on the picture informed her that they were the Chinese word for "picnic table".
  • Ariana Grande fell victim to this as well. She wanted a tattoo that said "Seven rings", and went with "七輪" ("shichirin"). Except, a shichirin is a kind of a Japanese grill. note 
  • Classical Greek is... weird. To the beginning student, once they get the hang of reading the alphabet, Ancient Greek sentence structure is highly varied and it's not uncommon to find two words spelled the exact same way but with completely different meanings; the only difference between the two may be either accent placement or, more frustratingly, context alone since placing the object of a clause isn't required as long as you've mentioned it somewhere above and you remember to use the right case leading to mistakes such as "I am an Athenian" (Ἀθηναῖός εἰμι) and "I will go Athenian" (Ἀθηναῖος εἶμι).
    • Fortunately, when "εἶμι" is confused for "εἰμι" the resulting sentence is grammatically incoherent, much like "Romanes eunt domus" in the Monty Python's Life of Brian.
  • Many Pizza Huts (at least in the UK) have a sign that says "Delicious pizza...buonissimo!" However, as "pizza" is a feminine word in Italian, it should actually be "buonissima".
  • One of the very few points of contact between Communist Romania and Western Europe in the Cold War days was rugby union football. Tours by world-class countries and teams were eagerly anticipated and warmly welcomed. The then President of the English R.F.U. accompanied a goodwill visit by England's national side. At the after-match official reception — attended by Nicolai Ceauceșcu himself — the President had to give a speech. Wanting to please his hosts and open with a Romanian phrase, he memorised the words written on the outside of the toilet doors, reasoning that they meant "Ladies" and "Gentlemen". His speech got a huge laugh and roars of approval. Gratified, the visiting English dignitary was pleased his jokes had gone down so well. And then an aide to Ceauceșcu politely said that the Exalted Comrade had been most amused at the speech. But, President Ceauceșcu wishes to know. Why did you begin with Urinals And Water-Closets?
  • Accurate translation between Arabic and English is difficult because the two languages use very different sets of phonemes; Arabic script is an abjad where vowels are not always marked and must be inferred by the reader, few idioms translate directly, and both languages have wide dialect variations. So this trope comes up a lot in translations between the two.
    • One example of this: A common appetizer at restaurants across the Arab world is a mixture of pickled vegetables, which are most commonly called مخللات مشكلة mukhallilāt mushakkilah (literally, "mixed pickles").note  However, in Arabic, the word mushakkilah ("mixed") is spelled identically to the word mushkilah ("problem"), as the only differences between the ways the words are pronounced are the short "a" sound and doubling of the "k" sound in mushakkilah: differences that the Arabic writing system does not reflect in most cases, because readers can tell the intended word from context. However, early machine-translation programs could not tell the difference, and merrily translated mukhallilāt mushakkilah as "Pickle(s) Problem," to the amusement of tourists and other English-speakers.
  • A translated-into-French ad for some vampire-themed browser game asked "Hey you! Like vampires?". Unfortunately, since they used the other meaning of "like", it came out as "Hey you! Similar vampires?".
  • In Belgium, a junior minister from a Flemish nationalist party released her program in the two main (and official) languages. If the Dutch version was normal, the French translation was bad on an alpha Google Translate level. Ironically, a common grievance from the Flemish nationalists is that the French-speaking ministers spoke Dutch poorly.
  • In the Republic of Ireland, a constitutional amendment allowing same-sex marriage was drafted in preparation for a referendum on the subject. The amendment inserts the words
    Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.
    Excellent. But as this is the Irish constitution, it must be translated into Irish. Unfortunately, the translation directly renders back into English as
    A couple may, whether they are men or women, make a contract of marriage in accordance with law.
    Under Irish law, if there's any difference in meaning, the Irish version takes precedence. The discrepancy was noticed and the Irish translation is being amended, but had the referendum been passed with the original version, the legalizing of gay marriage might accidentally and technically have made heterosexual marriage unconstitutional!
  • One of the April 1st hoaxes in Germany in 2015 said that for the benefit of foreign visitors, the names of the public transport stations in Berlin and Hamburg would now be rendered in English. Wherever possible, "blind idiot" translations were used; for instance, in Berlin "Brandenburger Tor", "Heidelberger Platz", and "Wannsee" became "Burningcastle Gate", "Heathen Mountain Square", and "When Lake".
  • Many bilingual signs at some places in the United States suffer from this. The very common phrase "No trespassing, violators will be prosecuted" is literally translated into Spanish as "No traspasar, violadores serán castigados por la ley". This particular translation actually means "No exchanging, rapists will be punished by law". The word they're actually looking for is transgresores.note 
  • One of the more well-known and supposedly polite phrases in the English language, If you please, is a classic example of the trope, being a Blind Idiot Translation from the French S’il vous plaît, meaning If it pleases you. According to this site, it was to be found in written English as early as the 16th century. The confusion arises from the fact that the French word order puts the object pronoun in front of the verb rather than behind it, e.g. a literal French translation of I love you (Je t'aime) would be I you love and I haven't done it (Je ne l'ai pas fait) would be I not it have (not) done.
  • Twitter's translation feature turns "Obdachslosigkeit" (German for homelessness) into "Whether lack of badger". Ob is whether, Dachs is badger, and los is the suffix -less, while Obdach is shelter.
  • Anyone want to attend the Spanish Clitoris Festival?
  • This (Wayback-Machined) page outlining an old Bulgarian Chess variant has some translation problems.
  • The user manual for an ORICO SATA to USB hard drive case made in China is just full of this. For example, here's the text under the Warm Prompt heading (Capitalization theirs):
    The Product,Accessories and Package may Optimize for Better Customer Experience.We Sincerely sorry that they may not Exactly Match with Manual Shows.Please Adhere to the Original Products and Contact ORICO Customer Care Team is any Concern.Thank you very much.
  • The sign at the Asamushi Aquarium's dolphin pool says "Because there is a danger that it is involved in a dolphin, please do not grow a hand in a fence".
  • Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant nursery in Nairobi, Kenya: "WARNING - please do not put your hand into the orphan's mouth or risk loosing a finger."
  • In another recent Russian-English misinterpretation, Vladimir Putin described Donald Trump in an interview with a Russian word that translates into English as "brilliant", and the original English newspaper stories reported it as though he'd stated Trump was very smart, which was subsequently referenced by Trump in his election campaign. It was eventually corrected (and Putin clarified in later interviews) that the word properly translates into the English as "brilliant" as in "shiny", not "brilliant" as in "very smart". A more proper English interpretation of the word he used in context is that Trump was "colorful".
  • Gigabyte Technology software has been known to throw up the error message "This Driver can't release to failure!!", which is about as coherent as it is informative.
  • A story is told in the book Moon Shot of a visit to Russia by American astronauts. Someone said the phrase "I'm tickled to death to be here" and the Russian translator struggled for a second before coming up with "scratch me 'til I die".
  • A funny joke told in parts of Kenya about this: A school security officer finds students smoking cigarettes in class. He hurries to the principal’s office and reports that "The students were drinking cigarettes in class.", in vernacular is "Arutwo ni mara nyua thigara kirathi." The translation is due to the word "nyua", which could mean smoking or drinking depending on the context.
  • A mistake many Germans make when speaking English, even those who otherwise know the language well: "should not" is correctly translated as "soll nicht", but "must not" is incorrectly translated to "muss nicht". Despite "must" in English and "muss" in German having the same meaning, the negative in English is a prohibition, while in German it means something like "need not". For example, a native German teacher teaching a class in English, and assigning optional homework: "You should do it, but you must not do it!".
  • Seen in a restaurant in Calais (a place in France which is the destination of many transport links from the UK): a menu "helpfully" translating "Welsh frites" as "Welsh French fries". Leaving aside the mystery of what the item actually was, the translation manages to be ludicrous in three separate ways: the two contradictory claims of nationality, the use of an American phrase which isn't used in the UK, and the fact that the two being incorrectly claimed were a part of the UK, and France itself!
  • During World War II Spanish intelligence services picked up that Churchill and Roosevelt were going to meet in the North African coastal city of Casablanca in 1943, and they passed this information along to the German intelligence service. As a coastal city on the Atlantic coast of Africa, it was within range of a submarine-launched commando team. However the German team mistranslated "Casablanca" not as the city, but as "Casa Blanca" or "House, White". Thinking the meeting would take place at the White House, they basically said "Well, what can we do about that?" and did nothing.
  • The titles of Chinese period dramas tend to be poetic and flowery. Naturally, this is a nightmare for translators. Some translators don't even try to translate the title, and instead give the series a new title that has something to do with the plot. Other translators choose to translate the title without considering its connotations. The results are usually coherent, but not always good.
  • One piece of Splatoon merchandise is a toy Splattershot. Like a lot of toys, its packaging is bilingual and written in both English and French. Unfortunately, whoever was translating the box text didn't do their homework and translated "Splattershot blaster" as the extremely generic term "foudroyeur à encre" or "ink blaster". (The Splattershot is called "Liquéficateur" in Quebecois French and "Liquidateur" in European French) Accurate, yes, but considering they got the English name right...
  • "Beware of Missing Foot" (Watch Your Step)
  • A famous 19th-century chief of the Oglala Sioux was known, like his three predecessors, as "Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi", meaning "They Fear Even His Horse". Unfortunately, due to a mistranslation, he has become known to history as "Young Man Afraid Of His Horses", which doesn't give quite the same impression.
  • There's a famous urban legend that Pepsi's 60s ad campaign "Come alive! You're in the Pepsi Generation!" was mistranslated in China as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead!" Drink up.
  • The English word "alligator" is thought to be a corruption of the Spanish "El Lagarto", meaning "the lizard". While alligators aren't lizards, it's not like people living in the 1500s (when the word first appeared) knew that.
  • The translation engine bundled with YouTube captioning took the name of Russian architect Liubov Popova and insisted this meant, in English, Buy lube off pop-over.
  • Body spray is called "vaporisateur pour le corps" in French. At least one French-to-English translator who wasn't fluent in either language assumed similar-looking words must have similar meanings and very helpfully labelled a bottle of body spray "Vaporizer for the corpse".
  • An online political ad for the 2021 California governor recall election tried to translate the phrase "Recall Newsom" in Spanish, but the wrong definition of "recall" was used, leading to the ads saying "Recordar Newsom" (to remember Newsom) instead.
  • The word "daisy" is thought to be a corruption of "day's eye" (i.e, the Sun), likely due to the flower's yellow pollen hub and petals which somewhat resemble the Sun's rays/corona.
  • A case of no translation at all, or We All Live in America: an American journalist apparently can't get it into her head that "WARS" doesn't mean "wars" as in warfare, it's short for Wagony Restauracyjne i Sypialne (Dining and Sleeping Cars), the name of a company. A Polish company. Named in Polish. Not English. In 1948. See their menus here.
  • Señor means both "mister" and "lord" in Spanish, so any attempt to machine translate Spanish religious texts to English will end up with lots of prayers addressed to "Mister", or references to "Mr. Jesus Christ".
  • Duolingo's Museum of Wonky English has a collection of these.