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My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels

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The intended sentence: "We are looking for this woman."

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

I will not buy this trope description, it is scratched.

A character thinks they can speak a foreign language, but fails comedically and says something entirely different than what was intended—often something completely nonsensical or deeply offensive. The Trope Namer is a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, where a Hungarian tourist in Britain is unwittingly using a dirty Hungarian-to-English phrasebook. He tries to use it while in a tobacconist's, where questions like "Can I please buy some matches?" are translated as "My hovercraft is full of eels." Hilarity Ensues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not to be confused with I Need to Go Iron My Dog (which, though, is a totally legit result of My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels if your first language is Russian: "to pet a dog" and "to iron a dog" sound identical in that language).

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

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

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    I will not buy this Advertising. It is scratched 
  • Around the mid-to-late 2010s, Rita's Italian Ice (a chain of water ice shops based in the Philadelphia area) introduced a Swedish Fish flavor. To advertise this flavor, they have a mock Swedish language lesson, where you are supposed to repeat after the lady who is saying phrases in Swedish. The last phrase is "Min svävare är full med ålar," which translates to this trope.
  • Mitsubishi had a TV ad with a pre-Buffy Robia La Morte driving a red open roadster, following along to a 'Learn Italian' cassette. At a stop sign a man hears her and says in Italian (subtitled) "You speak my language!" — she breezily replies in Italian (subtitled) "Good toast, waiter! ...I would like a slice of suitcase." and drives off, the picture of self-assurance.
  • A German beer commercial had Indian businessmen in a beer garden doing this. When the waitress arrives, one of them says "Ich möchte diesen Teppich nicht kaufen." (I do not want to purchase this carpet). The waitress just nods and proceeds to serve them the advertised beer brand with the businessmen happily accepting, wishing her a "Gute Reise" (nice journey).
  • One of the "Get a Mac" ads in the UK had PC attempting to communicate with a Japanese printer (Mac had language compatibility and could do so). He spouted the phrases "I am a rice cake" and "Where is the train station?"
  • A German commercial used a well known joke to advertise a language course. It has German coastguard responding to an English language distress call, "We're sinking! We're sinking!" with "What are you sinking about?"
  • A Canadian grocery store had a campaign advertising its new French breads, in which a baker would speak French and the subtitles would show that he was saying how great the bread was. In a hilarious Bilingual Bonus, the baker was actually repeating common high school French or phrasebook sentences, like "Where is the library?"
    • Canada is officially bilingual with a significant population of fully bilingual citizens. And most Canadians have enough mandatory French education to at least recognize the "phrasebook sentences" don't match the subtitle.
  • A MasterCard commercial has a Latin Lover ask "¿Cómo te llamas?" which the subtitles correctly translate as "What is your name?" and his white paramour respond "Yo soy camarones," which the subtitles are equally correct in rendering as "I am shrimp."
  • Another credit card commercial had an Australian tourist approaching a French policeman to ask directions to the Eiffel Tower. He's placed under arrest after saying, "I wish to mount your tower, could you expose yourself to me?"
  • An ad for the language-learning app FluentU compares a man, Dave, attempting to apply knowledge he obtained from language-learning books and a woman, Cindy, who learned the language through FluentU. While Cindy is doing well because she's been watching media in the local language, poor Dave is far less successful because he's only been taught "boring grammar and phrases he would never use", and he ends up unwittingly insulting several people.
  • Texting service KGB ran a commercial during Super BowlXLIV where two men had to look up the Japanese phrase for "I surrender" on their phones lest they be taken down by a sumo wrestler. The man who used KGB got the correct answer, "Akirameru",note  while the man who used standard internet browsing ended up saying, "Bring it on fat man." Needless to say, the former escaped while the latter got a face full of sumo butt.

    My Anime and Manga explode with delight! 
  • This happens to Kagura in Azumanga Daioh. Upon seeing a foreign tourist struggling with his luggage, she decides to go help him. He's quite shocked to see this girl suddenly yell "Help! Help me!" at the top of her lungs when trying to talk to him. She eventually does get her intended message across, but when the foreigner thanks her, all she can come up with in response is "Yay!" accompanied by a thumbs up.
  • In A Certain Magical Index, there is a Running Gag of the English character Laura Stuart trying to speak Japanese, only for the others to point out that it is all wrong. This is because Motoharu Tsuchimikado taught her, and he enjoys screwing with people.
  • Futari Ecchi has a scene wherein an American businessman's daughter mixes up her words and instead of complimenting the flavor of the crab being served, she was commenting on a certain portion of the male anatomy.
  • For some reason, Kagura in one episode of Gintama feels the need to say "help me!" in English, but since her pronunciation is off, it starts as "health me!" and ends up as "herpes me!" and "Pulp Fiction!"
  • One short in Lucky Star had Kagami talking about Taifuu Ikka (ikka = kanji for one and 'pass over') which refers to the calm after a typhoon has passed. Konata starts talking about the "Typhoon family" to which Kagami replies "Are you serious?" Ikka also can mean "family" if a different kanji is used. Tsukasa, of course, doesn't get why Konata's statement was silly.
    • In another example, the girls talk about something fairly mundane, then the word "ichigo" falls. Ichigo can also mean "strawberry," prompting Tsukasa to request some, confusing the others in the process.
  • In My Hero Academia: Vigilantes, Koichi aka The Skyscrawler is mobbed by the New York City press after helping a crashing plane make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Being Japanese, he has no idea what anyone is saying as he's barraged with questions. In his panic, he mistakes a bunch of onlookers asking him to smash up Wall Street for the planted reporters he's supposed to make a scripted statement to, resulting in him saying that he'll do his best to smash up Wall Street. His bosses both Facepalm at the ensuing surge of bad press he just generated.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi:
    • Shortly after arriving in Japan, Albert Chamomile tries to tell Negi that Nodoka is being attacked by... well, we don't know exactly what he was trying to say, because the Japanese word he used means "fried chicken" (perhaps he meant "jellyfish"). Note that Chamo didn't have any reason to speak Japanese, as Negi is also a native speaker of English. Interestingly, this wouldn't be the last reference to fried chicken we'd see in this series...
      • 痴漢 is a Japanese phrase for a molester, and is romanized as "chikan". "Fried Chicken" is a loanword in Japanese and doesn't have an actual word for it, but the pronunciation in Japanese of "フライドチキン" is similar to 痴漢 (cheek-een vs cheek-ahn)so it's highly likely that Akamatsu was making a pun using the two.
    • Ku-Fei, upon meeting Al (who happens to be going under the guise of "Ku-Nel Sanders"), mistakes his name for Ku-Neru (which translates roughly into "Eat and be healthy," or so the manga says). Literally translated, ku-neru means eat-sleep.
  • In a third season episode of Sailor Moon, the girls are introduced to an Englishman friend of Mamoru's. They employ their English language class and all manage a decent greeting (Minako: Nice to meet you. Rei: Hello. Ami: I'm glad to see you.) except Makoto, who spouts off "Thank You!"
    • Ami's is only barely better than Makoto's, really. It's not that there's anything technically wrong with her greeting, but considering she's meeting a stranger for the first time, "I'm glad to see you" is hardly a fitting greeting.
  • In one Urusei Yatsura comic book, Mendou's mom challenges Lum's mom to a duel because the latter's spaceship accidentally crushed her vessel. Lum, whose grasp on her home planet's language is surprisingly weak, tries to explain this to her mom (who doesn't understand Japanese), but makes it sound like Mendou's mom is proposing to her.

    My Comedy is no longer infected. 
  • Icelandic comedian Ari Eldjárn told an anecdote in which his Spanish friend Alberto scored a goal in a game of soccer, and Ari yelled, "Frigorífico!", thinking it meant "freaking terrific," only to be met by a confused reaction from Alberto, and later find out it meant "refrigerator."
  • Steve Martin did a routine where he goes to France and discovers, to his horror, that they speak French there. (They have a different word for everything.) Eventually he learns a single French phrase, "omelette du fromage", which means "cheese omelette". He finally gets a chance to use it in a restaurant, and this happens:
    Steve: So I finally went into a restaurant and said to the waiter, "omelette du fromage", and he immediately says, "Donde dee de doo doo doo soi?" And I said, "Yes!" So he brings me a shoe with cheese on it. And I also told him to force it down my throat. "I'll have a shoe with cheese on it, force it down my throat, and I want to massage your grandmother, OK?"
    • He also speaks Spanish, saying, “ ¿Dónde está la casa de Pepe?” However in context he is asking, “Where is the bathroom?”

    Please fondle my Comic Books
  • Batman Eternal: While investigating in Brazil, Red Hood admits that his Portuguese is rusty and that he might have just called the boy he was questioning a small horse. He had, but he managed to get the gist of his question across.
  • In a crossover between Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York, a police officer decides to pull in Snake Plissken to help with a problem and uses a spell written in Mandarin. He pulls it off, but not only does he drag in Snake, he also brings in Jack Burton. It's handwaved by saying that Snake and Jake are the same guy in other dimensions. Wonderful thing Actor Allusion is.
  • ElfQuest: The human explorer Cam Triompe makes a good show of elfin speech, not previously spoken by any human in the series ever unless they were raised by the elves, and says "I from over what I call Redmist Cabbage! Uh, no. Redmist Ocean!" In later years and later stories, however, Cam becomes much more fluent. Cam was apparently the first human of his continent to speak the elfin language, but by that time (in the series "New Blood"), another, transplanted human tribe that worshiped elves as deities had adopted the elf-tongue as its own language.
  • In the first issue of Havoc Inc., Chris and Chester are trying to negotiate for horses using a phrasebook that was written intentionally badly. The merchant concluded they were crazy zealots and gave them a pair of horses just to get rid of them. The book makes them say such things as "I have a frog and much money. I only pray you will take me for all I am worth", "Show me your rubbish, I must browse!", and "My monkey will wash your vegetables." Fortunately, they get away from town before Chris read the passage that translates as "Shoot me now, for I have known your mother many times."
  • In an issue of Justice League Europe, while discussing a failed robbery, Major Disaster points out, with much irritation, how Multi-man had to memorize just a few words of French, meaning: "This is a stick-up!" What came out as he went up to the guard: "Dance with my uncle's ostrich!" They attend a French language class at night school, also attended by members of the Justice League, hilarity and mayhem ensue.
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe: In "The Horrid Invasion," Mickey and Goofy land on an alien planet. Mickey uses a translating megaphone Goofy built to send a welcoming speech to the local inhabitants... the problem is that Goofy built it so that "words comprehensible in their language will come out," without actually translating the original lines. So the aliens hear a bunch of nonsequiturs peppered with a few insults and send them off.
    What Mickey said: I salute you, noble creatures! We come in peace from Earth! Can we speak with your leader? A new era of progress and collaboration for our people will soon begin! It's a great honor for me!
    What the aliens heard: I saw a kangaroo the other day! Can I borrow a 6mm hex key? Are you natural idiots or went to some school to become dumber? Your feet smell bad!
  • In The Simpsons comic issue where Bart, Milhouse and Krusty go to Paris, Milhouse tries to talk to a man running a ticket office at a theatre, calling upon the lessons from 'Troy McClure's Learn French Toot Sweet While You Sleep' he listened to on the plane before dozing off. Bart, who has experience with the French language, manages to clear things up (as it happens, the man speaks English).
    Milhouse: Excusez-moi. Voulez-vous une tasse D'ecureuils?
    Frenchman: (Would I like a cup of squirrels?)
  • One of the few comedic moments in Sleeper (WildStorm): "That's right, horse breathers! I shit your branch!" It is of course followed by violence, death threats, and murder.
  • In The Modern Parents in one issue of Viz, Malcolm, Cressida, and Tarquin visit Kaftanistan to persuade a local warlord to stop hunting endangered mountain goats. Malcolm has prepared a speech that is supposed to go along these lines: "You should be happy to let the mountain goats breed in peace," "You and your men should not upset the natural balance of the soil," or "If you are irresponsible now, your children will inherit a twisted and barren environment." However, after translating it into Kaftanistani, it comes out as:
    "You enjoy mating with goats."
    "You and your men perform unnatural acts in the dirt."
    "Because of your evil wickedness, may your children be born deformed and barren."
  • In Y: The Last Man, one of Alter's Israeli soldiers is held at gunpoint by 355. She pleads for her life by rattling off every English phrase she can remember. Things like, "how much does this cost." It might have helped if she dropped the gun, but that is beside the point.
  • Zipi y Zape: In Robinsones Zapatilla, with the entire family taking part in a Survivor-like reality show, Pantuflo tries to communicate with a savage tribe. It doesn't end well.
    Jaimita: No, silly... (takes the dictionary from Pantuflo and does an "Oh, Crap!" face) You told him "your father's a complete faggot!"
  • During the Civil War, Ben "The Thing" Grimm obtained asylum in France, becoming Paris' first superhero. He wondered why the bad guys would burst into laughter when he turned up at crime scenes shouting "C'EST LE TEMPS DE FOUTRER!" until a helpful gendarme explained that what he was saying was quite unrepeatable; after a quick French lesson he changed it to "C'EST LE FOIS A BATTRER! (IT'S CLOBBERING TIME!)"

    My Fan Works are full of eels 
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic "The Dursley Witch," the Original Character protagonist, Dudley's sister, hisses at her brother in annoyance once. Harry proceeds to correct her pronunciation of Parseltongue:
    (after Roisin has hissed and Harry has laughed at it)
    Roisin: "What is so terribly amusing?"
    Harry: hisses himself, changing notes slightly. "Try something more like that. [...] Unless you really do think Dudley should throw a lemming at a windmill?"
    • This is a usual gag in Harry Potter fanfics, with a character throwing random hisses and Harry pointing out what they said.
  • The reason that Empath in Empath: The Luckiest Smurf can't fluently speak in Smurf is because his words end up sounding like this trope to other Smurfs.
  • In the Harry Potter fanfic "How to Say Open," Ron stumbles across this trope while trying to say "open" in Parseltongue, to Harry's great amusement.
  • Comes up a lot in I Woke Up As a Dungeon, Now What?: All spells are cast in High Druidic, but nobody actually speaks High Druidic, they simply memorize spells by rote. Taylor, however, has access to a translation effect that lets her hear what people are actually saying when they mispronounce their incantations.
    “Spirits of knowledge, bless this pot with your glacier!” Intended 
    Spirits of bravery, gather the glitter and strike at my foe!note 
  • In the Lilo & Stitch/Star Trek crossover Starlight, Experiment 426 has a lot of trouble understanding Tantalog, the language Stitch and the other experiments speak, and his translations often end up like this.
    • In one of the later fics in the series, A Trip To Japan, it's revealed that 426 is just as inept at Japanese as he is at Tantalog.
  • In The New Adventures of Invader Zim, Skoodge is said to have this problem with other languages. For example, he apparently once somehow turned a simple greeting in Vortian into "I would like to fill your pants with shrimp."
    Zim: …Huh, I always wondered why that waitress slapped you.
  • Ninja Wizard Book 4:
    Lucius: Oh. I only know one phrase in Gobbledygook, "Arhk-gla-manuk-shlungshlun." I use it every time I go to the bank.
    Harry: tell the bankers that your penis is thick and juicy every time you go there?
  • In Plan 7 of 9 from Outer Space, a Martian informs someone that their greeting of "Nanu-nanu" means "I wish to offer you employment in a Martian topless bar."
  • The Pokémon Squad: When Barney's Japanese cousin visits him in the episode "Bānī to Tomodachi", he tries to learn Japanese in order to talk to him. Naturally, due to using Google Translate and Yahoo Answers to learn, this backfires spectacularly.
  • This Bites!: Vivi, when she accidentally uses the wrong sign-language dialect to communicate with octopi.
    • Spandam, when talking with Kaku via sign language (since a furious Sengoku is on the nearby Transponder Snail):
      Kaku: I want a raise.
      Spandam: The monkey prunes on the roof at midnight.
  • The Wrong Reflection: Referenced when Birail Riyannis asks Koren, daughter of Grilka, if she pronounced the name of Koren's ship correctly. Koren confirms she did, and Eleya comments in her Internal Monologue that it was a good thing, considering what "QuHvaj’Qob" turns into if you miss the glottal stop (the apostrophe).
  • Literally invoked by A.A. Pessimal, in his Discworld themed tale Gap Year Adventures. When she gets into her first serious fight with Zulus, Mariella Smith-Rhodes shouts a battle-cry a Zulu peer at school coached her in until she was word-perfect — without telling Mariella what it meant. A bystander who speaks Zulu praises her fighting skill, but professes bemusement as to why she has just shouted My thing which floats on a cushion of air is full of eels!note 
  • The Legend of Miraculous: When Zelda tries howling at the moon, (while playing Truth or Dare), Bleddyn the wolf Kwami translates it as something about rabbits in trees and hunting berries. When Sheikan Wolf howls back, Impa later tells him that he unwittingly said "Come and ravage me, my love".
  • One of the titular rules in Rules and Truths of Fusion Fall warns against speaking a language that you aren't fluent in to avoid this trope. The example given subverts it; Rex tries to flirt with Juniper in Chinese and gets slapped for it, but according to her he didn't accidentally say anything incomprehensable or offensive — his pick-up lines were just lame enough that "[she] had to slap him on principle".
  • The premise of A Way Things Should Be is that hobbits have a complex language of protocol and body language that other races don't know about, so Bilbo's adventure also involves people accidentally insulting him (and everything around him up to and including a specific floor tile), sexually propositioning him, and challenging him to pie-eating contests to the death, while everyone else is oblivious. Except Gandalf. He knows exactly what he's doing, but deliberately screws up his Hobbitish because he doesn't approve of how it's mostly used to insult people.

    If I said you had a beautiful Film, would you hold it against me? 
  • Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls has Ouda, a member of the Wachati tribe serving as Ace's translator with the hostile Wachootoo. Unfortunately, he's very bad at it, translating "War Is Hell" to "I want war, so go to Hell!"
  • A deleted scene in Black Panther (2018) has Agent Ross offering T'Challa some parting words of encouragement in Wakanda's native language. Unfortunately, it comes out as "Good luck and many shoelaces."
    T'Challa: It was close, it was close.
    Ross: Don't laugh. I practiced that.
  • In Blue Streak, the cops LET a criminal pretending to be a foreigner get away, and understood exactly what he said.
  • In Corky Romano, Corky tries to talk to some Chinese gangsters and ends up saying nonsense like "hairy pencil."
  • In Deadpool 2, Deadpool claims to be unable to speak Cantonese, but says something from eighth-grade Spanish; "Donde esta la biblioteca?" which the subtitles translate to "Where is the library?" However, Deadpool claims it's actually "I don't bargain, pumpkin-fucker."
  • Despicable Me: When trying to convince Ms. Hattie that he knows Spanish, Gru says she has a face "como un burro" which translates to "like a donkey". It becomes a Brick Joke later when Hattie comes back to pick up the girls.
  • Encino Man: Link can't say much, but he retains a few phrases from Spanish class when he accidentally crosses a Spanish-speaking bargoer.
    Link: El queso está viejo y pútrido. ¿Dónde está el sanitario? (The cheese is old and putrid. Where is the toilet?)
  • Eternals: In Babylonia, Ikaris starts learning Babylonian, and Sersi is impressed. He tries to say, "You are very beautiful" to her, and she giggles when he accidentally says, "I am very beautiful".
  • In Family Jewels, the criminal, while pretending to be Mexican, says "I have a cat in my pants." He crosses the border before the cops manage to work that out, ending the movie on a good note.
  • The movie First Family features an African ambassador who has 'taught' himself English by memorizing random phrases from a phrasebook and uses them regardless of their relevance to the situation.
  • In Four Weddings and a Funeral, a girl learns sign language in order to talk to David, a deaf guy she's sweet on. She doesn't get it quite right... which makes her all the more adorable.
  • In The Gentlemen, Fletcher has a transcript of a lipread conversation in Cantonese involving one speaker who is not fluent in the language, that has then been translated into English. The results are unusual at times, including Matthew apparently saying that he does not want anything to "stroke his mouse fur."
    Fletcher: We think he means "jeopardize his operation." But, I will admit, it is a bit of a googly.
  • George of the Jungle: Lyle uses a phrasebook to attempt to communicate with his native porters in the African jungle. Apparently the makers of the Hungarian phrasebook from the original sketch also made a Swahili one. It turns out the natives understand English just fine. They're just messing with Lyle because he's a jerk.
    "Pardon me, girls. I know you're feeling pretty hey sailor up here about now. But if you would just let me order a bowl of fried clams, we can all have smallpox tomorrow morning."
  • In A Good Day to Die Hard, John McClane takes a taxi in Russia and tries to speak Russian to the driver. With a look of complete disbelief on his face, the driver says he can speak English, and informs John that he just ordered a bag of hair.
  • In Gung Ho a secretary for the Japanese auto manufacturer tells Michael Keaton's character that her boss is "between a rock and a hard-on." He rushes in while jokingly saying, "I gotta see this."
  • In Her Alibi, the Phil tries to speak to the Romanian murder suspect in her native language, only for her to inform him that he said his mother was an octopus.
  • In The Hudsucker Proxy, Norville meets a foreign dignitary. He tries to speak to him in his own language, and gets punched out.
  • In I Am David, a couple of American tourists are in the Italian countryside when their runs out of gas. When they see David, the husband tries to tell him that their car needs gas. Instead, he says "My wine shop needs steak."
  • Bruce Banner, in The Incredible Hulk (2008), cautions some native speakers in Brazil: "You wouldn't like me when I'm... hungry." Ironically, in Portuguese, irritado (angry) and com fome (with hunger) are not at all similar, while in English, "angry" and "hungry" are fairly confusable. However, assuming there was someone who taught him the native language, Bruce could have asked this person what the translation of the word 'Angry' was and his tutor may have just mixed up 'Angry' with 'Hungry' and therefore provided him with that translation instead.
  • Johnny English: When Johnny (Rowan Atkinson) tries to speak in romantic Japanese to Lorna, he ends up telling her, "May all your daughters be born with three bottoms."
    • Made even funnier to people who actually know Japanese, as what Johnny says is different from what is in the subtitles. What he actually says is "May your daughters have little penises attached to them."
  • Johnny English Reborn: "You've met your matchstick!"
  • Justice League (2017): The Flash rescues a Russian family. He tries to tell them goodbye, and says, "Dostoevsky!" which doesn't mean anything, unless referring to Fyodor Dostoevsky. The correct word is "Dasvidanya." The family looks confused as he leaves.
  • In Machete Kills, the shape shifting assassin El Chameleon pretends to be a friendly trucker and picks Machete up. The two have a conversation in Spanish, and eventually, the assassin messes up and says, "I like your cream." When Machete gets confused, he tries again and says, "I like your balloon." and then "I like your meat." The assassin then gets fed up and pulls a gun on Machete.
  • The Meg: Upon first meeting Suyin, Morris attempts to greet her in Mandarin, but just spouts out a meaningless Word Salad that has everyone staring in confusion and disbelief.
    Morris: You meet candle egg nice skull.
  • In The Monuments Men, Lt. James Granger (Matt Damon) speaks terrible French.
    Claire Simone: Will you stop speaking in French?! Or whatever language you're speaking?
  • Invoked in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when Nick intentionally tells Ian the wrong phrases. First Ian inadvertently tells Toula's mother "Nice boobs" instead of "Thanks for the food." (Mom's reaction: she dope-slaps Nick.) The second time, he's wise to the trick and asks Toula's cousin to confirm that the phrase he's being told to use is correct; unfortunately, the two are conspirators and he still ends up telling the whole family "I have three testicles."
  • In the 1989 German comedy movie Otto – Der Außerfriesische starring comedian Otto Waalkes, the main character travels to the U.S. to search for his lost brother. With the help of a German-English dictionary, he tries to communicate with a local cab driver, first speaking the supposed English phrase and then the German translation (supposedly for the viewer to understand).
    I am thirsty ("I am thursday")
    I am hungry ("I am hungary")
    • This joke came from a part of Otto's stage act, where he did a parody language course "English for Runaways" (slight mistranslation of Englisch für Fortgeschrittene, i. e. "English for Advanced (Learners)"). The trick was often to "translate" English phrases into something that sounds like it in German but makes the phrase gibberish. Thus, "O, the bell rings!" is translated as O, der bello ringt! ("Oh, the dog wrestles!" — Bello is a stock name for a dog in German, much like "Spot" in English, and ringen really means "to wrestle").
  • In Phenomenon, a friend of George Malley named Nate asks him to teach him some Portuguese so he can hire a (beautiful) Brazilian lady as his maid. Malley uses a tape recorder to give English and Portuguese "translations" for sentences like, "Can you start on Monday?" But the Portuguese sentences actually mean "You have beautiful eyes," and so on. At the end of the movie, Nate and the Brazilian lady are having a baby.
  • In the opening of Pulp Fiction, Ringo A.K.A Pumpkin notably calls for the "garçon" to bring him more coffee, believing that it's the French word for waiter or server, and his waitress immediately explains that "garçon" is French for "boy."note 
  • Rush Hour 2:
    • Thanks to his poor poor Cantonese, James Carter invites two girls to get naked and sacrifice a small goat instead of having a drink. He also tells the entire triad bar to take out their Samurai swords and shave his butt.
      " 坐下坐下坐下坐下! 我向你哋汁起劍剝我. 我向 Tan. 屋企瞓覺. RIGHT NOW!"
      "Cho dai, cho dai, cho dai, cho dai! Ngo ngai lei dei jup hei geem mok ngo. Ngo ngai Tan. Ngok kei, fun gao!"
    • Played with every which way. Det. Carter isn't speaking gibberish, but perfect idiomatic Cantonese. It's just that what he's saying is completely unrelated to what he means! ("Sit down, sit down! Everyone, pick up your swords, shave me. I want Tan. Go home, go sleep! Right now!") The heavy implication is that Carter bought a joke phrasebook and got tricked —- the exact same plot as the "Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook" sketch!
    • Jackie Chan's English isn't too great to begin with. This explains some of the what-did-I-say looks he gets in the Hilarious Outtakes when the crew starts laughing after he flubs a line. The Rush Hour series director Brett Ratner also enjoys feeding him dirty English phrases and having him innocently repeat them later.
  • At one point in Sing, Buster tries to offer the red panda Girl Group who keep showing up a chance to fill in a new vacancy in the performance schedule. However, since they only speak Japanese, he has to resort to using a phrasebook to get his point across; whatever he says, the girls are so offended that they slap him and storm off. Apparently what he inadvertently said was, "You are smelly. Like toenails."
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), Tails tries using the translator on his Miles Electric to communicate with the unruly patrons of a Siberian bar. But not only does the translator get their food order wrong, it also insults the waiter who brought it to them. This, combined with their disguises falling off, almost results in him and Sonic getting tossed into the fireplace.
  • In Splash, when Dr. Kornbluth (Eugene Levy) tries to pass off Allen (Tom Hanks) and Freddie (John Candy) as visiting Swedish scientists to get them into the research facility where Madison (Daryl Hannah) is being held, a suspicious guard asks Allen and Freddie in Swedish, "What are two Swedish scientists doing so far from Sweden?" The guard jovially allows them entry after Freddie tentatively responds in Swedish, "Hey, babe! I got a twelve inch penis." Freddie later explains that he picked up some Swedish phrases from watching hundreds of hours of Swedish pornography.
  • In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Uhura (with the aid of Chekov, Scotty and other officers) tries to get the Enterprise-A past a Klingon border listening post by speaking Klingon without the aid of a translator. Her Klingon is inconsistent and broken, but the drunk or bored guards just laugh it off; to maintain the ruse, the Enterprise crew responds with forced laughter. The film's novelization explains that the Klingon guards actually weren't fooled by Uhura's clumsy translation, which turned out to be an archaic, out-of-date form of the language. They just assumed that the "Ursva" were incompetent (or drunk) smugglers, and let them through out of pity.
    Guard: (in Klingon) This is listening post Morska. What ship is that? Over. ... What ship is that? Over. (keeps repeating)
    Chekov: We must respond personally, the universal translator would be recognized.
    Guard: (in Klingon, still repeating) What ship is that? Over. ... What ship is that? Over.
    Uhura: (in Klingon) We am thy freighter Ursva. ... Six weeks out of ... Kronos. Over.
    Guard: (repeats a different Klingon phrase)
    Scotty: "What is your destination? Over."
    Uhura: (in Klingon) Rura Penthe. We is condemning food ... things and supplies. Over.
    (tense silence)
    Guard: (in Klingon) Don't catch any bugs! (he and his colleague laugh uproariously)
    (silence again on the bridge, until Uhura keys the transmission again and everyone laughs a few times slowly and uncomfortably, and Uhura switches the transmission off in disgust)
  • Wedding Season: The white Nick's attempts at learning Hindi are disastrous, including telling Priya she is a "dead onion" and he is a "thin banana" at their wedding.
  • In Zoolander, Derek actually speaks Malay, but addresses the Malaysian prime minister as "Mister Prime Rib of Propecia."

    My Literature is no longer infected. 
  • In the Sharon Creech novel Bloomability, the protagonist, an American girl from Kentucky, is sent to live with relatives in an Italian-speaking Swiss town and has to learn to speak Italian in order to get by. She eventually gets the hang of it, but runs into this trope a few times along the way.
    "According to my teacher, I had told her I went to bed at seven hundred o’clock, and that I was three hundred and thirty years old. She said I’d just asked my classmate 'How much does the time cost?' and 'I want six hundred potatoes, no thank you'."
  • In Borgel by Daniel Pinkwater, the title character gets into a conversation in a language he doesn't speak at all. His conversational partner later informs him that he'd claimed to be a politically corrupt sardine who likes to eat the tires off motorcycles. ("I said that?" "Like a native.")
  • In Craig Shaw Gardner's Bride Of The Slime Monster Roger ends up in a foreign film universe at one point, complete with subtitles. Using a great deal of misinterpreted pantomime, he tries to get one of the locals to teach him how to say "See you in the funny papers," the magic phrase needed to travel to another movieverse. His first attempt comes out as "Looking at you with the humorous books."
  • In Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache novel Bury Your Dead, an anglophone librarian named Winnie tries to speak French to francophones as a sign of respect (the story is set in Quebec City). Her French needs some work, though; among other things, she says that the night is a strawberry, the English are good pumpkins, and the library has an excellent section on mattresses and mattress warfare. She also greets the inspector with, "May I tuna you?" and asks some visitors to the library if they would like to become umlauts.
  • Played with in Cobra Bargain by Timothy Zahn when Jin is tutoring her younger sister in speaking Troft. According to Jin's Internal Monologue the potential mistake is actually fairly innocuous and she's playing it up to hold Cari's interest.
    "Again—and remember the aspirated-p in pierec'eay'khartoh this time. You pronounce it the wrong way to a Troft and he's either going to fall over laughing or else challenge you to a duel."
  • Dave Barry:
    • Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need plays with this by having translation guides that mostly consist of random sentences in English like "You bum, there is a fish in your library." The foreign translations were mostly just gibberish.
    • "Dave Barry Does Japan" features a real-life example that happened to Dave. He attempted to thank a hotel worker in Japanese. Showing typical Japanese politeness, the man bowed and left, at which point Dave's then ten-year-old son pointed out that what he had actually said was "Very much good morning, sir."
  • In the Deptford Histories book The Alchymist's Cat, the evil alchemist Dr. Spittle teaches his pompous rival, Sir Francis Lingley, some French phrases so he can impress visiting French nobles. note  Unbeknownst to Lingley, he was in reality being taught vile insults. He ends up telling the Comte that his wife has the face of a barnacle goose and the figure of a butchered sow, and if his children take after her then they must be hideous. On top of that, he is tricked into asking King Charles II if he could sew a button onto his coat. This incident results in his falling from grace and he is Driven to Suicide.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Anyone with even just the most basic knowledge of Spanish can tell that Susan Heffley doesn't understand it nearly as well as she thinks she does—she thinks "Tengo hambre" means "Tango hamburgers" (it actually means "I'm hungry") and she thinks that "Te amo" means "What is your name?" (it actually means "I love you"). It embarrasses a younger Greg when he once tried asking a Spanish-speaking waiter what his name was by repeatedly saying, "Te amo."
  • Discworld:
    • In novel Feet of Clay, Carrot is teaching Angua Dwarfish; when she tries to show it off to Cheery, she accidentally says "small delightful mining tool of a feminine nature." Carrot just thinks she's incorrect, because dwarves look the same genderwise. One of the earlier books explains this.
    • In Interesting Times, Rincewind the Wizard is sent to the Counterweight Continent because he is the only one to understand the language — somewhat.
      'Just give me all your food and... unwilling dogs, will you?'
      They watched him impassively.
      'Damn. I mean... arranged beetles?... variety of waterfall?... Oh, yes... money.'
    • The Counterweight Continent is a Discworld version of China, where most of the various languages are tonal, meaning the same syllable can mean several different things based on intonation. For example, the words for "wizard" and "blob of swallow's vomit" differ only by tone.
    • The same thing happens with Mr. Saveloy, albeit to a slightly lesser extent:
      "That's right. You'd be very welcome to join us. You could perhaps be a barbarian... to push beans... a length of knotted string... ah... accountant. Have you ever killed anyone?'"
    • In Interesting Times, the narrator claims that a simple word like "aaargh" can, in a certain language from Klatch, mean "More boiling oil, please!" which can have interesting implications for those uttering it.
    • A Running Gag in the same book has Rincewind use an intonation while screaming "aaargh" that translates it into the Howondaland phrase for "your wife is a big hippo."
    • There's Vimes' attempt at dwarfish from The Fifth Elephant. It nearly causes a diplomatic incident since the only word he knows for 'dwarf', having learned by picking up Ankh-Morpork 'street dwarfish', is the word for 'dwarf (indicating miscreant)'. He also calls himself "Overseer Vimes of the Look" and says "I am sure you are a dwarf of no convictions. Let us shake our business, dwarf (indicating miscreant)." Imagine what would happen if you addressed the chief of police as "punk." Yeah, like that, but with more axes.
    • Jingo mentions two Klatchian tribes who went to war over a translated word in a holy book, which meant either "god" or "man" — the difference in the original language is only one dot, and if the dot had been a little further to the left it would have been "licorice." Modelled on the Real Life theological disagreement over whether God and Jesus are homoousios (of the same substance) or homoiousios (of a similar substance). Because it was in Greek, and the disagreement was over an iota subscript, it gave us the phrase "not one iota (of difference)."
    • In Monstrous Regiment, Vimes has a slight communication problem when, as a gesture of friendship towards Polly Perks and her regiment, he tries to say "I am a Borogravian" and instead claims to be a cherry pancake. An obvious reference to John F. Kennedy and "Ich bin ein Berliner!" (see Real Life, below).
    • Ongoing mention is made of the restaurant "Mundane Meals." Its proprietor had asked Vimes for a word that meant "simple" and "down to earth" without saying what he wanted it for.
  • In Dreams Made Flesh by Anne Bishop, Daemon wants to impress Jaenelle by telling her how much she means to him in the old tongue. He plans to say this one phrase he has taught himself in a very intimate situation, but during a faked public argument, he utters it as it's the only one he knows that their listeners won't be able to understand. Lucky for him he did that then, as what he was really saying was: "I eat cow brains."
  • The Dresden Files: In Summer Knight, Harry Dresden attends a White Council meeting in which the official language is Latin. Unfortunately, Harry's Latin is very crappy, so when he tries to say "Sorry, Merlin. It's been a very long day. I meant to have my other robe" and "Please excuse my lateness and appearance," he actually says, respectively, "I am a sorry excuse Merlin, a sad long day held me. I need me a different laundress," and "Excuses to you for my being dressed and I also make lately." No, that's not a typo. Darn that Latin correspondence course.
    • In a later book a White Court vampire is addressing the White Court in their official language, and is just as bad at it as Harry is at Latin. Thanks to assistance from a demon Harry understands it perfectly, so he gets to witness his opponent making an utter fool of himself.
  • Fairest: A character attempts to give a gnome the Gnomish greeting, "Digging is good for the health and good for the wealth " but instead says, "Killing is good for the health and good for the wealth," causing said gnome to leap up and run away. As is explained later, she did realize it was most likely a translation error, but didn't want to stick around in case she was wrong.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner (1994) series, a not-quite-fluent professional translator between humans and the alien atevi says, in the atevi language, "pregnant calendar" when she means "urgent meeting" and "disintegrate and abase your weapons" when she means "surrender and throw down your weapons."
  • The book Japan-Think, Ameri-Think has an example performed by the author himself, who's actually fluent. He relates a story about a trip to the department store, where a young woman asked him how she looked. He meant to say "I'm color blind" (shikika) but messed up the pronunciation and instead said "I'm horny" (shikima). Hilarity Ensued until the author's Japanese wife stepped in and resolved the situation.
  • In the Kinsey Millhone book J is for Judgement, Kinsey goes to Mexico after having taken a Spanish class. She's mastered exactly one phrase ("Hay muchos gatos negros en los arboles.")
  • The spin-off book Klingon For The Galactic Traveller has a whole section devoted to avoiding this. There is a tiny difference between "luq, joHwI' (Yes, my lord)" and "lu joHwI' (My lord falls from power)." Also, "Huch DaHutlh (Thou lackest money)" sounds like "Quch DaHutlh (Thou lackest a forehead)." (Which would be a huge insult in Klingon, as saying that someone's forehead grooves are inadequate or lacking is one of the worst things you can say.) And mispronouncing "qaH (sir)" as "qagh (gagh, a dish of worms)," well...
  • In Rick Cook's Limbo System, the computer-generated translations do this a lot. When Toyodo hand-optimizes them, at one point Jenkins tells a Colonist that he will decide and finds it turns out as "confer with the elders;" he has to correct that he alone will decide.
  • In one of the MASH novels (M*A*S*H Goes to Morroco), a new and rather naive foreign service agent declares that her Arabic training has been inadequate, since she couldn't figure out what a sheikh meant by 'mudden yuri' or 'yumuth erware sar mishues'. (The sheikh in question is rather drunk, and is simply spouting what the people who got him that way — namely Hawkeye and Trapper — said every time they knocked one back.)
  • My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger has a number of sign-language examples, as many of the characters find themselves needing to rapidly learn American Sign Language after a six-year-old Deaf boy attaches himself to them.
    Lori: So if I wanted to say "I live near the river," I'd do it like this?
    T.C.: Um, actually you just said "I live in a parking lot." You didn't mean to do that.
  • National Lampoon had an article that provided parody translations of American place names that come from Native American languages. Most of the place names are translated as something like, "here", "right here", "this place", or "what we call this place". One of them is translated as, "Call it? We don't call it anything!"
  • In the second book of the Nursery Crime series, The Fourth Bear, Mary Mary's attempts at speaking binary to Ashley's parents turn out to be this, once turning a toast into something that Abigail's mother would never have done, and especially not to herself, and another time turning Abigail's name into something about how Mary's prawns have asthma.
  • In Peter and the Starcatchers, Molly Aster can communicate with porpoises fluently... except for the standard greeting, which she always mistakes for the phrase for "My teeth are green." She remains blissfully unaware of this throughout the novel because the porpoise Ammm is too polite to correct her. In Peter and the Sword of Mercy, her daughter makes a similar mistake.
  • The title of The Poisonwood Bible comes from an example. Missionary Daniel Price tried to say "Jesus is precious" in the local language, but it came out as "Jesus is poisonwood."
  • Polar Star (the sequel to Gorky Park). An American sailor who learns Esperanto as a hobby mentions a meeting his group organised between two famous practitioners of the language. "It took us five minutes to realise they couldn't understand what each other was saying. One's asking for the wine, the other's telling her the time."
  • In Pyramid Scheme, Jerry tells Lt Salinas that a certain phrase in Ancient Greek means "I am your friend." Salinas tells this phrase to Circe and promptly gets turned into a pig. The exact phrase and its meaning are never provided, but it was implied to be an extremely obscene insult.
  • In Redshirts, after learning that newly arrived Ensign Dahl is from Forshan, Science Officer Q'eeng attempts a traditional Forshan greeting. He makes two mistakes. First, he uses the greeting of the rightward schism in the language of the leftward schism, and second, his appalling accent turns "I offer you the bread of life" into the nonsensical "Let us violate cakes together."
  • In The Saga of the Noble Dead, half-elf Leesil was never properly taught the Elvish language. His later attempts to learn it go poorly; the first time he actually tries speaking to an elf, he manages to turn a request for directions into an insult against the elf's mother.
  • A variation occurs in The Saddle Club series while Lisa and her family are on vacation in Italy. Lisa is given a cot with a broken wheel and tries to explain it to the front desk staff, but even with her English-to-Italian dictionary, the closest she can manage is "the wheel on top of my bed is broken." In this case she knows that it's not quite right, but she decides to use it anyway in hopes that they'll understand what she's trying to get at. Fortunately, they do.
  • Skippy's List: Specialist Skippy Schwarz apparently tried to get his Army buddies to perform this trope:
    123. I should not teach other soldiers to say offensive and crude things in Albanian, under the guise of teaching them how to say potentially useful phrases.
  • The novelization of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country provides a more rational explanation for why the Enterprise crew was scrambling to look up Klingon phrases in old paper books, instead of using the Universal Translator. The saboteur(s) who had altered the ship's logs to make it look like the Enterprise had fired on the Chancellor's ship had also wiped the Klingon language data from the memory banks specifically to keep the Enterprise from being able to properly communicate when they crossed into Klingon space. The books were part of Uhura's personal collection, not part of the ship's library, so they were not affected. The Klingons that were encountered, fortunately, figured anyone that sounded so incompetent had to be petty smugglers and were therefore not worth the trouble of stopping.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • In the novel Outbound Flight, a human character tries to learn the Chiss language, with limited success. At one point, he gives his profession as "fishing boat" (he meant "merchant trader"), but for good reason: he physically can't pronounce the distinction between the two words. Thrawn, on the other hand, has no trouble picking up Basic while trying to teach that main character.
    • In Star by Star, Ganner Rhysode, masquerading as a Yuuzhan Vong, gets "kanabar" (low-caste person) mixed up with "kane a bar" (dung of a rotting meat maggot).
  • In the second Symphony of Ages novel, Rhapsody's love interest tries to flirt with her in her native tongue. His attempt to compliment her behind translates to "You have the most lovely muffins." She never lets him live it down.
  • In Things Fall Apart, the white colonists hire an African translator to speak to Okonkwo's tribe, but because he speaks a different dialect than the tribe, every time he says "myself," Okonkwo's tribe hears it as "my buttocks." "My Buttocks" becomes the translator's nickname among the tribesmen.
  • One anecdote in the sequel to Three Men in a Boat, set in Germany, has George bewildered when he tries to buy a cushion from a German shop and the three young sales girls throw him out. Turns out the word George had used for 'cushion' was Kussen, which sounds very similar to the word for 'to kiss' ("küssen"); made even more hilarious by the fact that the correct German word would be Kissen.
  • S. J. Perelman used this occasionally; at one point in Westward Ha!, he asks a Far Eastern noble "whether the pen of his uncle is in the garden." In a mild variation, the person he's talking to actually speaks perfect idiomatic English.
  • The Iain M. Banks short story "Cleaning Up" has an alien greet humanity by announcing "First person singular obtaining colloquial orgasm within a Caledonian sandwich". After a brief argument with its translator it tries again. "Sorry. As I was saying: I come in piece."
  • Tsunami from Wings of Fire: The Lost Heir sees another SeaWing dragon for the first time. But since they're underwater, she flashes her stripes to communicate with him. But what she ends up saying by accident is "Hey, sparkling teeth, I totally love three of your claws but not the others, and I wish your nose was a herring so I can eat it, and also your wings sound like sharks snoring."
  • The 1993 edition of the Collins-Robert English-French dictionary has twin introductions (one in French and one in English) about how to use the resources it contains to make sure you use the correct translation. Each introduction begins with an example of how weird one can sound with the wrong words.
    • The French language introduction opens with someone trying to say that "He was run over by a truck that jumped the light," but instead says "Il a été débordé par un diable qui a sauté le mou." ("He was overflowed by a devil that leapt the soft") Correct is "Il fut/a été écrasé par un camion qui brula/a brulé le feu rouge." It goes on to talk about how different English translations of the French "sauter" could have one talking about a cork fusing instead of popping out, etc.
    • The English language introduction opens with someone trying to say "Be careful not to get run over; you have to walk on the pedestrian crossing," (in French "Attention de ne vous faire écraser; il faut marcher dans les clous") but instead says, "Attention not to make yourself squash; you have to walk inside the nails." It goes on to talk about how different French translations of the English "to cut" could have one talking about mowing a disc, etc.
  • The book Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is a history of the discovery of atomic fission and the development of the atom bomb, but an early scene in a German university town features a foreign student rushing into a shop and making an improper request of a shopkeeper's daughter. It turns out that in German if you switch a couple of vowel sounds then "Do you have a scale? I want to weigh something" comes out as "Do you have a cradle? I want to do something risky."

    My Live Action TV is full of eels 
  • The cast of 'Allo 'Allo! dread the appearance of Crabtree, "that English idiot who thinks he can speak French." While he technically knows the right words, his pronunciation is horrific and he usually comes out with ridiculous (and sometimes naughty-sounding) sentences such as "I was pissing (passing) by your coffee (café)." Of course, what's interesting is that this relies on the understanding that although the dialogue is in clear (if accented) English, the characters are actually "speaking" — and understanding — French. And Crabtree's dialogue is attempting to represent how a very bad French speaker would come across to them. Somehow the Germans never seem to suspect that he's a spy rather than a genuine French policeman.
    Crabtree: Good Moaning!
  • Nickelodeon's sketch comedy show All That had the recurring skit "Everyday French with Pierre Escargot" where Kenan Thompson as Pierre Escargot taught the viewer how to say grammatically correct but nonsensical French phrases:
    "Your wallpaper is making my eyebrows explode!"
  • Happens during a case involving two Latin dancers in Ally McBeal where John Cage, interrupting the two dancers (who constantly argue in Spanish) sputters out such phrases as 'I want to ride a little pony!' and 'I want a cookie!' to the bemusement of those present.
  • One Detour in Season 14 of The Amazing Race required teams to listen to customers ordering food in Chinese, then repeat the orders to a chef. It was easy for Tammy and Victor since they spoke the language, but Kisha and Jen had a little difficulty: instead of ordering "New Taste Beef" they ordered "Oil Comes Again to Please the Mouth," and "Golden Pork Spare Ribs" got lost in translation as "Light Competition Red Dishes I've Played Before."
  • Andromeda: When Harper tries to say an old Vedran proverb ("A wise man knows his limitations") to Rev but ends up saying, "A fast swimmer keeps no pets." Since Vedran is a made-up language, there is, understandably, no way to verify that. He also tries to brag to Beka that he can speak "Old Earth Gaelic" by stating "Love is my language;" unfortunately, he ended up saying "Love is our sandwich." He was speaking fluent Vedran (among dozens of other alien languages including Than) earlier in the same episode and even singing in them. However, this was because he had All-Systems Library downloaded into his brain. After it was extracted, he forgot everything about that day.
  • Angel:
    • In "Harm's Way," Angel tries to communicate with a demon species that speaks in tongue-clicks, and ends up saying, "Be disemboweled."
    • In another episode, Fred says something to Lorne in his native language that she thinks means "may your words please the gods." Lorne informs us that what she actually just said was "may you orally please the gods."
  • Murdock may be The A-Team's resident Omniglot, but his Italian isn't too great. Although the English-speaking mooks around him don't know any better and it helps his disguise, it culminates in him asking two men to have his baby.
  • Babylon 5:
    • Ivanova tries to show Marcus and Delenn how she's been learning Minbari and can therefore command the Minbari crew of the White Star. Her attempt is subtitled "Engines at full, high power, hatrack ratcatcher, to port weapons, brickbat lingerie." After Delenn has diplomatically suggested that Ivanova allow herself or Marcus to translate her orders to the White Star crew and Ivanova has gone out of earshot, Delenn orders Marcus to warn the crew that anyone who laughs at Ivanova's... creative... Minbari will answer to her personally. Given how most Minbari are depicted as being rather stoic, anything that could make them laugh would probably have to be quite a howler. In a later episode, it is revealed that Minbari humor focuses on both puns and failure to attain enlightment, so it's likely that the usually serious crew would have found Ivanova's mixups hilarious.
    • She pulls another one later, while ranting, in her broken Minbari, about their current situation. She ends her rant with an exclamation of "Ah, hell!" — in English, of course. The Minbari weapons officer, however, promptly opens fire on absolutely nothing. When Ivanova seems completely confused by this, Lorien explains that "ahell" means "continuous fire" in Minbari. There were numerous occasions to throw in a Continuity Nod to this later; alas, the series never does.
    • In season two, the new commanding officer of Babylon 5 is attacked by a Minbari and defends himself with a conveniently-placed weapon. When Sheridan has the assailant at his mercy, he demands surrender — to which the Minbari replies, "Death first." Later on, in a pseudo-legal proceeding, a Minbari witness claims the assailant actually said something that sounds similar ("Deth feherst" or some such) but means "I yield to your authority." This actually turned out to be a complete lie, but the other Minbari seemed to consider it plausible.
  • Jokingly played with on the third episode of Benson. The titular character is covering for the president of a fictional country(who happens to be in the hospital recovering from a poisoning attempt that morning.) A government official who thinks he's addressing the actual President tells Benson what he thinks is the saying for "Thank you very much." Benson, not knowing a lick of the real thing, makes it up on the spot that the way the guy just phrased it, "It was an insult to my mother."
  • Sheldon's attempts to learn Mandarin in The Big Bang Theory: "Long live concrete?" "Oxen are in my bed! Many, many oxen!" and "Don't call the library. Show me your mucus!" or even this: "Your monkey sleeps inside me." The Chinese restaurant owner refers to Howard as the annoying little friend of theirs "who thinks he speak Mandarin," making this a likely case of being taught wrong. Of course, knowing Howard, he probably did this on purpose to screw with Sheldon.
  • Bones; in the Season 8 episode "The Bod in the Pod" Iranian-born intern Arastoo Vasiri wrote a love poem in Farsi to Cam, who is now secretly dating Vasiri. Hodgins ran a few lines of the poem through a translation program, getting such lines as "You're my carburetor," "Bacon is silent. Listen to all that we scrub!" and, finally, a line that compares the moon to "a testicle in the firmament."
    • In another episode, Angela is trying to put together a toy for her son, but the included instructions say things like "put to bumblebee make happy." The illustrations aren't any more helpful, so she winds up paying three times more to get an associate at the store to put it together for her.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "School Hard," while studying French, Buffy says something in French that translates to "The cow should touch me from Thursday."note  And she said it wrong.note 
  • Burn Notice's Michael Westen is usually pretty good at foreign languages, making this example all the more hilarious. In one episode he steals some documents from the Pakistani consulate and leaves a written message in Urdu for the chief of security to meet him at a restaurant. The chief comes into the restaurant with the message and says this:
    Waseem: (reading the message) I will be wearing a white shirt and— See this word here? It's a kind of spicy goat cheese.
    Michael: My Urdu's a little rusty. I was trying to say "black pants."
    Waseem: Well, at least you got the name of the restaurant right.
  • In one episode of a short-lived NBC sitcom Café Americain, set in France, the main character (played by Valerie Bertenelli) was finally given an ultimatum to learn the native language. Her initial attempts were a little less than stellar: an attempt to congratulate a newly engaged couple had her unintentionally claiming to be having an affair with the man; and one attempt to converse with her instructor/UST interest resulted in the memorable phrase "Cheese in my pants makes me happy. Don't you agree?"
  • CHiPs had an American Sign Language variant: Ponch was telling the deaf parents of a woman that he would bring her home tonight in English, but what he's 'saying' in sign language causes the woman to say, bemusedly, "Ponch, you mixed up some signs. You told my parents that we are going necking and that you told my parents you'd bring me home tomorrow!"
  • In one episode of Cold Case, a politician that Rush and Valens are trying to interview is first seen attempting to apologize in Spanish to two men from a Hispanic organization for having to cut a meeting short, but instead of using the correct phrase "lo siento mucho" (I'm very sorry), he phrases it as "me siento mucho".
    Valens: [to Rush] He just told them he sits down a lot.
  • Several instances in Community, particularly in the first season while the Study Group takes Spanish:
    • In the "Pilot", when Jeff tries to convince Britta that he's a Spanish tutor to get closer to her, she asks him to say that in Spanish, leading to him doing this ("I sleep late Spanish. One more hour. Don't scratch my car"). What he says is actually comprehensible Spanish—specifically, phrases he would presumably have memorized so he could say them to Spanish-speaking hotel maids and valets. Britta knows that he's bullshitting her, but can't prove it because she doesn't speak Spanish.
    • In "English as a Second Language", when Chang's replacement threatens to fail the Study group for walking out of their Spanish final to rescue Annie from Chang, Jeff and Britta respond in perfect Spanish, only for Pierce to do this ("Land of fire!").
    • A non-verbal example arises in "Analysis of Cork-Based Networking", when Abed forms a mutual attraction with a deaf girl. Initially not knowing sign language, when attempting to sign that he wished he did, he instead says "I detonated a mollusk."
  • In Coronation Street Ken Barlow is trying to teach the dim Raquel to speak French. She tells him that she already knows how to introduce herself, having been taught by a former boyfriend, and continues: "Bonjour, Ken. Je m'appelle Raquel. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" Which means of course "Hello, Ken. My name is Raquel. Would you like to go to bed with me this evening?" Interestingly, no subtitles were displayed on screen, meaning that any viewers who didn't speak French (or recognize the phrase) would not have understood why Ken got that pained expression on his face...
  • On Coupling, in the episode "The Girl with Two Breasts," a scene where Jeff misunderstands Hebrew is played twice — the second time with the Hebrew in English, and Jeff's original English as incomprehensible gibberish. This reveals that Jeff has — in place of the girl's name — been repeating the Hebrew word for "breasts" ("Shadayim").
  • An interesting non-vocal example happened on Dancing with the Stars. Supermodel Nyle DiMarco is deaf and relied on visual cues to do the dances. At one point he and his partner were dancing separately and she motioned him to walk over to her; it was supposed to be a flirty "come hither" gesture, but the exact motion she used (with all five fingers) is the ASL sign for "Get over here NOW!" causing Nyle to run to her, which briefly threw off their timing. They were able to play it off though, and viewers were none the wiser.
  • Done twice on Drop the Dead Donkey, once with Russian (Henry introduces himself as a pregnant cabbage to a Soviet official on a factfinding exchange) and once with Japanese (Damien tells a group of Japanese businessmen to go and have sex with a porcupine). It's implied in the latter case Damien was told the wrong phrase as a practical joke.
  • The BBC comedy series Episodes contains a meta-example. The show's graphics department had prepared a dual Hebrew/English text for a gravestone, but the Hebrew text that was supposed to parallel the English phrase "dearly missed" instead claimed that the deceased had been "pickled at great expense." They had apparently used some kind of translation software that made two major errors: first, it translated "dearly" in the sense of "expensively," and second, it selected the Hebrew word for "missed" that can only be used in the sense of "to miss an opportunity" — a word which, when applied to any other noun, means instead "to pickle" or "to sour." The graphics department then compounded the error by reversing the text of the Hebrew rettel yb rettel.
  • ER:
    • In an episode, Pratt thought he was encouraging a pregnant woman to push. Instead he was calling her a whore. Her husband understandably was enraged and she was horrified.
    • A rare serious example occurs when a Spanish woman was brought in with an overdose, and her husband said she was taking her prescribed medication as instructed. The instructions were only in English and said to take a pill 'once a day', but the Spanish word for 'eleven' is 'once', but with a different pronunciation. She died of the overdose.
  • In Excuse My French!, a 1970's Canadian sitcom, an English-speaking businessman asks a Francophone colleague to teach him a phrase in French that means "It is a pleasure to meet you in person" for an upcoming business meeting. The phrase he is taught is "Embrasse-moi, mon petit lapin", which translates into English as "Kiss me, my little rabbit".
  • Frasier:
    • In "The Perfect Guy."
      Dr. Clint Webber: Who's as lovely as a chicken beak?
    • In another episode, Niles and Frasier attempt to confront Maris' German fencing instructor whom she has been having an affair with. Unfortunately, the man doesn't speak English but Niles' maid speaks German...yet she has a very poor grasp of English herself, meaning Frasier has to translate what Niles is saying to Spanish so the maid can translate it again to the fencing instructor. Everything seems to be going fine until Frasier mistranslates "You have stolen Niles' wife" as "You have stolen Niles' shoes." For some reason, this infuriates the guy prompting him and Niles to duel preceded by this priceless exchange:
      Niles: En garde!
      Frasier: Oh great, that's just what we need! A fourth language!
    • Happens again later in the episode when Frasier tries to tell the fencing instructor that his wife loves him very much, but the maid's confusion with pronouns means it gets translated as "your wife loves me very much." Unsurprisingly, the instructor attacks him too.
  • Game of Thrones: A Running Gag in Seasons 5 and 6 is that Tyrion's attempts to speak High Valyrian are absolutely awful due to how out of practice he is with it. As he puts it, he's "a little nostril" (rusty).
    Tyrion: (entering a meeting) My friends, so sorry you wait such fat time.
    Missandei: (exasperated) Perhaps I should translate?
    • This comes up again in the penultimate episode of Season 8, providing a bit of levity to an otherwise dark episode. When addressing to some Unsullied who are guarding a captive Jaime, he tries to say "I want to talk to the prisoner" but instead says "I drink to eat the skull keeper." As the baffled Unsullied stare at him, he tries a few more times to get it right, until they take pity on him and admit to speaking the Common Tongue.
  • One episode of Full House includes Danny trying to impress some visiting relatives from Greece by speaking Greek. Papouli, his late wife's grandfather, replies, "You have a volcano in the kitchen?"
  • In one episode of Gilligan's Island, during one of the castaways' many encounters with natives, Gilligan attempted to speak to one by spouting gibberish. Unfortunately, it resulted in the native chasing him with a knife.
  • The iCarly episode "iGo to Japan" had a Japanese speaker saying "Hello, I have a bladder infection" to the kids because he was using a Japanese-English English-Japanese dictionary. Subverted in that he was actually trying to communicate his bladder infection.
  • Long long ago, in I Love Lucy, Lucy was meeting her in-laws the Ricardos of Cuba for the first time. She tries to be polite with a few memorized phrases, but botches the pronunciation. So instead of saying a polite "Thank you" to Ricky's uncle, she calls him a "big, fat pig." Hilarity Ensues.
  • In Living Color! does their own take here. An unassuming American ambassador is assigned to work in a third world country. Her interpreter is a trickster of a man and not much of a diplomat. Whoever taught her the sentence to say played a sick joke on her as well. Strange how she can be this naive, though.
  • On I Survived A Japanese Game Show, one contestant's attempt at pronouncing "fuitte mo ii desu ka?" ("May I wipe it?") was subtitled "But, the well is it Switzerland?"note 
  • On an episode of The IT Crowd, one of Jen's lies was being fluent in Italian. Subtitles of her mumblings showed that she'd be saying things like "I like the smell of my cat" and "spiders," but this wasn't a problem because Moss got her an instant translation program on her laptop, allowing her to cover her lies and pass off as fluent over conference calls, even impressing an Italian business mogul (she was very good at pretending, if not at actually understanding). Things go south quickly when Douglas forbids her to bring her laptop to the first face to face meeting with the Italian man and her improvised Italian is so awful that no subtitles are even needed to see that she's just speaking English words with a pseudo-Italian tone and intonation. Including words like "Vienetta," "Fiat Punto," and "Super Mario" as Italian words.
  • Nicely played with on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Charlie is given a pill by some scientists to enhance his intellect and is soon shown speaking Chinese. It turns out the "pill" was just a placebo and the real experiment was to see what happens when a dimwit thinks he's become a genius. When Charlie protests he knows Chinese, the Asian scientist reveals that Charlie has been simply speaking pure gibberish the entire time and he was playing along.
  • In the JAG episode "Fighting Words," a US Marine tries to say, "Stop or I will shoot," in Arabic during a classroom training session, but according to an Iraqi woman who's helping with the class, he actually said, "Stop or I will release the mice."
  • Jessie: In "All The Knight Moves", Jessie (excited over the idea of Zuri winning the two of them a trip to Paris in a chess tournament) tries learning some French. When she tries to express her excitement over the tournament in the language, she gets this response:
    Ravi: Jessie, nobody in Paris says "the chickens are shining their shoes".
  • Kenan & Kel had this with the date with Brianna, while Kel was trying to translate his order, the waiter got mad because Kel wanted "to park his truck on his mother's face."
  • The Kids in the Hall: Scott Thompson's idiot Canadian character walks into a shop where Dave Foley's shopkeep character speaks to him in perfect English. The catch is, he doesn't speak English and memorized those words phonetically, so when Scott asks a question, he can't answer, but continues reciting more unrelated English, which gets Scott angry. Eventually, the speech the shopkeep has memorized finishes with insults and the phrase, "Would you like to fight me?"
  • In Leave It to Beaver, Eddy Haskell teaches Beaver a Spanish sentence to say to his Hispanic friend. The sentence is, "Usted tiene una cara como puerco." Eddie claims it means "You're a swell guy;" in fact, it means "You have a face like a pig." Hilarity Ensues.
  • Parker does this in Leverage, while trying to rescue a group of abused Serbian children. She has a phrase book, but what she says is subtitled as:
    Parker: Don't be afraid. I will make your tomato shiny. Please come with. Men will sadden you.
    • She eventually gets the kids to go with her by, after nearly giving up, meekly offering "Haagen-dazs?" Later, she reacts to getting caught by exclaiming, "Oh, shiny tomato!"
  • In the pilot episode of the 2013 series Lucky 7, Nicky attempts to impress Mary by telling her in Spanish that she is beautiful, but she informs him he actually said she was "duck like."
  • M*A*S*H:
    • This happens to Hawkeye when trying to speak French in "In Love and War."
    • There's the famous instance in which Frank Burns, while holding an auction, tries to wish the Korean crowd "peace and prosperity." In response, a man asks, "You wish us all a prostitute?"
    • From another episode: Hawkeye is screaming at a Korean farmer who was trying to work a rice field which had been mined, which ends up injuring his daughter.
      Hawkeye: Oo-san! That's in your own language! Oo-san! That's what you are! Oo-san!
      Radar: You just called him an umbrella.
    • In "The Chosen People," Hawkeye tries to say, "Your presence is welcome in our camp," to Korean officer Sam Pak, but Pak tells him he actually said, "Your uncle has gas from eating cabbage." Hawkeye tries to say something else in Korean and Pak responds with, "I'm sorry to hear that. Your uncle with the gas is now pregnant."
    • In the episode "Radar's Report," Father Mulcahy is attempting to calm a wounded North Korean. Radar's voiceover tells us he meant to say "peace and happiness" but was really saying "Your daughter's pregnancy brings much joy to our village."
    • In "Dear Sigmund," Klinger claims to have been hit in the head with a chopper blade and only able to speak in Arabic. Via subtitles, he tells Col. Potter things like, "My olive has no pit and there is no yolk in my egg" and "Grandfather, may your pomegranates grow as big as the Queen's fanny." An unusual example in that it's intentional; Klinger is fluent in Arabic (in fact it's almost certainly his first language, given that his mother doesn't speak English) and is purposefully stringing together sentences of this type to reinforce the idea that he's delirious from a head injury.
  • M.I. High: In "The Wasp," Mr Flatley attempts to welcome a new deaf student to the school by signing "Hello and welcome to St. Hope's." According to Oscar, he actually asked Avril to go and buy some sausages.
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk Falls in Love," as pictured above, Monk and Natalie are looking for Leyla Zlatavich's mother in a largely non-English-speaking neighborhood. They try to say something like, "Have you seen this woman?" in the Zemenian language, with Monk using a translator book to help out. However, when he does speak that language, the on-screen subtitles reveal that he's asking, "Have you seen the sad stick?" And he doesn't understand why no one gives him an answer.
    • In the Tie-In Novel Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop, Randy vomits in front of a Japanese tour group and says to them something that he thinks is Japanese for an apology. The detective riding with him, whose wife is Japanese, informs him that he just said, "Stop groping my breasts and prepare to die."
    • In one of her blog entries on, Natalie describes herself as stumbling to use the Greek language when she was an exchange student (the entry itself is dated to coincide with "Mr. Monk and the Naked Man"), as marked here:
      Natalie Teeger: Everyone was super warm and encouraging as I stumbled through my beginner's Greek, as if they were just flattered that I would even try to speak their language or something, but I ran into a few problems during my time there. I was constantly mixing up words, saying "kiss" when I meant "friend," little things like that. One time I went in to a pharmacy looking for baby powder and got nothing but blank stares when I asked for it at the counter. I learned later what I'd done wrong, and why the lady at the pharmacy had looked so confused; I'd asked her if she had any "baby dust." Another time I caused a minor panic at my host family's house when I took a phone message and announced that their friend Maria had called to say that she had just checked into the hospital. Yeah, she had just checked into a hotel. A pretty important distinction, as I learned after almost giving poor Mr. and Mrs. Mavropoulos heart attacks.
  • The Monty Python's Flying Circus is the Trope Namer: the confusing and increasingly offensive sentences come from a maliciously written English phrasebook for Hungarians. Examples include "I will not buy this record, it is scratched" written instead of "I'd like to buy a pack of cigarettes, please" and "My hovercraft is full of eels" for "I'd also like a box of matches" — what a scheme! Moreover, the correct phrases are evidently matched up with very offensive meanings in Hungarian, given the reaction. The writer is later seen being prosecuted for this in another later sketch, after causing misfortune to scores of hapless Hungarians while visiting the UK.
  • In the lost Mystery Science Theater 3000 short Assignment Venezuela, they invoke this trope as the short's narrator finds his phrasebook Spanish doesn't help him:
    Mike: (as a Venezuelan customs agent) "No, I will not give you foot massage."
  • On Naturally, Sadie, Magaret runs a Greek newspaper story about Rain through an internet translator. The page she gets back is entirely My Hovercraft Is Full Of Eels.
  • Played for Drama and left as a Bilingual Bonus in a NCIS: Los Angeles episode partially dealing with another NCIS unit. A carload of drug cartel members crashes in front of them during a short Chase Scene and the survivor gets out. They holler at him to throw down his weapon but he apparently doesn't speak English. One of the team members is told to tell him in Spanish, and he uncertainly goes, "Tire ... la pistola—" and the guy shoots the gun off at an angle and the team fills him with lead. For tropers who don't speak Spanish, the cartel member was actually told to fire the pistol—"tirar" means both "to throw" and "to shoot a gun." He should've said something like "Baja la pistola."
  • New Tricks: Gerry tries to impress a British Sign Language interpreter with the Sign Language he learned in childhood so he could communicate with his deaf cousin. It doesn't work and he gets "Can I dig up my Elephant with you?" as a result.
  • A inversion in One Foot in the Grave: Victor is on holiday at a bed-and-breakfast, and has bought some spray to deal with all the insects around. While he is about to go into the bathroom, he meets two foreigners waiting outside who hesitantly tell him the bathroom is full of "midgets." He assumes they mean "midges" and confidently goes in to spray them. Needless to say, there actually are people with dwarfism in the bathroom, who don't appreciate him bursting in on them and proceed to hit him in the balls.
  • Del on Only Fools and Horses is notorious for speaking foreign phrases, mostly French, which he often gets badly mixed up. Notable examples include using Au revoir for 'hello', Mange tout for 'Of course!', Creme de la menthe for 'The very best' and uses Chateauneuf du Pape! as a swear word. And who can forget Pot Pourri used as 'I don't believe it."
  • Tina of Other Space speaks Russian natively, but uses Translator Microbes to speak English most of the time. When they are deactivated in a power outage her English turns into this.
    Mike: Anybody using power should probably go.
    Tina: (deactivates the robot) Good morning, A.R.T.
    Mike: Now we end Natasha?
    Tina: Yes, I want to go back to the hotel.
  • QI:
    • In series F's episode about the future, Stephen Fry uses this phrase as an example sentence in Esperanto. After some hints, Rob Brydon goes from My cousin is a meerkat of strange angles to the words for 'eels' and 'hovercraft'. When he puts the sentence together, he still can't believe it:
    Stephen: Let's see if you can guess this one: "Mia kusenventurilo estas plena de angiloj."
    Rob: My cousin is a meerkat of strange angles.
    Stephen: Yes, 'my hovercraft is full of eels.'
    Rob: ...Seriously?
    Stephen: Yes.
    Rob: (laughing) I thought you were being cross with me there, you were saying that just to move on!
    • Also from QI is Fred MacAulay's report of a Burns Night being held in Germany, where Robbie Burns' "Address to a Haggis" was translated into German, and then translated back into English, resulting in the line "Great chieftain o' the puddin' race" being translated as "Mighty fuhrer of the Sausage People..."
  • In an episode of The Real Husbands of Hollywood, Kevin Hart catches the eye of a little woman who flirts with him in Russian (the actress was born and raised in Kazan). Kevin tries to respond in kind, but it’s mostly gibberish, punctuated by the one Russian word he actually knows: vodka.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Arnold Rimmer's Esperanto: "Could you send for the hall porter, there appears to be a frog in my bidet."
    • In the episode "Kryten," Rimmer attempts to speak Esperanto to Kryten and act aloof. He does not understand when Kryten replies, in Esperanto, "You speak Esperanto, Captain Rimmer?"
  • In ReGenesis, David Sandstrom, while in China, is arrested by soldiers, and tries to tell them "I'm a Canadian citizen." Because he gets the tones wrong, it comes out as "I'm a false personality."
  • In Rules of Engagement, Audrey believes herself to have a fair grasp of the Spanish language. She doesn't; in the episode "A Big Bust" she ends up soliciting donations for what she thinks is surgery to fix the bad knee of her Hispanic housekeeper. In reality it's breast augmentation surgery that results in the housekeeper having very large boobs (much to Jeff's delight).
  • In the first Saturday Night Live sketch, a professor (played by Michael O'Donoghue) teaches a European immigrant (played by John Belushi) several useful English phrases, including "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines."
  • Scrubs:
    • In a bizarre example, after noting that The Janitor seems afraid of JD's Latina friend Carla, JD wonders how he can use that to his advantage. He then daydreams about Carla standing up to the Janitor for him and telling him to stop picking on JD and to give JD a fruit smoothie everyday. The Janitor then asks in Spanish if JD wants strawberry or banana. Carla responds in Spanish with "Purple tree car with cheese." Janitor grabs Carla's face and rips it off to reveal JD dressed as Carla. JD immediately says "Feliz Navidad!" and runs away. The daydream ends with JD concluding he'll need to learn Spanish.
    • "I have an Eiffel Tower in my pants." "What?" "GRAPEFRUIT!!" Turk says he learned a little bit of French, but most of it was intended to help him pick up girls. So the Eiffel Tower in his pants is... that, and the grapefruits are... those.
    • At Carla and Turk's wedding, Carla's brother gave The Todd a pick-up line in Spanish: "Tengo herpes genetal," which means "I have genital herpes." (Though it should be written as genital).note 
    • In"My Musical" Carla also told The Todd that the Spanish for "man meat" was "Pincho chiquito" (tiny penis).
    • Eliott Reed (who is fluent in German) makes an intentional and dirty mistranslation to get revenge on Dr. Cox. Instead of telling his burly German speaking patient that "You have fluid on your lungs" — he says "Your wife has nice boobs." While making a gesture that he thinks is illustrating a pair of lungs.
  • Sherlock: In Sherlock Special "The Abominable Bride", Watson attempts to communicate with Wilder, the concierge of The Diogenes Club, in sign language. After first telling Wilder that he is very ugly (instead of kind) he then tells him that he is glad that Wilder liked his potato (instead of story).
  • On Spin City, Paul claims to be able speak fluent Portuguese. His attempt to bid farewell to the mayor is translated as "My monkey needs a haircut."
  • Cunning Linguist Hoshi Sato learning Denobulan in Star Trek: Enterprise gives us "Eggplant's not a vegetable, it's a nostril," soon followed by "I think you make a very cute washboard."
  • The episode "Ashes To Ashes" of Star Trek: Voyager had this: "That's very sweet of you, but you just told me the comets are tiresome."
  • An accidental transaction in Sign language happened in a sketch on The State. A waiter brought a year's supply of radishes in a wheelbarrow.
  • In an episode of Suddenly Susan, Vicky demands that Luis teach her just enough Spanish to pick up Latin men. He teaches her to say that she would like to share her STDs and that she hasn't bathed in years.
  • An episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody involved a group of Japanese tourists coming to the Tipton hotel. Cody, who's learning Japanese, tries to ask them how the flight went. Instead he says " I have a hornet's nest in my pants." The tourists all run away, as Cody shrugs it off saying, "I guess it was bouncy."
    • Later in that episode, Cody practices his Japanese by greeting a singer from Japan. It comes out as "My bellybutton grows watermelons."
  • Occurs on 3rd Rock from the Sun when Mary gives a talk to foreign visitors to the university. Since her editor decided it was easier to just pretend Mary's speech was perfect so she could go drinking, Mary ends up inviting the visitors to her "womanly place," and tells them that "there's room for everyone."
  • Top Gear:
    • Presenter James May is given a Romanian phrasebook which has been purposefully mistranslated. When May inevitably gets lost, his attempts to ask directions only confuse the locals.
    May: These boxes are not all the same size!
    • Hammond, when speaking French, says things like 'le grand champignon', when he means the grand champion. 'Le grand champignon' is, literally 'the big mushroom'. It gets worse when he says "il y a beaucoup de lapins dans ma pantalon" which means "there are a lot of rabbits in my trousers."
    • Clarkson attempted to learn Ukrainian on a long trip across Ukraine. His breakfast order for the three of them results in a head of raw cabbage. It is unknown whether or not he was being trolled, given that he seemed to genuinely be trying and some of the things he said just not translating culturally. Impressively, by the end, he was able to say a few comprehensible things in Ukrainian, only for the hotel clerk to respond in English. "Yes."
    • In one instance, he asked a roadside merchant "Where are your legs?" No idea what he was trying to say. Immediately afterwards, he said "I'll eat your souvenirs." This one is actually somewhat understandable, because there is the possibility that he might have been told that souvenirs could be a generic term for shop goods, or at least that would be the only word he'd have. And then the English can say things like "I'll eat" to indicate that they would like to order a dish.
    • Nicely averted in the Vietnam special: the boys have to earn a license before they can ride their motorbikes, which includes an oral section. This results in Clarkson answering perfectly, to which he says to his stunned co-hosts "Did neither of you bother to learn Vietnamese before coming here?".
  • Trigger Happy TV had a recurring sketch featuring a Scandinavian man asking random people on the streets very poorly worded and outrageous questions or statements, with a thick Scandinavian accent.
  • Ugly Betty has an episode where Betty (who has lived in America for her entire life) accompanies her father to visit her family in Mexico. The episode features a Running Gag where Betty tries to say something in Spanish and her father informs her that she just said something embarrassing: "You just said you ate your niece." "You just told them you're pregnant." The funniest part is that what she says are actual, fairly common mistakes among new Spanish speakers.
  • Veep: In the Season 2 episode when the Vice President and her entourage visit Finland, Gary keeps introducing himself to people in Finnish as Selina's "bagman." Except it turns out that he's actually calling himself something vaguely like "man bag" — in other words, a scrotum. He's not happy when he's told this.
  • An episode of Welcome Back, Kotter reveals that Arnold Horshack's last name translates into "the cattle are dying."
  • Not an intentional hovercrafting, but in The Wonder Years, Kevin Arnold is sitting in French class daydreaming about a girl he has a crush on. In the fantasy, his love interest spouts off a whole bunch of eloquent, romantic French to Kevin. To which he can only reply 'Do you want some butter?'
    Adult Kevin: Hey! It was the only thing I knew how to say in French!

    I will not buy these Newspaper Comics. It is scratched 
  • In Bloom County, Oliver and Milo hack into Pravda and attempt to change the headline to "Gorbachev preaches disarmament! Total! Unilateral!" Somehow, the altered headline ends up reading "Gorbachev sings tractors! Turnip! Buttocks!"
  • Candorville: Lemont does this in...let's call it grunt-speak.
  • In Doonesbury's take on the USA for Africa "We Are the World" recording sessions, Stevie Wonder asks Quincy Jones if they can sing "milleloo shalanga" during the fills after the chorus, explaining that it's a Swahili phrase he once heard. Jones asks the Ethopian observer if it would be offensive to Ethiopians, and the observer says no, so they begin singing it. However the observer (outside the frame) adds "It's not a very nice thing to say about your own sister, though."
    • This all actually happened up till the punchline. In reality, it was innocuous, but they chose not to sing it because Ethiopians don't speak Swahili.
  • Garfield:
    • The May 17, 2017 strip has Jon prove to Garfield that he can speak dog by barking at Odie. Garfield remarks that Jon just said "My elbow is a potato".
    • In ''the April 24, 2019 strip, the chained dog tries to learn cat language, and demonstrates what he learned so far to Garfield. Garfield's response: "You just asked for directions to the pipe wrench."
  • In The Far Side, an alien misreads a dictionary and accidentally says "Take me to your stove."
  • When Hägar the Horrible tries to order food in a restaurant in French, he ends up being served a living octopus with an aside of a herd of goats, a woman on stilts pouring something on his head from a jug, and a man playing a horn.
  • In Over the Hedge, Verne tries to learn to speak Dude, in which complex sentences can be conveyed just by pronouncing "dude" the right way. He never comes close.

    My Podcasts are full of eels. 
  • Dice Funk: Anne can speak a number of different languages, however her intelligence (or lack of) tends to get in the way.
  • Mission to Zyxx has in-universe language Juntowa, which consists entirely of tonal variations on the word "Juntowa". Non-native speakers who attempt it inevitably enrage native speakers with their rudeness, though it's never clear what statement they're actually making.

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

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

    Drop your Tabletop Games, Sir William. I can not wait 'til lunch time. 
  • GURPS Japan has a section explaining the problems foreigners can run into while attempting to speak Japanese, including how a few slight variations in tone and pronunciation can change "I want carrots and vegetables for dinner" into "My sister owns a demon who eats spies."
  • When discussing Twitchtalk in Paranoia, this trope is referenced by name.

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

    My Video Games are full of eels 
  • A rare serious example comes from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney in case 3. A Borginian witness is trying to testify. She says that she witnessed the crime through a "small window," but the only window at the scene of the crime is soundproof and was closed at the time of the murder. However, we find out later that she's talking about a vent. She had been crawling through the ventilation system for a magic trick.
  • Doom: In the text file for "Nessus" (one of the levels from the Master Levels of Doom pack), the storyline contains this tidbit:
    Virgil greets the Minotaur using phrases from an out-of-date "Passport to Demonese" by Charles Berlitz. Enraged at having been asked to remove his panties, the Minotaur falls upon the ground and throws a conniption fit.
  • Funky Fantasy IV, a Rom Hack of Final Fantasy IV where the entire script was translated by Google Translate. The script came out surprisingly grammatical... and utterly nonsensical.
    Have you ever had a history of mist abuse? There is a lily because there is a lid. The enema is saying that you should not wear a basketball.
  • During a boss fight in Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure, a character tries to translate for The Unintelligible, and this comes up almost by name.
    "Your boot is full of eels?"
  • HK droids from Knights of the Old Republic do this intentionally when disguised as protocol droids. If we are to believe HK-47, the results are never pretty. There's a theory that HK-47 deliberately tries to disrupt talks to start a shoot-out.
    HK-47: Translation: 98% probability that members of the miniature organic's tribe are being held by Sand People, master. Doubtless he wishes assistance.
    Player: And the other two percent?
    HK-47: Translation: 2% probability that the miniature organic is simply looking for trouble and needs to be blasted. That may be wishful thinking on my part, master.
  • The plot of Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) kicks off when Larry tries to hit on a Spanish-speaking woman with rather poor Spanish resulting in nonsensical phrases... that just happen to be the Spy Speak sign/countersign his Identical Stranger was supposed to use, leaving him with a microfilm containing state secrets and KGB agents on his tail. Larry's Spanish actually makes even less sense than the subtitles would have you believe, to the point of often not even containing real words. It seems the writers share his problem. They were, in many cases, VERY OBVIOUSLY not real words, and just adding another level of silliness for the player.
  • Early on in the Gameboy Color version of Magi-Nation, you are approached by one of the natives of the Moonlands who speaks like this. Evidently, all people in this world speak in perfect English, just with the meanings of all of their words mixed around. Through a sort of 'translation artifact', you are able to understand the natives perfectly.
  • In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, an early mission to capture a Russian soldier who speaks English has said soldier teaching one of his comrades an English phrase that (he claims) instills friendship among people: "I spent last night with your girlfriend."
  • In Minecraft, the in-game text can be translated into almost any language. The languages are named only in that language (Spanish is Espanol, etc.), and only in that language's alphabet. The languages are also listed in alphabetical order of said names. This is where the problem comes in: The Hebrew word for Hebrew transliterates as "Ivrit." However, Hebrew is listed under "H" in the list, and it instead says "Anglit," which, besides not starting with "H," is the Hebrew word for English.
  • In the Nancy Drew PC game The Captive Curse, Nancy and her boyfriend Ned are talking about how to make his life more interesting compared to hers (which is naturally filled with mysteries). We never find out what he said.
    Ned: My best anecdote from this last year is the time I accidentally said something horrible in Italian to the waiter at the pasta place.
    Nancy: Yeah, what you said was pretty unforgivable.
  • Looker from Pokémon. In most of his appearances, he's a Funny Foreigner who speaks broken Japanese (or English in some cases.) Pokémon X and Y shows he's from Kalos and speaks French fluently, but when a Kanto woman comes in, Looker mistranslates her. He thinks she's talking about tea when she's really saying her Pokemon have been kidnapped.
  • Referenced in one of the Portal 2 ARG mp3s in a "Language Learning Laboratory" tape for learning Spanish. Most of the phrases used are about potatoes, and range from odd to strange. "My hovercraft is full of potatoes" is one of the phrases.
  • Quest for Glory II allows the player to talk to a griffin, but the griffin only answers in squawks, which are then poorly translated.
    If your translation is correct, that was "May a sleepy hippopotamus lie down on your house keys," but you're not sure. Unfortunately, your fluency in Griffin-speak is too low.
  • Ratchet & Clank has the Tyhrraguise in the third game, Up Your Arsenal, which is a disguise that has to be used to infiltrate the enemy base. While wearing the Tyhrraguise costume, making a mistake will create humorous examples while causing Ratchet to facepalm, such as:
    Ratchet: Your sister is a squishy lover.
    Ratchet: Would you like to buy a pre-owned crotchitizer?
  • When Tails attempts to translate Yacker's language in Sonic Colors, it ends up invoking this trope.
    Tails: Okay, he said his name is 'Talks-a-lot' and he's from a faraway soda and where flowers water them with dances. (Note that he did actually say "and where," that wasn't a typo.)
  • In Star Control, everyone has universal Translator Microbes, but they still occasionally mess up. This is most obvious with the Orz ("I have anticipation and then what? Better *parties* in *the middle* to be sure."), but Fwiffo also trips over an English idiom: "The Ilwrath were meant to be the most rigid crest... er, the most unyielding flipper?... ah, yes, the BACKBONE of the Earthguard forces.."
  • Referencing the Monty Python example, World of Warcraft has an "Orcish / Common Dictionary" and "Common / Orcish Dictionary" which translate "KEK" and "BUR" (LOL) as "An aggressively passionate mating call."
  • Able to be invoked by the player in Jurassic Park: The Game as Jess to a delirious Vasquez; you pick the options you think are correct, then see if they work. Luckily, it's easy if you happen to know Spanish.
  • In Criminal Case: City of Romance, Carrie tries to say "merci beaucoup" to a baker, but ends up saying "beau cul" instead, which means "nice butt".
  • Played straight in VA-11 HALL-A, when Alma asks if Jill knows any French, she reeplies "Mon aeroglisseur est plain d'anguilles." Being asked what does it mean, Jill admits that she has no clue.

    I will not buy these Webcomics. They are scratched. 
  • One Achewood strip involves Ray attempting to learn German from pornography. The results are... interesting.
  • In Daisy Owl, at one point Steve is introduced to his long-lost family. His inability to speak Bear makes it seem like he's choking.
  • Used in this Darths & Droids strip, with the exact same line.
  • Dominic Deegan:
    • The main character's father Donovan is hilariously inept with the orcish language; while he presumably thinks he's speaking greetings and profound things, he's really spouting nonsense, such as "My landmass erupts with kittens." He also has a very fancy title:
      Donovan: What's so funny? Is "bringer of peace and joy" laughable?
      Melna: No... but that's not what "Kulka Sheendo Dak" means. That's "Kilka Shiendo Dak."
      Donovan: Then what does my orc name mean?
      Melna: Um... it means "Little Pink Man In Pink."
      Donovan: They lied to me.
    • Later:
      "Okay, say 'Hello, my name is Donovan Deegan' in Orcish."
      "'Fruit. My name is Little Pink Man Who Wears Pink.'"
    • Despite having fun at his expense, the orcs are very respectful of "Uncle Pinky."
    • An orc has been introduced with the same problem, but speaking Callanian. Apparently he learned from Donovan. The orc in question was under the impression that the Callanian phrase for "hello" was "Be afraid! I am very dangerous and I am going to kill you!"
    • As it turns out, Donovan's been faking it the whole time. Everyone is simply gobsmacked when he recites an orcish saying perfectly. And why has he been faking it for twenty years?
      Donovan: I'm a bard. Why do I do anything? Because it's funny.
  • Kyo'nne of Drowtales claims that she can speak Halme (the local human dialect) and teaches a few lines to Vaelia when she has to sneak into a Halme settlement, where it's then shown that this is the case with her. It somewhat makes sense in that she was trying to have her say she was coming to get cheese, but came out as "I am woman of cheese."
  • In Girls with Slingshots, Chris starts learning American Sign Language so he can communicate with his new girlfriend Melody other than by texting. In one strip she signs by cupping her hand into a "c" and motioning from throat to stomach. He blushes and begins to take off his shirt. Then, noticing her blushing as well, he says, "Oh wait, that means you're hungry," to which she signs "Yes yes yes." Although the joke is clear on its own from both their reactions, the specific mistake Chris made is that making the cupped-hand throat-to-stomach motion once means "I'm hungry," whereas doing it repeatedly means "I'm horny."
    • Earlier example:
      Paula: Hi, my name is Paula and I'll be translating for the bride's sister this evening. Maureen, Jameson, to see you two together makes me nauseous. May your love and hamburger live on a Dutchman. You both look so drunk! (beat) I sincerely apologize for hiring the cheapest translator I could- HEY!
  • Grrl Power has Innocent Aliens come to Earth to tour, using a GlibGlorb to English translator that even name drops this trope. Their spoken English, while somewhat lacking in full, is nowhere near as bad.
  • In this The Order of the Stick strip that reveals Tarquin knows Drow sign language, he mentions one time, he mixed up the sign for "drinking fountain."
    Tarquin: Well, suffice to say that it ended up as a fine evening for everyone.
  • Panthera gives us Onca's interest in mango fucking and boiling flowers. She's only been practicing the language for a few hours at best.
  • A real-life version referenced in Scandinavia and the World: According to the Danish writer, the Danish phrase "That's a major downer" can, if not pronounced carefully, come out as "That's the master negro." She had fun with this in a strip about Obama visiting Copenhagen.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, Torg and his Portuguese-speaking alternative universe counterpart try to communicate using a translation book. At first, there's an inverted version where Torg interprets Portuguese-Torg's phrases as weird non sequiturs (without noticing anything odd about it). Then they actually try to speak each others' languages with the help of the book:
    Torg: No, I'm afraid I don't have any raspberry-swirl ice cream... or as you would say: 'Às segundas-feiras sou um sapato!' (On Mondays I am a shoe)
    Alt-Torg: [angrily swipes the book to himself and flips through it] Are.... you... a... a... embezzle?
    Torg: Embezzle? Embezzle means to steal from a company or boss! I'm a freelance web designer, so I don't have a boss! Why?
    Bun-bun: The word is pronounced 'imbecile'.
    Alt-Torg: Ahh!
  • In one Something*Positive strip during Gwen Stefani's height of fame, after citing her cynical usage of Japanese fashion and girls, the characters speculated that the Harajuku girls were teaching her how to say she has a vile venereal disease in the guise of how to order food in Japanese as payback.
  • In Sturgeon's Law, Jenn tries out the Japanese she learned from anime when checking into a hotel, despite the concierge's being fluent in English.
  • Tranquility Base has this as the official translator nanode update confirmation (ie, it's the sentence you're supposed to say after learning the local language).
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: A Finnish character with a few smatterings of Swedish tries to write "Be well" in a letter intended for a Swede. The phrase is "Voi hyvin" in Finnish, but "voi" also means "butter." He ends up writing that butter is good instead of wishing the letter's recipient well.

    Your Web Original has beautiful thighs 
  • Babelfish. Type anything reasonable and cycle it through five or so languages, being sure to include at least one Asian language. (Or automate the process here.) Retranslate into your native language of choice. Hilarity Ensues.
    • Here's an example; typing in My Hovercraft is Full of Eels, and translating it 35 times, will "translate" it as "Helicopters in Anguilla."
  • This is the point of Bad Translator, which takes any sentence and completely mangles its meaning.
  • In one of the Charlie the Unicorn animations, the pink and the blue Unicorn suddenly start speaking Russian, literally saying "My hovercraft is full of eels."
  • Eugene Mirman — Secret agent: "Je m'appelle Eugene. Mon fromage est rouge. Shhhhh. Ma casa est ta voiture." ("My name is Eugene. My cheese is red. Shhhhh. My house is your car."). Later supplemented by some vocalisations that are translated only as "Hna ha hun ha?"
  • FrenchCATastrophie had a man try to speak French to Guy, a French cat who only meows in French.
    Kris: (In English) Yes, we will because (in French) my legs are short and I have no knees.
    Guy: I fear for your mind.
  • During a roleplaying game in The Gamers Live, Klepty (Cass's character) attempts to speak to some goblins in their native language. According to Gary's translations, he actually says, "Wow, aren't my pants shiny?" and "It itches down there."
  • How To Be: German pretends to translate several sentences into German, but you'd be best advised not use them; "Walk the dog!" gets turned as "Walk the kraken!" "You have beautiful eyes!" as "You have killer boobs!" And "This party is awesome!" as "The party is always right!"
  • In I'm a Marvel... And I'm a DC, having the languages of Spanish and Portuguese zapped into his brain, Green Goblin threatens the Joker with a foreign phrase that even he doesn't understand. It translates into "What a nice dress. May I try it on?"
  • In the Loose Ends episode "Wailing for Whales", resident Cloud Cuckoo Lander Dez spends a little while hoping to hear a dolphin's clicking noises, attempting to call them with her own. A dolphin eventually leans onto the boat to chastise Dez for speaking gibberish. She gleefully responds with more gibberish in the Wingdings 2 font.
    Dez: &^O3EDCHwO$HorseFolder
  • Not Always Right:
  • The Onion: "Area Man unsure if Southerner is looking for 'Pawn Shop' or 'Porn Shop.'" On Fox News, Niel Cavuto made that mistake completely seriously.
  • In the RiffTrax of Iron Man, dialog with the Ten Rings is translated as "My tomato hurts," "Will you lick my hamster," "My ear hair is for sale," and "Sign my picture of Lauren Conrad."
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Donut is revealed at the end of Season 3 to be able to speak some Spanish. In Season 4, it's revealed that it was only a couple years of high school Spanish, and he apparently wasn't a great student:
      Donut: "¡Yo comio un lapiz!" ("I ate a pencil!")
    • Lopez, the Red Team's robot, can only speak Spanish. Thing is, none of Rooster Teeth's staff actually know Spanish, so all of Lopez's lines are just fed through Babelfish. The results can be... odd for Spanish speakers. On top of that, voice actor Burnie Burns apparently often slipped into a faux-French accent when trying to deliver the lines, which they referenced in a non-canon joke episode by having Lopez inexplicably start speaking French.
    • O'Malley asks Lopez how to instruct his Spanish-speaking robot army to "hurry up." Lopez instead tricks him into telling them that he likes to sniff his own butt, among other things:
      O'Malley: "¡Soy un pendejo morado y me gusta tomar aceite!" ("I am a purple asshole and like to drink motor oil!")... "That was rather long to mean 'hurry up'."
      Lopez: "Es una lengua muy poetica." ("It's a very poetic language.")
  • On this episode of Sailor Moon Abridged by megami33, it's heavily used by the professional ice skaters. While actually many of the German sentences they say make sense — despite having a terribly wrong pronunciation — some don't. In one scene, the male skater says "Wollen sie Geschlecht mit mir haben?" which actually means "Do you wanna have sex (= gender) with me?" It's quite obvious that the word to be used should be Sex or (rather formally) Geschlechtsverkehr, either of which would mean sexual act.
  • Rob says this verbatim (My Hovercraft is Full of Eeels) in episode four of Unforgotten Realms (only in the "classic" series and not the new one) when Mike asks what he was saying in Wolf-Language. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • YouTube's automatic captions feature frequently has this effect, especially when it makes a wrong guess as to what language is being spoken. Then having it translate what it comes up with into your own language just makes things worse. For example, in this Lucky Star clip, it thinks that the characters are speaking Italian instead of Japanese.

    I will not buy this Western Animation. It is scratched 
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Wicked," Darwin tries to lambaste Mrs. Robinson while imitating her unintelligible "meh meh meh" speak. From her perspective, it comes out as "Three times did the cheese move sideways to Switzerland by radio. But, she never licked that parking permit."
  • In the American Dragon: Jake Long episode "Fu Dog Takes A Walk," despite being a talking dog, Fu Dog can't speak dog, so he has to rely on an English/Dog dictionary. His attempt to ask other dogs caught by a dog catcher "What are you in for?" ended up being "My pants taste like salami."
    Fu Dog: "I think my canine-ese is a little rusty."
  • While most extraterrestrials on the show speak perfect English (though sometimes in strange intonations, like the Mooninites or Austrian accents, like Oglethorpe the Plutonian), in Aqua Teen Hunger Force in the episode "Super Spore," a mouthless alien entity (later revealed to be named Travis of the Cosmos) uses a proboscis to hijack Shake's body to speak. His native language is bastardized Japanese (the only English word he says through Shake is "401k"), but in the episode he's learning English from tapes that Carl has. He then begins spouting phrases like "Shut up bitch! I need mustache ride for me lawyer." Frylock's Japanese isn't any better, however:
    Frylock: "Slippery breath inside banjo melted. Runny smoky."
    Travis: "Uh, sure. Okay."
    Frylock: "Thank you. Uh, that is, suck it. Suck it dry."
  • The second installment of the post-Soviet Russian Captain Pronin cartoons runs into this — it's mostly set in America, and has Pronin fighting the Mafia, and so we get such lines as "This is your money. Give me a smoking!"
  • In one episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Peter Mayhew does his "famous Chewbacca growl" after the audience insists... only to have an alien respond with "Whaa? Nobody talks that way about my momma!" Hilarity ensues.
  • From the Darkstalkers cartoon: "All hail the imperial... Pudding! There are lizards in my pants!" This is spoken by Anakaris, a resurrected pharaoh mummy, who even says it with an Irish accent as he ascends in to the sky.
  • When Fang attempts to speak monkey while on an island of monkeys who look like her in Dave the Barbarian:
    Fang: "Which point me you to water in pants?"
  • In the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Got Your Goat," Dee-Dee and Dexter travel to the jungles of Central America searching for the Chupacabra. They encounter some angry locals who accuse them of being poachers, but Dee-Dee thinks they're asking if she and Dexter are thirsty. She tries to respond yes, and ends up babbling "I enjoy hamburgers and trousers, but I prefer green balloons!" in Spanish.
  • In "Bring Me The Head of Earthworm Jim," Jim, trying to get reservations at a fancy restaurant, claims to be the king of Spain and says some Spanish as proof.
    Jim: Yo soy el rey de... Esponja.note 
    Peter Puppy: Jim, you just told him you're the king of sponge.
  • The mom from Eek! The Cat is often shown repeating absurd phrases from language learning tapes.
    Mom: Your axe hand is swift, stewardess.
  • Parodied in The Fairly OddParents!. Cosmo and Wanda are learning Spanish in Timmy's school. After learning how to say "Where is the stinky cheese", Cosmo responds with a Spanish phrase. Wanda points out the phrase means "I have a hog in my pants" and Cosmo produces a hog from his pants earning them extra credit.
  • In Futurama:
    • Zapp tries to thank some Carcarons in their native tongue, unfortunately it translates to, "I'd like to spank your sister with a slice of bologna" which of course they take offense to. Kif also mentions that the last time he tried this it ended with a Mexican restaurant declaring war on them.
    Kif: It's the Battle of Paco's Tacos all over again!
    • In another episode, the Earth is invaded by an armada from an alien species that have no ears and communicate by dancing. Fry and Bender try to negotiate with the aliens by doing a "dance of peace," but their dancing ends up translating to "We will kill you and dishonor your widows by making them gather wood."
  • In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2021), Duncan fancies himself as a linguist, but it turns out his research is very surface-level. While he has a passing understanding of Trollan, he gets in trouble twice in Avion when he learns their language is more contextual than he realized.
  • In an episode of Garfield and Friends, Jon tries to order in French and gets served a pair of soft boiled athletic shoes. In another episode he ends up ordering the name of the chef. Both times he has to deal with French Jerk waiters.
  • In one episode of James Bond Jr., the snotty rich kid takes a girl to a restaurant and orders a meal in French. On his first attempt he orders a live lobster. When the focus returns to him after cutting to Bond's adventures for a while, he's finally managed to order something edible in French — a cheese sandwich.
  • Peggy from King of the Hill does this a few times in Spanish, like thinking "embarazada" (the Spanish word for "pregnant") is the Spanish word for "embarrassed," among others. The sad thing is, she's a substitute teacher who thinks her best subject is Spanish. It becomes a major plot point in "Lupé's Revenge". Peggy leads a class trip to Mexico and accidentally brings a Mexican girl home with her. When she brings the girl home, Peggy is arrested and charged with kidnapping. Hank finally allows Peggy to take the stand in her own defense, and her Spanish is so terrible that the court realizes it must have been a horrible misunderstanding.
    Judge: No es culpable (Not guilty).
    Peggy: Oh, my god, I'm going to jail!
  • In The Lion Guard episode "Can't Wait to be Queen," Simba has to give a tribute to his deceased elephant friend in Elephantese, which he has trouble speaking. When he attempts to say that his friend was a good elephant, he instead says "He had poop on him" by accident. Thankfully, he doesn't get into trouble as the elephants simply laugh, note that the deceased did frequently have poop on him, and thank Simba for lightening the mood.
  • Men in Black: The Series:
    • In "The Undercover Syndrome," Agent J is required to learn some of an alien language to effectively masquerade as a member of that species, and puts too much stress on a single syllable, causing nearby aliens to laugh. Agent K informs him that he just turned "Hello" into "Hello, Sailor!"
    • It happens with aliens, as seen with the Emperor Worm when he visits Earth in "The Mine, Mine, Mine Syndrome;" he claims to have learned English from "Books on tapeworm," and greets humans with things like, "Greetings from my bottom!" The only phrase of English he can speak properly is "I am large and in charge."
  • In the Mighty Max episode "Beetlemania," Max attempts to calm a Peruvian woman down by talking to her in Spanish. Bea giggles and informs Max that he just said "Don't cry. We'll eat your feet."
  • Combined with Accidental Unfortunate Gesture in The Owl House when King attempts to used the Bug Demon dance language. We aren't given a translation of what he said, but whatever it was deeply offended Hooty.
  • In an episode of Pinky and the Brain, Brain tries to take over the world with an army of sea lions since he learned their language. Pinky tries speaking it too, but his phrases translate to, "Fetch me a big clown hat," a ghost story, "There's a school of overweight fish swimming near by" and "I'm a big billy goat so you'd better beat it sister."
  • The Powerpuff Girls (1998): Near the end of "Stray Bullet", Blossom and Buttercup's attempt at speaking Squirrel ends up gibberish:
    "Ouch! The broccoli is on the roof."
    "Happy to you, log pony."
  • ReBoot: In the episode "Mousetrap" during the celebration party, Matrix accidentally pulls out his gun out of reflex and almost shoots Ray, so two of the Web Riders (whose language consists of high-pitched beeps) try to come at him. Ray tries to talk in their language, but the subtitles reveal he says "Handbag, teakeetle, barbeque". One of the Riders is naturally confused, but the other seems to catch the gist that he was trying to say they should calm down.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • When Mystery, Inc. go to Italy, Fred continually manages to misread his perfectly legitimate phrasebook, causing him to do things like requesting to rent a car that can outrace a flying hamster and ordering a potted plant at a restaurant.
    • In an episode in Greece, he misread again when trying to figure out what a man who was chasing them was shouting. (Unfortunately, the phrasebook had "The Greek gods shall bring chaos into your lives!" right under "I'm trying to return your purse!" ). Later, he tries to thank a shaman for his sage advice. It ends up being, "Thanks for your wise words of ostrich."
    • In an episode in France, Fred hails a taxi and tries to tell the driver to follow a car they are chasing in French. He ends up telling the driver that "a monkey took [his] potato."
    • In Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico, Fred's Spanish speaking leaves something to be desired, though he usually gets most words right. Unfortunately, the few he gets wrong are enough to turn the sentence into gibberish (e.g., "thank you for your wise words of ostrich"). Ironically, he's much more well-versed in Spanish grammar, as he manages to figure out a major clue from a threat written in Spanish containing an error a native wouldn't have made, meaning that their culprit likely doesn't speak Spanish.
  • The Secret Saturdays: In "Into the Mouth of Darkness," Drew is less than impressed by Doc's grasp of Arabic as he attempts to apologize to a local for destroying his boat:
    Drew: "You do realize that you just promised to buy him new butter?"
  • The Simpsons
    • In "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington," when Krusty is running for Congress, he adresses a gathering of Hispanic voters in Spanish, only for Bumblebee Man to tell him that he just promised to vomit on their mother's grave. Krusty now understands why his maid left.
    • In "Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk," the German Horst tries to arrange a private meeting with Homer but he keeps nervously refusing. Horst thinks that it's because his English is poor, but in reality it's because Homer doesn't want to be outed as a terrible employee.
    Horst: Homer, could we have a word with you?
    Homer: (nervously) No.
    Horst: I must have phrased that badly. My English is, how you say, inelegant. I meant to say, may we have a brief, friendly chat?
    Homer: Nooo!
    Horst: Once again I have failed. (takes out a German-English dictionary) We request the pleasure of your company for a free exchange of ideas.
    Homer: NOOOOOO! (runs out of the room)
    • The season 24 episode "To Cur With Love," which aired just weeks before the 2012 US election, ended with a brief segment of Mr. Burns lecturing the viewers about what would happen if the republicans lost. Through it Smithers keeps telling him that everything he's saying is making it worse, so he tries to appeal to the Latino voters with the following:
      Mr. Burns: Well, let me just say this. Marco Rubio es un panuelo rosa.
      Smithers: I'm afraid you just made things even worse.
      Burns: How? Why?
      Smithers: You just said Marco Rubio is a pink handkerchief.
      Burns: This public service announcement is over! Execute the cameraman.
  • While Harry Osborn is showing a female foreign exchange student around his campus in Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, as a sign of farewell, he says that "Until we meet again, your beauty will cough in my raincoat."
  • Total Drama Pahkitew Island: Chris attempts to give the season's teams an Awesome Mc Cool Name in Cree. One of the contestants, Sky, is actually Cree, and informs him that what he thought was "Soaring Eagles" and "Ferocious Tigers" is actually "Floating Salmon" and "Confused Bears".
  • Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race: During one of Dwayne's many attempts to repeat the phrase "Please give me my next travel tip" in Icelandic to the tip giver in "Bjorken Telephone", he somehow ends up saying "Please give me my next travel asshole". No wonder he got slapped.
  • Mark's early attempts at speaking manbird in Ugly Americans, as it's an extremely tonal language consisting almost entirely of variations on "Suck my balls!"
  • From The Weekenders: Whenever Tish's mother tries to say an English phrase, it comes out with all similar-sounding words instead, leaving the three non-Tish protagonists to mull over what she meant before Tish "translates."
  • There's an episode of What's with Andy? where Andy pretends to be his cousin from Quebec. In order to prove it, Lori asks him to say "You just won the Stanley Cup" in French; instead, he says "Your ears are as big as the Stanley Cup."
  • Zach from Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? can speak several languages with varying amounts of fluency. In one episode he tries to ask some men a question in Chinese. Zach is uncertain what he said: "I either asked for directions or said they wash ugly camels."

Real Life Examples:

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

  • Bill Clinton was once giving a speech to a Chinese crowd. He opened by saying "hello" in Chinese, ni(2) hao(3) [你好]. Unfortunately, he pronounced it ni(4) hao(4)[你嚎], coming up with "you are barking." Nobody had the heart to correct him.
  • While not exactly fitting the trope as he wasn't trying to speak Chinese at all, American President Truman once addressed Chiang Kai-Shek as "Mr. Shek" (In Asian languages the last name goes first. In the US he would be named "Mr. Kai Shek Chiang")
  • Linguist David Moser illustrates this trope with an anecdote about practicing his Chinese with some Chinese friends. "I want to go to sleep now," due to tiredness and bad intonation, became "I stand by where the elephant urinates."
  • Another joke also illustrates this, where a speaker is announcing a plentiful harvest. First he tries to say the food is enough [for everyone] to eat (gòu chi le)[食物够吃了], but due to dialectal differences, he says that the food was eaten by dogs (gǒu chi le)[食物狗吃了]. Then he tries to say "everybody go eat a big bowl [of food]" (da4 jia1 dou1 shi3 ge da4 wan3 ba) [大家都使个大碗吧] but ends up saying "everybody here is a big dumb bastard" (da4 jia1 dou1 shi4 ge da4 wang2 ba1) [大家都是个大王八].
  • This also applies to idioms and synonyms; cue running joke in certain circles where a young man who has recently returned to China eats a meal with relatives he hasn't seen in decades. At the end of the meal, he stands up and says "Wo man le" [我满了] It literally means "I'm full," but full as in physically filled, generally used for inanimate objects. (The proper way to say it is "Wo bao le." [我饱了])
  • Before an official translation occurred, Chinese venders chose random ideographs which pronounced phonetically sounded more or less like the name of Coca Cola but resulted in gems like "Bite the Wax Tadpole" and "female horse dipped in wax" (which does sound like something you might encounter in traditional Chinese medicine). The official Chinese name for Coca-Cola now doesn't sound exactly like "Coca-Cola,"note  but it has the advantage of meaning "tasty and fun."note 
  • Another urban legend tells of how, after mistranslating the phrase "finger lickin' good," KFC ended up advertising its chicken as resulting in the eater biting his own fingers off.
  • A third urban legend tells of Pepsi-Cola accidentally translating their slogan, "Come alive! You're the Pepsi Generation!" as "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave." Got a Shout-Out in Mass Effect 2 where a vending machine says "Tupari! Brings your ancestors back from the grave!"
  • Many Mandarin Chinese speakers not yet familiar with the language may make a mistake when ordering a fried egg. The proper name is "jian dan" [煎蛋]. However, as the word for "deep-fry" is "zha" [炸], the customer may inadvertently order "zha dan" [炸蛋], or a "bomb" [炸弹]. Which, in a food-related context, is one way to refer to Scotch eggs.
  • The Chinese ideogram for the concept of "dry" or "dried" [干] also has a less polite slang meaning and is sometimes mistranslated into English as "fuck." "Gan1" is "dry", while "gan4" is "to do"—with all the implications that may carry in English being equally applicable in Chinese, allowing for context-derived meanings ranging from the innocuous to sexual intercourse, and even "do" as in "done in/killed".
  • Former Canadian politician Jack Layton (RIP) told a story about having dinner with his future mother-in-law, who came from Hong Kong. He tried to say, "Thank you for the good food," in Cantonese, but he used the wrong tone and accidentally said, "Thank you for the good sex." Fortunately, his future mother-in-law was amused rather than offended.
  • A joke about the census; the census worker asked how many people are there. The person replied with shi4 yi1 kou3 ren2 (one person) [是一口人], but the worker thought he/she said shi2 yi1 kou3 ren2 (11)[十一口人]. The person tries to tell them that it's just one person [就是一口人], but the results are the worker being surprised. Jiù shì yī [就是一] was mistranslated to 91 [九十一] persons in the household.
  • American clothing and tattoos with Chinese and Japanese characters that are utter nonsense. There's a blog dedicated to pointing those out.
  • Careless use of any Pinyin based input programs for Chinese can cause this problem as well, since tone marks are often omitted during input. Unlike most examples above, even native speakers are not immune to this phenomenon, leading to mockery by Grammar Nazis.
  • Cantonese has quite a few examples as well.
    • "Ngo5 tou5 ngo6" means "I am hungry". "Ngo5 tou5 o1", on the other hand, means "I have explosive diarrhea". It's not helped by the fact that some people pronounce "o1" as "ngo(h)1".
    • It is entirely possible to accidentally swear when learning to count to ten. (Seven - tsat - and nine - gau - are differentiated from two certain swear words by tone only).
  • Mamenchisaurus is a massive sauropod dinosaur found in China in the Late Jurassic. The paleontologist who first described it intended to name it for the place it was found. Unfortunately, he made a mistake and confused Mǎmíngxī (horse-neighing brook) for Mǎménxī (horse-gate brook), thus giving the animal the name "horse-gate brook lizard." Unfortunately for him, by the time the error was discovered, the name had already been officially submitted and thus couldn't be changed.

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

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

English is an absolutely horrible language to learn due to it effectively being a hybrid Germanic-Romance-Celtic language with weird exceptions to its own grammatical rules and inconsistent pronunciation rules, so it's no surprise that non-native speakers are particularly likely to make mistakes in this language, especially if their mother tongue doesn't use the Latin alphabet.
  • Gratuitous English, or "Engrish", is pretty much the epitome of this trope. Many of the problems stem from the fact that, in Japan, English looks cool and interesting, so fashion designers tend to use random English words for the sake of fashion. In those cases, it's common to use curse words and other dirty phrases. Some clothing tends to be plastered with the word "fuck" and it's seen as nothing, and one infamous t-shirt had the phrase "Spread Beaver, exposing the vaginal area." One ad for Bubble Tea says "The joy of sucking on balls" (although it's entirely possible they knew full well the double meaning). In China, this is common on public buildings. Some of these are relatively accurate but antiquated translations that have taken on some connotations, such as "flesh" in place of "meat" and "cock" instead of "chicken"; others might say things like "Carefully Fall Down," "Baby on Road," or "Don't Touch Yourself, Please Let Us Help You." A particularly bad one was during the Olympics where a Korean shop's attempt at English said "Server Translator Error." Engrish can be found all throughout Asia, South America, and even Europe. This is part of the problem with Backstroke of the West and its infamous "Do Not Want" — while it's a "Blind Idiot" Translation to be sure, many of the errors can be traced back to this trope.
  • The English signage on the Taipei subway currently warn that in the event of a mechanical problem with the train, you should "defend yourself with what you can find." Not exactly the intended meaning...
  • A great example from a Japanese rent a car driving instructions book: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigour."
  • Place names in Beijing were all given English translations for the 2008 Olympics. Because of a combination of this and Funetik Aksent, one park named in honor of China's ethnic minorities got the ironic name of "Park of the Racists."
  • A dining hall in China was titled "Translate Server Error" on the above. Ouch.
  • "English As She Is Spoke," a famously So Bad, It's Good Portuguese-to-English phrase book, is believed to be a direct inspiration for the "Dirty Hungarian Phrase Book" sketch above. One of the authors wrote a perfectly competent and serviceable French-to-Portuguese phrase book. The other author, who didn't speak English or French, and without the permission of the first, took that phrase book, and using a French-to-English dictionary, produced a book that offers such English phrases as "He know ride horse," "Take out the live coals with the hand of the cat," "The walls have hearsay," "That pond it seems me many multiplied of fishes," and "It want to beat the iron during it is hot." The section "Idiotisms and Proverbs" features the immortal saying, "To craunch the marmoset." See The Other Wiki for more.
  • The infamous comments of Madam Ngo Dinh Nhu, describing the Buddhist self-immolations in South Vietnam as "barbecues," may be an example of this. According to historian Warren Carroll, Madame Nhu overheard American journalists using the word "barbecue" to describe the incidents, and, not being familiar with English and therefore, not realizing that the word was an Unusual Dysphemism, used it in a national broadcast, provoking worldwide outrage. (Although one must question the veracity of this explanation, given the other offensive things Madame Nhu had said, before and since.)
  • A student at the University of Pennsylvania had gone to a Hebrew-speaking high school. Apparently, the Hebrew word for water buffalo, behema, is slang for a thoughtless, rowdy person. And the sorority girls outside his dorm were being thoughtless and rowdy. So he poked his window out of his room and yelled, "Shut up, you water buffalo!" Unfortunately for him, the sorority girls in question were black and thought that he had called them some new racial slur - an understandable mistake, given that racist shitheads are fond of likening black people to non-human animals and non-Jewish American sorority girls are unlikely to be aware of Hebrew slang. Thus began one of the great tempests in teapots of the 1990s.
  • One American soldier in World War 1 wrote about issues with some of the British and French colonial troops who spoke English poorly or not at all: someone convinced some of them that the appropriate way to behave toward an officer was to chant "Damn Fool" at him.
  • During World War 2, an American airman was captured and placed in a prison camp with other captured airmen, many of whom were British. Trying to be friendly, they kept telling him to remain hopeful and "keep his pecker up." Evidently, for a while he was confused as to which part of his anatomy they were referring to.
  • The English idiom "on the <vehicle>" uses an atypical preposition (if this particular usage weren't so ubiquitous it would be confusing even to native English speakers ... George Carlin had a routine about "Let the daredevils ride on the plane, I'm riding in the plane"). When a native English speaker tries in good faith to do a word-for-word translation into any of several other languages it's fairly common for them to accidentally imply that something is on top of the vehicle instead of the intended meaning of inside it. Another source of preposition trouble is that the English preposition "on" can mean both "atop" (as in "the spoon was on the table") and "affixed to" (as in "the picture was on the wall"), where some other languages use distinct prepositions for these concepts.
  • In 2010, Russian Academy Of Science decided to create the English version of their website. It resulted in gems such as "Squirrel institute," "President of wounds," "Arm-medical institute," and so on.
  • During the mountain bike boom of the 1990s, Taiwanese bike component manufacturers would place ads in American bike magazines with slogans such as "The more wonderful than you can believe it" and "The best is always our chasing".
  • Swedish music producer and songwriter Max Martin is responsible for many, many chart-topping pop hits. However, English is not his first language, and he has made some notorious mistakes:
    • The Britney Spears song "...Baby One More Time," which he wrote, ends its chorus with the line "Hit Me Baby One More Time." It's was supposed to have meant something like "hit me up one more time," but caused controversy because, well, it sounds like she's either asking someone to strike her or have sex with her.
    • The Backstreet Boys song "I Want It That Way" ended up with Word Salad Lyrics because of this. There was a version that made more sense, but they decided that the nonsensical version sounded better and recorded and released it anyway.
  • The phrase "My postillion has been struck by lightning", while grammatically coherent, has often been used, even in the days it could have made sense, as an example of stupid, nonsensical phrases that make linguistic sense but are highly unlikely to be used outside a language learning context. This phrase remains so infamous that other phrases like it are actually called postillion sentences by language teachers.

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

  • The word "Tae" appears in many words and names in the Korean language, but in the Philippines (specifically, the dominant Tagalog local dialect), "tae" means "feces/shit." Initially, this was met by a fit of giggles among Filipinos, but ever since Korean Dramas bought more of Korean culture to the Philippines, the joke ran off its course.
  • In some Tagalog dialects, "kiki" is slang for "young woman's vagina" Unfortunately it is also a Japanese name, adding new, terrible meaning to things such as Kiki's Delivery Service
  • Conversely "puki" (pronounced pookie), is used a common English pet name, but is slang for "old woman's vagina."

  • One Canadian working abroad in France was flustered one day when she was trying to introduce a guest around her workplace, using the word "introduire" repeatedly as she made the introductions, which on the surface sounds correct. Unfortunately, the correct way to introduce someone is to "presenter" them, as in "may I present so-and-so." Introduire means literally "to insert." It also means to have anal sex with, in French slang.
  • The French words poisson (fish) and poison (a toxic substance) are close enough to be confused. The former is pronounced with unvoiced 's' (pwa-so*) while the latter with voiced 'z' (pwa-zo*). Poisson sans boisson, c’est poison! (Fish without drink — it's poison!)
  • The French noun baiser means "a kiss." However, the French verb baiser means "to fuck" (originally it meant "to kiss," but the euphemistic meaning gradually took over and became obscene rather than euphemistic). This has tripped up quite a few enthusiastic non-native speakers. In a quite hilarious case of Have a Gay Old Time, some older books have repeatedly translated "to kiss" as baiser rather than the modern embrasser. Suddenly, The Lord of the Rings became a lot more Ho Yay-ish to French audiences...
  • The French word meaning "preservative" is conservateur. The word préservatif means "condom." Hence, an old joke wherein the clueless American sees that the milk in a French supermarket is unrefrigerated and, in French, attempts to ask whether there are preservatives in said milk.
  • Asking to use the guillotine (also known as paper cutter) in a French office will get you some funny looks for obvious reasons. The correct word is massicot or massicotier after its inventor.
  • Plein or pleine means "full" when applied to objects, so a novice French speaker who has had enough to eat might say "Je suis pleine," accidentally announcing their pregnancy. However, that's a perfectly reasonable way of speaking in Québec, thanks to their relative isolation and proximity with English-speaking countries.
  • Another common one is to ask for une chambre, which is likely to raise a concierge's eyebrows when you're not a guest: chambre is a faux ami ("false friend") for room/chamber and translates to "bedroom," une salle is the French for a general room.
  • French dialects from different parts of the world frequently give different meanings to the same word. For example, in France, kids are usually called 'gosses', but that's a slang word for a man's jewels for someone from Québec. Thus, a phrase like "I give a kiss to my kids every night before going to bed" has a whole new meaning...

  • "Ich bin ein Berliner!" This famous line was spoken by John F. Kennedy to express solidarity with the people of Berlin during the Cold War. A common urban legend states that the real phrase should be "Ich bin Berliner," but with the indefinite article ein added, it became "I am a jelly donut" (Berliner being a type of donut originating in Berlin). The supposed error is similar to the English phrases, "I am Danish" vs. "I am a Danish." Which shows less than perfect understanding of German grammar, since in this context, the presence or absence of the indefinite article doesn't actually make that sort of difference. In either case, video recordings of the speech exist and the crowd clearly understands the phrase and takes it as it was meant.
    • "Ich bin ein Berliner" could be read as a reference to jelly donuts (but only if you wanted to deliberately misconstrue it). Saying "Ich bin Berliner" could not.
    • "Ich bin Berliner" translates to "I am a Berliner." "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a particular Berliner" or "I am one of many Berliners." It's also worth noting that the kind of jelly donut known as 'Berliner' in other parts of Germany is usually called 'Pfannkuchen' (literally pancake, and used in that sense elsewhere for extra confusion) in and around Berlin itself. For more detail, see this page on the Other Wiki.
  • In what may be an urban legend, a cautionary tale is told to GIs learning German. A young serviceman is in a German bar trying to pick up a lovely young lady. Trying his best to impress her, he says, "Ich möchte dich heute nackt sehen." He gets a drink in his face and spends the rest of the night alone and/or humiliated. What he was trying to say was, "Ich möchte dich heute Nacht sehen," or "I would like to see you tonight." What he said was, "I would like to see you naked today." (The "ch" in "Nacht" is the guttural sound of "loch" in Scottish English and Scots.) Note that the "ch" sound in "ich" is not the same sound as in "Nacht." (German speakers distinguish the two by referring to those sounds as "ach laut" ("oh sound") for the sound that was botched here and "ich laut" ("I sound") for the one that seems to have been been pulled off at least well enough to not sound like something else).
  • If a German speaker wanted to explain what crops their farmer father grew, they might say they grew 'mice' if they didn't know that Mais translates as corn (though maize would be correct, the listener was evidently not familiar with this crop).
  • This regularly occurs in English classes at German schools: In German, "prägnant" means "concise/to the point." Hence the German phrase "kurz und prägnant," which legions of students have translated to "short and pregnant." Pregnant in the sense of "expecting a child" is schwanger.
  • English speakers learning German often have trouble with the sounds spelled "ie" and "ei." In military language schools, you can count on at least one student in each class habitually confusing the verbs schießen (shoot) and scheißen (shit). Similarly, "Liebchen" is a term of endearment like "sweetheart," while "Leibchen" refers to an old-fashioned undershirt. The problem arises from the different spelling conventions of English and German: In German "ie" is always pronounced like English "ee" and "ei" like English "eye," while in English whether "ie" and "ei" are pronounced as "ee" or "eye" depends on the context (e. g. "fancied" vs. "tied" and "Keith" vs. "either" in British pronunciation), which also leads to frequent misspellings of German names and loanwords in English. For instance, it is not uncommon to see the spelling "weiner" for "wiener" — in German "Wiener" (pronounced "veener") means "Viennese," while "Weiner" (pronounced "viner") looks like "cryer," which is actually quite close to its English near-homophone, "whiner."
  • In the 1950s the British manufacturer of Coventry-Climax engines discovered the hard way that "Climax" in German has only one of its several English meanings...
  • German school books tend to have fun with this. As an example given, an English man orders a dry martini in a bar. The bartender gives him three martinis, because "dry" (which in German is "trocken") sounds like the German number "drei" (i.e. "three").
  • Southern Slavs often have fun with the German word "kurz" which means short. However, this is just one letter away (in spelling and phonetically) from the word "kurac" which means cock (and is often used the way fuck is used in English, with the same level of offensiveness). This is especially hilarious to young school goers as German is a often a mandatory subject in primary schools.
  • During both world wars, when the Germans were questioning possible English and American Spies, they would often ask a series of rapid fire questions and listen for the wrong answers. The English "Who What Where When and Why" corresponds to the German words "Wer, Was, Wo, Wann, und Warum." Both sides often confuse these words, so asking quick questions and demanding quick responses, often times with the interrogator intentionally mixing the words as well. This worked for detecting German spies on the Allied side as well. A native German speaker would be more likely to answer "Where are you?" with "I am Hans" rather than the correct "I am in the room."
  • In German, "das Gift" means "the poison."

  • During the Six-Day War, an Egyptian propaganda broadcaster made a small mistake in the plural form of "front" ("Hazitot"), and ended up announcing that "Our forces are advancing on all bras" ("Haziot"). He was considered a ripe source of amusement by the civilian population.
  • An advertisement in the New York Times for a jewellery store tried to write, in Hebrew, "Happy Chanukah." Unfortunately, it replaced each instance of the letter ח with the similar-looking letter ת... and all three words in the Hebrew phrase "Happy Chanukah" have a ח in them. As a result, the advertisement actually said "the tag of her earlobe that died."

  • In a March 2011 Marie Claire article about women moving overseas for their careers, an American who moved to India describes visiting a clothing store, trying to ask the young male employees if she could see a "lehenga (a type of traditional Indian outfit)," and accidentally using the word "linga (phallus)" instead.

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

  • In Ireland, laws have to be written in both Irish and English, and if there is divergence between them, then the Irish law is the one that becomes legally binding. In 2016, the constitution was updated as the country had voted in a referendum and same-sex marriage had been legalised. However, a mistranslation in the law in Irish had it written as "Marriage, whether between men or women...", almost outlawing straight marriage!

  • There's a story (possibly apocryphal) of a Christian missionary, who thought he had said "we must take up our crosses and follow Christ" during a sermon, which caused laughter amongst the congregation. He'd apparently fallen afoul of the differing inflection problem, and was informed that while everyone knew what he meant, what he'd actually said was "we must pull up our pants and follow Christ."
  • A story tells about a pastor who wanted to say "Jesus rid us of our sins," but instead of "sin" (tsumi), he said "wife" (tsuma). Apparently all the men started clapping...
  • Heroes' Japanese-language scenes provide several examples:
    • Masi Oka once said that while filming a scene in the first season of with George Takei, Takei's line in Japanese was (paraphrasing) "I am proud of your progress (shinpo)" that Oka misheard as "I am proud of your dick (chinpo)."
    • As Takei notes in the DVD commentary of one episode, every time Hiro says Nathan's name, it sounds rather like nē-san, which is Japanese for "big sister."
  • It's not uncommon for western fans of all things Japanese to mispronounce "kawaii" (kah-wah-ee) as "kowai" (kah-why/koh-why) meaning "scary." Gwen Stefani included.
    • Another trap is that in Japanese, you can add "so" to some adjectives to mean "it looks ..." For example, "oishii" means "delicious" and "oishiso" means "it looks delicious." But "kawaii" is an exception as "kawaiso" means "I feel sorry" or "pitiful" rather than "it looks cute."
  • This guy made a small misspelling in a text to a girl he was interested in. Unfortunately for him, she probably thinks he's a stalker now.
    • In case anyone can't watch the video or it gets taken down: The girl had recently been released from the hospital, and the guy texted her to ask if she got home okay. However, instead of うちにかえる (Uchi ni kaeru), meaning "Did you get home?" he wrote うちにくる (Uchi ni kuru), meaning "Can I come over?"
    • This is more a case of Translation Train Wreck or "Blind Idiot" Translation. The translations he gives of the Japanese sentences here are completely incorrect. 'Uchi ni kaeru' would mean 'Are you going to go home?', and 'Uchi ni kuru' in this context could only mean '[Do you want to] come to [my] house?' Also, the 'misspelling' is more than just 1 syllabic ('letter'), so 'small' is minimizing the guy's misunderstandings here.
  • When the Clans were introduced in BattleTech their BattleMechs were given Reporting Names by the Inner Sphere, including the Japanese-themed Draconis Combine. The 55-ton Stormcrow OmniMech was apparently supposed to be named something like Hunting Dog, which would have been Ryōken. Instead, its name was listed as Ryoken, or Passport.

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

  • In 2021, the German parody party 'Die PARTEI' had an election poster that consisted of the phrase "We love you" in a few dozen languages, including Klingon. Unfortunately, it was rendered as "yablIj. maH". Ignoring the period in the middle, that actually means "We are your mind"...

    Old English 
  • Ethelred the Unready. The "Unready" is a mistranslation of his sobriquet; "unrǣd" actually meant "folly," literally "no-counsel." Still presumably a pun on his name, Æþelræd means "well-advised."
  • The various kennings, two-word poetic names for things, are frequently treated carelessly. E.g. "Beowulf," which translates to bee wolf meaning "bear" (not a type of wolf or anything of the kind).

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

  • The word "bomba" can mean any of "bomb," "pump" or "éclair" (the pastry). It's rarely noticed because these contexts never overlap, unless you're bringing your bicycle supplies through airport security and don't speak English very well.

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

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

    Sign Language 
  • Adam Hills has had fun with this, as did a stewardess who has enjoyed his earlier fun with sign language. Sort of.
  • One comedian tells a story that he once choked in a restaurant, and began to flail his arms. He accidentally proposed to a deaf lady.
  • A religion teacher for the deaf once confused the signs "to feed" and "to eat" — in telling the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This same religious teacher, in trying to sign "water," made the sign with the wrong hand, consequently signing "beer" instead. When her audience was incredulous, she dug herself deeper, trying to sign that we need water to live, that our bodies are made mostly of water, and that the oceans are filled with water (only she kept signing "beer" instead of "water").
  • In British Sign Language, Australian Sign Language and New Zealand Sign Language (collectively known as BANZSL), the sign for the letter Q (index finger of the dominant hand hooked onto a ring made of the thumb and index finger of the other hand) and the sign for sex (index finger through the said ring) are sadly easily confused by the uninitiated.
  • The "nanny nanny boo boo" gesture that is popular with children in America (with putting the thumb on ones's nose and wagging one's fingers) means "kiss my ass" in American Sign Language. One teacher told her class about how she did not know that when she was a young ASL student working with deaf children for the first time
  • It emphasises the importance of lip pattern in British Sign Language to differentiate between similarly signed words when you learn that "Where do you live?" looks identical to "Where is the toilet?"
  • In Australian Sign Language and New Zealand Sign Language, 12 is signed double-2, while 22 is signed double-2 with the second to the right of the first (the same rules apply for 13 and 33, 14 and 44, etc.) Hence signing "my girlfriend is 22 years old" incorrectly may get you in trouble with authorities.

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

  • You might come across some Bad-Termometer's making you wonder "Why is it so lousy?" The word bad is Swedish for "bath" — so it actually is a decent bath thermometer.
  • Likewise, buying mat kimchi in an Oriental foodstore in Sweden produces moments of hilarity — what are the other kinds of kimchi then, fodder? Mat means "food" or "edible" in Swedish, while it means "cut" in Korean.

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

  • A platoon of American soldiers were looking for their transport to take them back to base and asked a local man where the convoy could be found. The man pointed to a hill and told them to go over the next hill where they found, instead of their convoy, an elephant grazing in a field. They went back to ask the man again and he pointed to the same hill where they'd found the elephant. Turns out that due to tonal differences, "Where is the convoy?" can be translated to "Where's the elephant?"
  • Robert McNamara, the Us State Secretary during the Vietnam War, always ended his speeches in Vietnam by shouting out what he thought was a Vietnamese phrase meaning "Long live a free Vietnam!", but as he used the wrong tones, instead he said "Vietnam, go to sleep!"
  • Pokémon Vietnamese Crystal managed a truly impressive version of this trope, by hastily bootlegging a Japanese game into English. Among other things, the translator was under the (loosely correct) impression that "fuck" means "put in"; every time the protagonist puts anything in their bag, the results are M-rated.

  • A teacher, while learning Welsh, was late for one of her classes due to the cold weather and the slippery pavements. She rushed in and excused herself, in Welsh, due to the ice on the street. Unfortunately, ice or frost (rhew) is easy to confuse with sex (rhyw). Hilarity ensued.
  • In 2008, Swansea put up a sign saying "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only," with corresponding text in Welsh. What nobody on the Swansea council realized was that the text in Welsh actually meant "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated."
  • In 2014, an ATM at a Tesco in Wales meant to say "Arian am ddim," or "withdrawal without fee," but accidentally put "Codiad am ddim," or "erection without fee."
  • Another Welsh road sign was supposed to be bilingual and say "Cyclists Dismount;" it did in English, but the Welsh was agrammatical gibberish which could only be deciphered as "Bladder Inflammation Return."

I wish to plead incompetence.


Stanley Cup

Andy accidentally says, "Your ears are so big that you look like the Stanley Cup" in French.

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Main / MyHovercraftIsFullOfEels

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