Humorous Translation Mistakes

Emanuel Longo | November 13, 2014

Slide22-1.jpgMore and more companies are trying to expand by bringing their business into new global markets. The amount of work and effort it takes to decide which market to enter is tremendous and requires significant research. Part of conquering a new market is ensuring that your company’s message is heard. That’s when language localization comes into play.  Many companies have made the expensive and embarrassing mistake of translating marketing content instead of localizing.  Here are some translation mistakes examples of companies that their intended message was not well received by its new global markets.

1) IKEA sells a workbench called FARTFULL. In Swedish, this means “Full Speed”, however in English it sounds rather humorous.

2) During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright … the future’s Orange.” That campaign is an advertising legend. However, in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist… didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population.

3) In 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant. A brand name was desired that evoked technology and innovation. The winning proposal was GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. A not very innovative name and not suggestive of technology and a total disaster for European branding. GPT is pronounced in French as “J’ai pété” or “I’ve farted”.

4) The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-ke-ken-la. Chinese characters for “bite the wax tadpole.” Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, “ko-kou-ko-le,” Chinese characters for Coca-cola which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth.”

5) Nike has a television commercial for hiking shoes that was shot in Kenya using Samburu tribesmen. The camera closes in on the one tribesman who speaks, in native Maa. As he speaks, the Nike slogan “Just do it” appears on the screen. Lee Cronk, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati, says the Kenyan is really saying, “I don’t want these. Give me big shoes.” Says Nike’s Elizabeth Dolan, “We thought nobody in America would know what he said.” (From an article in Forbes magazine.)

6) In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”

7) The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, “Salem – Feeling Free,” got translated in the Japanese market into “When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.”

8) Marcel Rigadin reports that Toyota makes the MR2, which in France is pronounced “merdé” or spelled ‘merdeux’, means “crappy”.

9) Rolls Royce changed the name of its car the Silver Mist to the Silver Shadow before entering Germany. In German, “Mist” means manure (to put it nicely).

10) Nissan’s minivan Moco doesn’t do so well in Spanish-speaking markets. Especially green ones. Distributors in Santiago, Chile asked that the vehicle be renamed since Moco is the Spanish word for mucous.[2]

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[2] All examples are taken from


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