Translation mistakes can affect quality greatly and they can also cause big headaches and cost big money to fix. We’ve combed the internet for stories of translations gone wrong, ranging from expensive snafus to true tragedies. Remember: the only way to avoid potentially disastrous translation mistakes is to use a true professional translation firm like inwhatlanguage.
5 Giant Translation Mistakes with Real-World Consequences
1. When a Global Bank Used a Depressing Catchphrase.
The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is one of the largest banks in the world. Yet, even such a large and successful company can hit roadblocks when they’re careless in multilingual translation. In 2009 their catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was translated in many global markets as “Do Nothing,” which isn’t really the kind of persuasive pitch a marketing campaign generally likes to make. HSBC immediately had to spend millions rebranding in the affected markets.
via Mental Floss
2. When a Mistranslation Almost Killed a Large Company.
In late 2012, when Sharp Corp. released its earnings report, the outlook was already bleak, as the company had been lagging significantly behind the electronic giants, consistently losing market share. However, when they translated their earnings report into English, they translated their acknowledgement of the company’s struggles as “material doubt” that the company could continue to be a “going concern.” The language in the English version was much stronger and gloomier than the original Japanese statement. Unintentionally, the company had basically predicted its own demise. Investors panicked and Sharp’s stock plunged even farther to a total annual decline of 75%.
via the Wall Street Journal
3. When a Translation Error Made the Cold War a Little Colder.
In 1956, already rocky US-Soviet relations took a big hit when a speech by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was mistranslated as much more threatening than it intended to be. Khrushchev’s speech was intended to critique capitalism and suggest that the Soviet Union would far outlive the American capitalist system. In Russian, he used an idiom that meant essentially “We will outlast you and live to see your burial.” It was translated as the much more ominous “We will bury you.” While approaching literal accuracy, the translation represented a very different message than Khrushchev’s intention. As expected, American’s didn’t like being threatened and that mistranslation helped heighten the already frigid Cold War.
4. When One Word Had Huge, Tragic, Medical Consequences.
In 1980, a man was brought unconscious into a Florida emergency room. His friends who brought him in thought he had food poisoning. They didn’t speak English, but used the Spanish word “intoxicado,” meaning “poisoned,” to describe his state. A staff member translated it incorrectly as “intoxicated” and the doctors proceeded to treat him for a drug overdose. The delay in his receiving proper treatment resulted in his becoming paralyzed. One tiny translation error cost a man his mobility and the hospital 71 million dollars in the subsequent lawsuit.
via Mental Floss
5. When It Seemed Like Japan Was Begging Us to Bomb Them, but They Really Weren’t.
In July 1945, near the end of World War II, the Allied leaders met in Potsdam and drafted proposed terms to Japan’s surrender and sent them to the Japanese government for their response. While Japan was still examining and weighing their options, the Japanese press asked them how they would respond. The word they used, “mokusatsu” can mean either “no comment” or “we’re ignoring them with contempt.” The context of the situation made it clear to the Japanese media that they meant “no comment,” but American translators used the contemptuous response. The translation error directly influenced Truman’s decision to use the atom bomb and made it seem more necessary than it would have otherwise. It’s hard to imagine the stakes being higher for a translation error, and it’s hard to imagine any more dire consequences.
via the NSA
While most translation errors don’t affect international relations, commerce, and individual lives the way these did, translation errors quite frequently cause a lot of trouble and cost a lot of money to fix. The only way to avoid these kind of errors is to entrust your translation to a careful, experienced translation agency like inwhatlanguage. We only use the most skilled translators for our clients’ projects, and we pass all translation projects through our verification processes, best-practices, and optimizing operations. At inwhatlanguage, you get translations you can trust, quickly and affordably.