Lost in Translation – funniest translation errors

We’ve all had communication mishaps while travelling through foreign-speaking countries. Here, Adam Jacot de Boinod looks at the funniest translation errors made by major western companies.

American Airlines – When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first-class seats in the Mexican market, the ‘Fly in leather’ campaign literally translated to vuela en cuero – ‘Fly naked’ in Spanish.

Microsoft – When the name Microsoft was first translated into Chinese, they went for a literal translation of the two parts of the name; unfortunately that meant it was called ‘small and flaccid’.

Pepsi – Pepsi’s famous slogan ‘Come alive with Pepsi’ was dropped in China after it translated as ‘Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave’.

General Motors – When General Motors tried to market the Chevy Nova car in Central and South America, they overlooked the fact that No va means, ‘it doesn’t go’ in Spanish.

Coca-Cola – Coca-Cola was horrified to discover that their name was first read by the Chinese as kekoukela, meaning either ‘Bite the wax tadpole’ or ‘female horse stuffed with wax’, depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 characters to find a phonetic equivalent, kokou kole, which translates as into ‘happiness in the mouth’.

Parker Pen – When Parker Pen marketed a ball-point pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’. However, the company mistakenly thought the Spanish word embarazar meant embarrass. Instead the ads said, ‘It wont leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’.

Clairol – Clairol messed up with their translation in Germany and made the mistake of trying to sell customers a manure stick instead of a mist stick for their hair.


Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of ‘The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World’

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This article appeared in issue 8


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