Small Translation Mistakes That Caused Massive Problems Part 2

In part 1 of this article we looked at political mistakes, covering some of the errors in the Cold War and also telling you about the time that George Bush Snr gave a group of Australians the finger. Those mistakes were slight and they didn’t cause many issues in the long-run (although some nearly brought about World War III) but in this part of the article we’ll look at some mistranslations that caused some immediate issues.

Medical Mistranslations

When Willie Ramirez slipped into a coma, he was lucky enough to be taken to a hospital very quickly. His luck ran out from that point onwards though because his Spanish speaking friends were unable to communicate with the Florida hospital staff and the translator the hospital provided wasn’t up to scratch. The word Ramirez’a friends used was “intoxicado”, which as any half-assed Spanish speaker will tell you, probably means “intoxicated”. This is also what the hospital staff assumed and they responded accordingly, however, if they had hired a professional translator they would have known that his friends were trying to tell the hospital that they suspected he had been poisoned, and not by recreational drugs or alcohol.

Ramirez received the wrong treatment to begin with and although they eventually switched to the right treatment, it was not enough to stop Ramirez — who was suffering from an intracerebral hemorrhage — from losing the use of his arms and legs. In the end, Ramirez sued the hospital for close to $100 million, but you get the feeling that the 18 year old would have preferred to have the use of his arms and legs.

Promotional Disasters

In 2009, the HSBC bank chose the tag-line “Assume Nothing”, which you have to admit is kinda catchy in English and got their point across well. However, when translated into many other languages, it read as “Do Nothing”, which didn’t bode well for a global banking company, especially so soon after the banking crises that saw the stock markets slump.

Speaking of stock markets, it seems they are not immune from mistranslations and misunderstandings either. An article published by the China News Service once offered — in a very casual manner — a speculative overview of some financial reports. In its original language this meant nothing, but when it was translated into English it lost most of its casualness and gained a lot of edge, which led to many English speakers thinking that a slump was on the way. As a result, the US Dollar, perhaps the most important currency in the world, plummeted in value.

Chocolates all Round

To finish on a brighter note, during the 1950s chocolate companies in Japan wanted to push chocolates during Valentine’s Day. They wanted to tell men that they should be burying chocolates for their female partners on this day, but a mistranslation meant that the women thought they were supposed to be buying those chlorates for men. Although not intentional, this one error from a single chocolate company worked in the favour of all of them, as from that day until now, women in Japan have showered their male partners in chocolate gifts on the 14th of February, whilst the men return the favour a month later. Everyone gets chocolates and the chocolate companies get rich, all because of one tiny mistake.

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