13 Fiendishly Bad Translations for Halloween 

“When witches go riding, and black cats are seen, the moon laughs and whispers ‘tis near Halloween.” — Anonymous

It’s Halloween! To celebrate, let’s take a look at the dark side of translation: horrifyingly bad translations that just won’t die. Where do they come from? Sometimes, mad marketing “scientists” stitch them together, unaware that they’ve created a monster until it’s too late.  More often, they’re spawned by the brainless zombie algorithms of machine translation. Either way, these translation fails are guaranteed to give you goosebumps!

Bad Translations in Advertising: Pepsi-Cola Will Turn Your Ancestors into Zombies


In the 1960s, Pepsi launched a successful US campaign to rebrand itself into a “young, fun” drink. The slogan? “Come Alive! You’re in the Pepsi Generation!”

Unfortunately, in China this was originally translated to “Pepsi-Cola will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” There are also reports that it was initially translated as “Come out of the grave with Pepsi” in German.

Either way, the spectre of a zombie army of reanimated corpses roaming the land in search of Pepsi (and brains, presumably) did not produce the desired sales increase.  I wonder why?

Boil, Boil, Toil and Trouble … 

Scary bad translation 1

Is this a translation error, or is this parking lot owned by witches?  You be the judge … Read more

How to Translate Donald Trump

How do you translate a word salad? That’s one question the rise of Donald Trump has interpreters and translators around the world asking themselves. The National Post called the reality TV personality, businessman and US presidential candidate [actual real-life President of the United States now, no really!] “a linguist’s dream” for his “unusual” speech patterns.  I suppose that’s one way to put it.

In this case, a linguist’s dream is an interpreter’s nightmare.  Trump is known for long, rambling, stream-of-consciousness rants that don’t always make sense in English. He’s also prone to (perhaps accidentally) reviving obscure, old words like “braggadocious” and “bigly.”

But, there’s a possibility Trump could become the next president of the United States. So, his speeches are international news. And that means foreign interpreters and translators get to parse sentences like this beauty, from a speech he gave in South Carolina: Read more

Clowns in Translation: Our Love/Hate Relationship With Clowns Around the World

These days, we tend to associate clowns with either children’s entertainment or horror stories. Witness the “Great Clown Panic of 2016” currently sweeping the globe.  From small-town America to the UK to Australia and New Zealand, “creepy clowns” have been terrifying the populace.

This may seem like a modern-day problem, but actually, clowns have been with us always. Even the creepy ones. “Clown” figures exist in cultures and mythologies from around the world. And they’re often a little terrifying.

So, just in time for Halloween, let’s take a look at creepy clowns around the world.

A Brief History of Clowns Around the World

The first clowns we have a record of date back to Ancient Egypt, where dwarf clowns entertained the Pharoah as far back as 2500 BCE.  Meanwhile, in Ancient Greece, comedy plays featured performers in outlandishly designed and padded costumes wearing masks that exaggerated their facial features. Ancient Greek theater also featured “rustic buffoon” characters called sklêro-paiktês who are sometimes credited as the ancestors of modern 3304_-_athens_-_stoa_of_attalus_museum_-_theatre_mask_-_photo_by_giovanni_dallorto_nov_9_2009clowns.

The ancient Roman theater also featured a “rustic buffoon” laborer type, called a fossor.  Another type of Ancient Roman clown was the stupidus, a constant victim of tragicomic misfortune, often self-inflicted. As you might have guessed, this is the origin of the English word “stupid.”

But in a twist that will come as absolutely no surprise to those of you with coulrophobia, there’s another inspiration for the modern-day clown: the comic demon of medieval passion plays. Over time, the trickster demon turned into the trickster harlequin of the Italian Commedia dell’arte.

Meanwhile, court jesters, with their multicolored outfits, entertained kings, nobles and townspeople alike starting from the medieval period on to through the 18th century.

Where Does the Word “Clown” Come From?

The origin of the English word “clown” is uncertain, but it is thought to derive from a Nordic word meaning “clumsy.

Want to call someone a clown in another language? Many languages have two different words for clown: one borrowed from the English “clown” and one from the Italian “Pagliaccio.” Here’s how to say “clown” in 11 languages:

  1. French: clown or Paillasse 
  2. Russian:  кло́ун or пая́ц
  3. Greek κλόουν
  4. Danish/Norwegian: klovn
  5. Romanian clovn
  6. Italian: clown or pagliaccio
  7. Spanish: payaso
  8. Catalan and Galician: pallasso
  9. Turkish: palyaço
  10. German: Pajass
  11. Yiddish: פּאַיאַץ (payats)

Read more

tips for finding a technical language partner

6 Tips for Finding a Technical Language Partner

A Guide to Technical Translation for Manufacturers: Part 2.

As a quality-conscious business, it is natural that you would want to find a language service partner, or LSP, who is able to produce quality translations capable of meeting the rigorously high standards demanded by the manufacturing industry. With the large number of LSPs setting out their stalls in an increasingly competitive marketplace, choosing the right partner for your project is no mean feat. Even narrowing the scope to include only providers that offer a specific technical translation service does little to thin the herd. There is no one quality that sets an LSP apart from their competitors as the ‘best’ choice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make an informed decision. Here, we have listed a number of criteria that you might want to give consideration to when choosing an LSP for your technical translation. Read more

what is technical translation

What is Technical Translation?

A Guide to Technical Translation for Manufacturers: Part 1.

It’s impossible to ignore the global nature of successful contemporary business and technology, the role translation has played in contributing to these sucess stories cannot be underestimated either. Taking steps to guarantee that your message and brand identity are communicable to a worldwide audience is a vital part of expanding your reach and client base, increasing your recognition and ensuring that your business is able to reach a position amongst the market leaders in your sector. One of the key growth sectors around the world is manufacturing and translation again has a key role in supporting its international development.

When working within the manufacturing industry, it is not at all uncommon for publications to contain a great deal of specialised language, this typically means technical writers are employed to ensure the highly nuanced concepts and technical terms are communicated as concisely as possible. In doing so, this significantly reduces the likelihood of critical misunderstanding of important documents (safety and compliance information is of particular note here) and the subsequent risks associated with such misunderstandings. The complications surrounding technical communication are amplified further when information is required to be understood by a diverse workforce that may not speak the same native language. So what is technical translation? Read more

How Climate Change Threatens Endangered Languages and Cultures 

“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost; for none now live who remember it.” ~Galadriel

The world is changing. First of all, it’s growing hotter. Ice is melting, seas are rising. And it’s not only animals and plants that are in danger. Human lives and homes are also at stake. Cultures and languages that stretch back thousands of years may soon vanish forever, along with the lands and ecosystems that once sustained them.

How is climate change accelerating language loss? Which endangered languages and cultures are most at risk? And what, if anything, can be done?

Read more

12 English Words With Native American Origins

Monday was Columbus Day in the United States.  Traditionally, American schools taught children that the Italian explorer has a holiday because he “discovered the New World.” That’s not true, of course. But he did ignite a cultural exchange that shaped the world we live in today.

For example, Europeans discovered now-familiar foods like tomatoes and chocolate. Native Americans discovered hard liquor and learned to ride horses. The Europeans brought the deadly gift of smallpox. The natives gave them syphilis in return. The exchange went both ways … but the Native Americans invariably got the short end of the stick.

This pattern continued when it came to language. Many native languages were lost forever. But some words from indigenous languages live on today as loanwords. For example, check out these 12 English words with Native American origins:

English Words That Come From Algonquianmarmota_monax_ul_04

The Algonquian language family consists of about 30 languages spoken by Native Americans across the US and Canada.  Unfortunately, many of these languages are either severely endangered or extinct.  Did you know these four words were originally Algonquian?

Well, now you do.

Caucus:  Wikipedia defines a “caucus” as “a meeting of supporters or members of a specific political party or movement.”Although it originated in the British colonies, it’s used across the English-speaking world now.  It may originate from the Algonquian word for “counsel”, which is ‘cau´-cau-as´u’. Another possibility is the Algonquian cawaassough, which means advisor, talker, or orator.

Hickory: Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock … Thank the Algonquians for this old nursery rhyme, It wouldn’t be the same without hickory, which comes from the Powhatan word pocohiquara. Pocohiquara was basically hickory nut milk.  The next trendy nut milk at your local supermarket, maybe? Read more

Is Google Translate Really As Good As a Human Now?

Last week, Google released a new version of Google Translate that uses “Deep Learning” to reduce translation errors. The company claims the new process results in translations that are almost as good as a human translator.

But is it the real deal? Are human translators about to be replaced by machines? Can you now “just use Google Translate” for your business? Let’s look at what makes the new and improved Google Translate so groundbreaking, and whether or not it’s actually an acceptable substitute for a human translator.

How Is the New Google Translate Different?

The new-and-improved Google Translate takes a different approach from the current version. Let’s get to know our new robot overlords, shall we?

Previously, Google Translate worked by analysing texts one word or phrase at a time. However, the new Google Translate breaks them up into sentences to better determine their meanings. It’s also capable of understanding and analysing the relationships between words, to determine which possible translation is more likely to be correct.

Most importantly, the new Google Translate does all of this using a “deep neural network” of processors set up to mimic the human brain.  This network is even capable of training itself. In fact, it “learns” better if left to its own devices, without human programmers mucking things up. Read more

facts about ancient egypt

8 Interesting Facts About Ancient Egypt Revealed by Translation

Translation helps us understand people from other cultures, even if they vanished thousands of years ago. For example, consider the ancient Egyptians. Until the discovery of the Rosetta Stone allowed ancient Egyptian writing to be translated in 1820, all that we knew of them came from the writings of historians from other cultures. However, these accounts were often inaccurate.

Fortunately for us, writing was a vital part of ancient Egyptian culture. Once scholars were able to read what they left behind, they learned a surprising amount about how the ancient Egyptians lived.

Here are 8 interesting facts about ancient Egypt we learned from translation:

Why Scribes Really Ran the Ancient Egyptian Worldgd-eg-louxor-126

Writing was an essential skill in ancient Egyptian society.  To keep the empire running smoothly, they needed to write everything down, from the sacred (funeral texts, magic spells) to the mundane (contracts, legal documents). And yet, only about 1% of the population was literate.

Because of this, scribes became a privileged intellectual class. Their services were always in high demand. Sometimes, scribes even led large building and infrastructure projects. To quote one ancient text,  The Satire of the Trades,  

See, there is no office free from supervisors, except the scribe’s. He is the supervisor!”

Read more

What The History of the English Language Reveals About Its Future

What will English sound like 50 years from now? Does the history of the English language contain clues about its future? Perhaps, and English purists are not happy about it.

A team of linguists from the University of York released a report last week that offers a glimpse into what some are calling a dystopian future: It’s the year 2066 and most of the UK’s regional dialects have disappeared. In London, spoken English has been heavily affected by foreign accents. For example, the “th” sound has been completely replaced by “f”, “d” or “v.” People say “fink” instead of “think” and “muvver” instead of “mother.”

Cue a rash of headlines and newspaper stories blaming foreigners for the imminent death of “the Queen’s English.” Like this one. And this one (“lazy” foreigners, no less!)

But wait … as it turns out, the term “The Queen’s English” (or “The King’s English,” depending on who’s on the throne) dates back to around the 16th century. Obviously, the English language has changed significantly since then. So who’s really speaking the “original” Queen’s English? At this point, not even the Queen herself.

Not only that, but the original “King’s English” was the result of just the type of shift that has “language purists” pulling their collective hair out (see “The Great Vowel Shift,” below.)

So, to the time machine! Let’s take a look at the history of the English language and a few of the many ways English has changed over time, along with what it might sound like in the future. Read more

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