Translation Gone Wrong: 7 Big Translation Fails from 2016 

2016 is over halfway gone. Let’s look back at some of this year’s best examples of translation gone wrong  (so far).  This year, we have a little bit of everything, from menu translations that will kill your appetite to translation gaffes from major political candidates. Here are the biggest and funniest translation fails of 2016!

Translation Gone Wrong: In the Darkest Depths of Mordor Russia…


Who knew Led Zeppelin’s 1969 hit Ramble On was actually an ode to Russian girls? Well, you might have thought so, anyway, if you’d been using Google Translate to translate from Ukrainian into Russian in January 2016.  A glitch caused the service to translate “Russia” into “Mordor,” the fictional home of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.

According to the BBC, the error came about due to a flurry of internet chatter following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. Online commentators in Ukraine began referring to Russia as “Mordor,” and  Google Translate picked up on it.

Translation Gone Wrong:  Fashion Brands Monkey Around in China

2016 was the Year of the Monkey, and Western fashion brands tried hard to cash in with special monkey-related merchandise. Unfortunately, some of their efforts got lost in translation. Consider, as seen in Business Insider, the “creepy” gold-finished and rhinestone-studded monkey necklace offered by Louis Vuitton, or the cartoonish red-and-gold monkey keychain offered by Dior. Both were trashed on Chinese fashion blogs. So was a Givenchy “Year of the Monkey” T-shirt which featured what Chinese fashion blogger Gogoboi called “orangutans” in eyeshadow. (I think it’s actually a pair of baboons, but his point still stands. Traditional Chinese monkeys are usually macaques or gibbons. Baboons live in Africa.)

The moral of this story? Don’t think that designing to make a cultural reference will generate enough goodwill amongst consumers that they won’t care how ugly your merchandise is! Read more

Translation Fails in Animation: 5 Cartoons that Got Lost in Translation 

Around the world, kids (and kids at heart) have a soft spot for cartoons. However, just because animation is usually aimed at children, that doesn’t mean translating it is child’s play. Translation fails in animation can be caused by carelessness or sheer cultural differences.  In some cases, censorship or overly aggressive localization can also leave fans confused or offended.  Here are five cartoon shows that lost something in translation.

Leo the Lion

The New York Times’ Brian Feldman dubbed this feature-length cartoon “Netflix’s Worst Movie.” Now, we’re certainly not blaming the localisation team completely. After all, even the best translator can’t spin straw into gold.  They have to work with the material they’re given.  From the very first scene in Leo the Lion, it’s abundantly clear that you’re not watching fine Italian cinema.

That said, the translation aspect is a mess, too. As Feldman observes, ” the subtitles for the film do not line up at all with what happens in the film. Broadly, the arcs are similar but character names, terminology and jokes are completely different.”

This movie is so bad that there’s a Tumblr devoted to cataloguing its many eccentricities. One Tumblr user observed that not only are the subtitles a completely different script from the dubbed dialogue but the subtitled dialogue also “matches up better with the lips than the current audio.”

Feldman’s theory is that the “subtitles appear to be a more literal translation of the film, its spoken audio track a localisation.”

Our theory: whoever was in charge of localisation threw their hands up in the air and backed away rather than spending time making the subtitles match the dialogue, or the dialogue correspond to the characters’ lip movements.

So, the next time your little darling tells you to put on “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” for the umpteenth time, remember that it could be worse. Much worse. Read more

6 Ridiculously Bad Translations from Amazon Prime Day

If you’re an Amazon Prime junkie, I don’t need to tell you that Tuesday was Prime Day. Your bank balance is probably enough of a reminder. For everyone else, Prime Day is Amazon’s self-created sales holiday, with deals on just about everything.

Amazon itself excels at localization. And we’ve held them up as an example of a company that gets it right.

But that’s not always true of the third-party sellers that offer their products in the Amazon marketplace. Product descriptions are provided by the sellers, not by Amazon. All too often, the sellers lack either the will or the resources to make quality translations a priority.

And the results can be hilarious, as these 6 examples of bad Prime Day translations prove. Here are a few of our favorites:

That Amorous Feeling

I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to adorn their house with a “decorative fish net of strong Mediterranean Sea amorous feelings?” Read more

Translation Value

Translation: Price is what you pay, Value is what you get

Picture the scene, it’s the weekend, the sun is shining, not a cloud in the sky, a perfect day for a leisurely drive. About an hour into your jaunt around the local country roads, you notice a strange clunking sound coming from under the bonnet. It looks like a trip to the garage is in order. Once you get home you call the guy (or girl) you always call when your car needs attention. You drop it off at the garage and wait for the workshop to call, what are the first three things you want to learn from that call?… Most people would likely answer along the lines of “can they fix it, what is it going to cost and how long is it going to take”, probably in that order.

Now you are probably wondering what going for a drive and suffering an impending breakdown has to do with anything, well I’ll get to that. About a year ago I was talking to a chap in a pub, the best stories always start with that line right? His name is Dave, you wouldn’t say he was anything out of the ordinary, casually dressed, glasses, drives a van, all very run of the mill, he wouldn’t mind me saying that he’d probably agree. Anyway, I sat at the bar waiting for my friends to finally show up and just happened to strike up a conversation with him. He told me about how he works in a garage and has done probably longer than I’ve been alive, another classic line from the book of pub stories huh. Dave’s customers go through exactly the same ritual as I had you imagine at the beginning, but when it comes to that phone call, his customers have slightly different expectations. Read more

honda kona translation fail

The Hyundai KONA: A Translation Fail In 3 Languages 

Naming a product for an international audience is harder than it looks. Exhibit A: the Hyundai KONA. The “subcompact crossover,” released last year in the UK,  introduces a distinctive “rugged” and “funky” design. Unfortunately, however, the name “KONA” has unfortunate sound-alikes and double meanings that make it a translation fail in more than one European language.


Why did Hyundai choose the name “KONA,” anyway? Named after the Kona district in Hawaii, it’s meant to appeal to adventurous, highly-caffeinated female consumers looking for small SUVs. As a company spokesman explained in the Korea Herald,

“Images that come to mind when thinking of Kona are dynamic marine leisure sports and the mild aroma of Kona coffee, which also represents the customer base of small SUVs.”

Alas for Hyundai, those pleasant associations are not quite universal.

KONA in Polish: “Dying in Pain”

In Polish, the word “konać” means “to be dying.” Guess what the third person singular of “konać” is? That’s right, it’s “kona.” So, in Polish, “Hyundai KONA” can be read as “Hyundai is dying,” or even “Hyundai is dying in pain.”

Polish speakers represent a sizeable market, both within the UK and within the EU as a whole. There are over 55 million Polish speakers around the world, and it’s the  sixth biggest language in the EU by number of native speakers. In the UK, 546,000 speak Polish, making it our most common immigrant language.  “Hyundai is dying” is not exactly the message you want people to have, even in the back of their minds, when they’re car shopping.

KONA in Portuguese: Censored emoticonCensored emoticonCensored emoticon

In Portuguese, the situation is even worse. As Carscoops points out, in Portuguese, the soundalike word “cona” is a rather crude term for a part of the female anatomy.  And in fact, this isn’t even the first time an auto manufacturer has had this issue – Opel had to rename their “Ascona” in the Portuguese market for the same reason.

Fortunately, Hyundai has announced that the KONA will be marketed as the Hyundai Kauai in Portugal.

However, rebranding in Portugal may not be enough. “Cona” means the same thing in Galician as it does in Portuguese, so you can add  Spain’s 2.4 million Galician speakers to the list of people who are likely to be some combination of amused, horrified, and offended.

Also, there are significant Portuguese immigrant communities in other EU countries, like Andorra, France, and Switzerland. And there are at least 107,000 Portuguese speakers living in the UK. All of those Portuguese speakers outside of Portugal will still be getting the full KONA experience. Read more

Funny Sign Translations: 30 More Signs We Didn’t Translate

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs . . . but sometimes they get lost in translation! We’ve scoured the Internet for funny sign translations, and this is what we found. We certainly didn’t translate any of these, but we hope they give you a laugh:

Well, that’s not helpful

Lost in translation

If this place catches fire, we’re in trouble…

What AM I supposed to do then?


Imgur/ JaromirAzarov

I’ll just stand here looking bored, I suppose . . .

It’s the end of the world as we know it…


As if pressing the big red button wasn’t tempting enough, pressing this particular big red button appears to bring on the apocalypse. You know you want to push it, just to see what happens. Don’t you?

Bad trip, man, bad trip!


Sounds like someone should have passed on the brown acid…

I think I’ve lost my appetite. . .



I’m not sure what they serve here, but I don’t think I want it for breakfast.

Brilliant idea


Just what everyone needs after a night out of Indian food! Someone is going to make a fortune off this. Read more

10 Hilarious Christmas Translation Fails

Christmas has come and gone. This year, we’re taking a look back and reviewing the funniest Christmas-themed translation fails for your amusement. Sit back, pour yourself a cup of tea, and check out these hilarious Christmas translation errors.

Throll the Ancient Yuletide Carol










It’s the most wonderfully throlling time of the year.

What happened to Mrs. Claus?

I was under the impression Santa Claus already HAD a wife?


All’s fair between consenting adults . . .



But for most people, celebrating Christmas with “the family, the lover and the friend” sounds like it could get awkward rather quickly.


Have an Erotic Christmas!

“Eros” and “Christmas” . . . Two words that don’t go together unless you’re marketing adult products.  And is it just me, or does that reindeer have murder in its eyes?


The Santa Chicken?

We’ve all heard of Santa Claus, but what about the Santa Chicken?  Does he leave buckets of fried chicken in your stocking?

As hilarious as this billboard is, it’s actually a testament to the international marketing genius of Kentucky Fried Chicken. They got off to a rough start in China, where their famous slogan “Finger-licking good” was mistranslated as “Eat Your Fingers Off.” However, they’re now the most popular fast food chain in China.

Meanwhile, KFC fried chicken has become a traditional Christmas dinner in Japan. Around 3.6 million Japanese families celebrate the holiday with buckets of extra crispy chicken marinated in the Colonel’s secret blend of herbs and spices. The tradition was started by KFC Japan’s first CEO in 1974, who marketed a family-sized fried chicken meal as “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii: Kentucky for Christmas.”  Nobody in Kentucky actually eats fried chicken for Christmas, mind you, but it caught on in Japan.  And judging by the billboard, it’s spread to South Korea as well.


Close, but no cigar. . .

Here comes Santa Close, Here comes Santa Close . . . Wait, that’s not quite right, is it?


Dying is hard, translation is harder.

Is Die Hard your favourite Christmas franchise? Check out these hilarious Die Hard translations:

  • Die Hard: With a Vengeance was translated as Die Hard: Mega Hard in Denmark.
  • In one of the foreign versions of Die Hard 2, the line “You’ll get the pink slip for Christmas” is translated as “you’ll get red underpants in Santa Claus’ stocking.” The translator thought “pink slip” referred to women’s undergarments. Actually, it’s an Americanism for losing one’s job.

Some things are better left unsaid.

In 1991, the Swedish company Locum sent out a Christmas card to their customers. In the card, they debuted a new logo: the company name, in lower case letters, with a heart replacing the “o.”

For English speaking customers, the result was rather unfortunate:

I’m sure you see the problem here.

Ham for Hanukkah?

Holiday translation fails aren’t limited to Christmas. Retail stores courting Jewish customers in the United States sometimes make facepalm-worthy blunders.

For example, in 2007, a grocery store in Greenwich Village, New York, became internet-famous when it advertised its ham as “Delicious for Chanukah.”

We shouldn’t need to spell this out, but pork in all of its many forms is a no-no for observant Jews.

Hanukkah, Hannibal Lecter-style

In 2015, fashion retailer Lord and Taylor published a Hanukkah greeting in the New York Times. Unfortunately, something got lost in translation, and the result was quite ghoulish. As the Times of Israel reports:

The message, in Hebrew, was supposed to read “Happy Hanukkah holiday,” but by consistently printing the letter ת or tav instead of the letter ח or het, the text instead translated roughly as “the tag of her earlobe that died.”

Not sure how this made it past the proofreader, or if a last-minute change in font was the culprit. Either way, it’s not the impression you want to leave in a major newspaper, is it?

Was the Virgin Birth the original Christmas translation fail?

Some translators argue that the idea of the Virgin Birth is actually a translation fail. For example, according to Katharina Reiss,  a German linguist and translation scholar:

The Virgin Birth and Virgin Mary are, pardon the pun, pregnant with social symbolic significance in most, if not all, parts of the world . . . And yet their birth is due to a relatively simple mistake in translation. The Old Testament talks about almah ‘young woman,’ not bethulah ‘virgin.’ However, the scholars in the 3rd century BC translated the Hebrew almah as parthenos in Greek. Thus the ‘young woman’ in Hebrew metamorphosed into a ‘virgin’ in Greek—and she has remained a virgin ever since in translations across the world. The notion of ‘virgin birth’ was born, thanks to a mistranslation.

Don’t want to get coal in your stocking (or alienate your customers during a busy shopping season?) Make sure your translations are correct and culturally appropriate by partnering with a reputable translation agency like K International.

We offer translation, transcreation and consulting services so you can be sure your holiday marketing hits all the right notes everywhere you do business, in more than 250 languages. For more information, take a look at our language services and feel free to contact us.

For everyone who celebrated, we hope you had a Merry Christmas! And if you see any other Christmas translation fails, feel free to share them in the comments.

28 Hilarious Movie Title Translations

Sometimes, the hardest part of a movie to translate is the title, and the results can be unintentionally hilarious. To prove it, here are 28 movie title translations, translated back into English. Can you guess the original titles? The answers are below the fold.

  1. He’s A Ghost!
  2. Vaseline
  3. The Hole of Malkovich
  4. Captain Supermarket
  5. Is The Spy Capable Or Not? 
  6. 17-Year-Old Girl’s Medical Chart
  7. The Teeth from the Sea
  8. Satan Female Soldier
  9. I’m Drunk, and You’re a Prostitute
  10. Run! Run! Cloudzilla!
  11. I Will Marry a Prostitute to Save Money 
  12. The Explosive Woman 
  13. The Desire to Win
  14. Sex Crimes
  15. Gangsters, Sex, and Karaoke 
  16. The Boy Who Drowned in Chocolate 
  17.  Young People Who Traverse Dimensions While Wearing Sunglasses 
  18. Multinationals Go Home! 
  19. Action Skyscraper 
  20. Die Hard: Mega Hard 
  21. Electronic Murderer 
  22. Mr. Cat Poop
  23. His Great Device Makes Him Famous
  24. The Night Of The Cold Noses
  25. Super Power Dare Die Team
  26. Dimwit Surges Forth
  27. The Lady in Yellow
  28. Interplanetary Unusual Attacking Team

Read more

Bad Translations From the Food Industry: 7 Sickening Translation Fails

Bad translations are bad business.  You might think it doesn’t matter that much if a translation is perfect. Google Translate is good enough. Hey, it’s free! They’ll get the idea, right? Wrong. Bad translations not only make your company look stupid, they can also insult, offend or even disgust your potential customers. To prove it, here are 7 food industry translation fails guaranteed to make you sick to your stomach.

*Disclaimer: K International obviously had nothing to do with any of these translations.**

Hope you weren’t eating…

Bad Translations From the Food Industry: Smell of What?!?


Why would anyone want to order fish that smells like pee? As it turns out, “Quishan smell of urine yellow croaker” is a common but unfortunate translation for “Qíshān sàozi huángyú 岐山臊子黄鱼,” a popular Chinese seafood dish. The picture above is one of several different photos circulating online with the same translation.

There’s got to be an explanation for this, right?

Yes! According to Language Log, the Chinese word “sàozi” can have several different meanings depending on tone. One of those meanings is, in fact, “smell of urine.”

But that’s not the correct meaning in this context, of course. Here’s a better translation, again courtesy of Language Log:

“It turns out that sàozi 臊子 is a type of sauce made from minced pork cooked with vinegar, red pepper, and many other seasonings. So a better translation would be “yellow croaker with minced pork sauce à la Qishan”.

That sounds much more appealing!

Photo: Read more

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