Translation Matters!

Have you ever said something to someone and they reacted in a completely unexpected way?  Did you think, “Oh no, that’s not what I said!”  It’s common to communicate with others in a way that seems very clear to us, but sends a conflicting message or at best, confusing.  Apologies made, the damage is already done, whether they believe your innocence, or not.  Is it the words we use, the way we say the words, our body language or something entirely different?

Imagine, then, the difficulty when we speak a different language with different dialects and differing cultural meanings to someone who does not communicate in our native language.  The problem is compounded when you consider the written word, which comes without facial expression and the ability to immediately rectify the problem.

Translation matters! Call in a professional translator for transforming writing projects into another language.  How does this work – but more importantly, how can it go wrong with a lower-skilled or less-experienced translator (or the ubiquitous cell phone apps)?

Here are some common – and sometimes humorous – faux pas (French for “false steps” or mistakes) when someone’s words are translated literally without cultural context or content.

In China, there is a restaurant called “Translate server error”.  Yes, literally!  The owner attempted to translate the Simplified Chinese word for restaurant into English but the machine translation produced an error, rather than the translation requested.  Continuing to use the same process and not knowing the difference, the restaurant printed the error out in English and used it as a marketing sign.

But in case something happens, and you do get pregnant:

Cocktail lounge, Norway: “Ladies are Requested Not to have Children in the Bar”

In the related “Food” category

If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.”

A menu in Vienna: “Fried milk, children sandwiches, roast cattle and boiled sheep.”

At a Korean restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand: “We do not re-use the food.”

In case you like a little bit of infectious disease with your meal:

Smallpox pizza

When travelling, take heed:

On an Athi River highway: “TAKE NOTICE: When this sign is under water, this road is impassable.”

Detour sign in Kyushu, Japan: “Stop: Drive Sideways.”

Instructions on a Korean flight:
“Upon arrival at Kimpo and Kimahie Airport, please wear your clothes.”

Using appliances while bathing (recommended):

Please turn on vacuum cleaner when using the shower

Dual Category (Food and Travelling) ridiculousness:

Don't eat the carpet

If you want something completely incomprehensible on your package, use this:

Translation Mistake

And in the not so funny category

At the height of the cold war, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev gave a speech in which he uttered a phrase that was interpreted from Russian as “we will bury you.” It was taken as a chilling threat to destroy the U.S. with a nuclear attack and escalated the tension between the U.S. and Russia. However, the translation was a bit too literal. The sense of the Russian phrase was more that “we will live to see you buried” or “we will outlast you.” Still not exactly friendly, but not quite so threatening.

In 2009, HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase “Assume Nothing” was mistranslated as “Do Nothing” in various countries.

St. Jerome, the patron saint of translators, studied Hebrew so he could translate the Old Testament into Latin from the original, instead of from the third-century Greek version that everyone else had used. The resulting Latin version, which became the basis for hundreds of subsequent translations, contained a famous mistake. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai his head had “radiance” or, in Hebrew, “karan.” But Hebrew is written without the vowels, and St. Jerome had read “karan” as “keren,” or “horned.” From this error came centuries of paintings and sculptures of Moses with horns and the odd offensive stereotype of the horned Jew.

Here’s the good news – there is another way!

Cypher was started to give both clients and translators a better option. With extensive industry experience, we knew what worked and more importantly, what could be improved to better meet client needs. We provide flexibility, faster and accurate communication, and competitive rates for every client no matter the size of their project or account.

Our translators and editors work hard to make sure the message and the tone of each project are translated well, and they deserve a great experience too. Ultimately, they make all this possible.

To learn more please contact Juan directly at: or +1 844-7CYPHER (+1 844-729-7437).

For more information, please visit our website:


Kelly, N. & Zetzsche, J. (2012) Found in Translation.  TarcherPerigee:  New York.