It’s no mystery that cross-cultural translation mistakes are common, not to mention, occasionally hilarious. We’ve gathered a few of our favorites below for your amusement and as a warning to double check slang, taglines/slogans, and business copy materials.
Food and Drink:
- The translation of Coca-Cola in Chinese took several attempts to finally get it right. Their first try (Ke-kou-ke-la) translated as- “bite the wax tadpole.” Depending on the dialect it was also interpreted as “female horse stuffed with wax.” They finally nailed it after researching over 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent “ko-kou-ko-le” meaning “happiness in the mouth.”
- Pepsi had difficulty in China as well with their “Pepsi Brings you Back to Life” slogan, which translated as “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.”
- During Kentucky Fried Chicken’s initial launch into the Chinese market it was discovered that their slogan “Finger Lickin’ Good,” directly translated to “eat your fingers off.”
- In Spanish Coors Brewing’s tagline “Turn it Loose,” translated to “suffer from diarrhea.”
- The Dairy Council’s famous “Got Milk” campaign was translated in Spanish as “Are you lactating?”
Auto and Travel:
- American Airlines was trying to promote their new first-class leather seat option with the slogan “Fly in Leather.” In Spanish this directly translated to “Flying naked.”
- General Motors’ sales of the Chevrolet Nova were in the dumps in South America when they realized that ‘”nova” means “It won’t go” in Spanish. They later re-named the vehicle to Caribe.
- Ford’s Pinto also had similar lackluster sales in Brazil when it was discovered that “pinto” means: “tiny male genitals” in Spanish. Needless to say, they immediately changed the name to Corcel (horse).
- In English, a Scandinavian vacuum cleaner company’s slogan was translated as “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux,” much to the amusement of Americans in particular.
- In German, Clairol’s curling iron, “Mist Stick” translates as: “the manure stick.”