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. »