I think we all have embarrassing stories of language blunders and I thought it would be a fun post to end the week. I have one personal to share - my husband was in the Peace Corps in Columbia and was asked to make a speech to the Municipal Council (in Spanish, el consejo municipal). However, he addressed them as the "conejo muncipal" - the Municipal Rabbit. He had some friends in the audience who chuckled the first time he said it, and were almost on the floor as he said it over and over again. He did not learn until afterwards what he had done.
I found this online - 10 top language mistakes of companies around the world - Language Errors can cost a LOT of money:
Top 10 Language Blunders:
- Locum is a Swedish company. As most companies do at Christmas they sent out Christmas cards to customers. In 1991 they decided to give their logo a little holiday spirit by replacing the “o” in Locum with a heart. You can see the result I ♥ CUM
- The Japanese company Matsushita Electric was promoting a new Japanese PC for internet users. Panasonic created the new web browser and had received license to use the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as an interactive internet guide.
The day before the huge marketing campaign, Panasonic realized its error and pulled the plug. Why? The ads for the new product featured the following slogan: "Touch Woody - The Internet Pecker." The company only realized its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody’s pecker” could be interpreted as!
- The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks. Enough said….
- In the late 1970s, Wang, the American computer company could not understand why its British branches were refusing to use its latest motto "Wang Cares". Of course, to British ears this sounds too close to “Wankers” which would not really give a very positive image to any company.
- There are several examples of companies getting tangled up with bad translations of products due to the word “mist”. We had “Irish Mist” (an alcoholic drink), “Mist Stick” (a curling iron from Clairol) and “Silver Mist” (Rolls Royce car) all flopping as “mist” in German means dung/manure. Fancy a glass of Irish dung?
- “Traficante” an Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.
- In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organizations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.
- Sharwoods, a UK food manufacturer, spent £6 million on a campaign to launch its new ‘Bundh’ sauces. It received calls from numerous Punjabi speakers telling them that "bundh" sounded just like the Punjabi word for "arse".
- Honda introduced their new car "Fitta" into Nordic countries in 2001. If they had taken the time to undertake some cross cultural marketing research they may have discovered that "fitta" was an old word used in vulgar language to refer to a woman's genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. In the end they renamed it "Honda Jazz".
- A nice cross cultural example of the fact that all pictures or symbols are not interpreted the same across the world: staff at the African port of Stevedores saw the “internationally recognized” symbol for “fragile” (i.e. broken wine glass) and presumed it was a box of broken glass. Rather than waste space they threw all the boxes into the sea!