Before we jump in, let’s separate fact from fiction.
Myth has it Coca-Cola entered the Chinese market with “ko-ka-ko-la” which, amongst a number of things, also means “bite the wax tadpole”. The truth is somewhat less clear cut. Before Coca-Cola registered “Ke-kou-ke-le” (meaning “to allow the mouth to be able to rejoice”) in 1928 in China, independent shopkeepers put up signs advertising “bite the wax tadpole”. However, The Coca-Cola Company never ever used “bite the wax tadpole”.
Even archrival PepsiCo is not immune! Myth has it that "Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave" with their famous "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" copy translated for the Chinese market. The Chinese market, again? There are a number of variations involving a number of countries; however, there is no solid evidence this blooper ever occurred. (PepsiCo has never confirmed or denied the incident, which could be an attempt to get maximum marketing mileage out of the myth).
These are urban legends endlessly perpetuated having made their way into academia and even text books. So, where are the real brand bloopers, then?
- Mitsubishi Pajero: “pajero” means wanker in Spanish, so now we have the Montero
- Kentucky Fried Chicken: “Finger lickin' good!” somehow became “Eat your fingers off” in Chinese. (Then again, my toddler daughter often nips her own fingers chomping down on the Colonel’s delights…)
- McDonald's: “Double cheeseburger? I'd Hit It” -- American slang for sexual desire provides ample proof that slang in translation is a veritable minefield!
- Honda Fitta: “fitta” is a crude term for female sex organs in Swedish and Norwegian, so the vehicle that started in Asia as the Honda Fit became the Honda Jazz in Europe.
Can you imagine the cost of these translation errors? For example, I wonder how many folks decided owning a Honda Fitta was just too risque? Of course, we know this was a costly translation blooper otherwise the company wouldn't have rebranded the car...
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About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, Certified Japanese Translator based in Tokyo, Japan Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services
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