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bY Translation Service Japan: Brand Bloopers by Industry Powerhouses, Costly Translation Errors

Before we jump into the nitty gritty here, let’s separate fact from fiction.

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Myth has it that 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 textbooks. 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 (not again?!). 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...

If you believe you have the best translation blooper ever, then share it! Let our readers put it to the vote to find out if you really have the best translation error of all time! Simply contact us with the details, and we’ll post your blooper on our translation &DISCUSS blog.

About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, owner of the Tokyo based Certified Japanese Translator Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

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Tags: Japanese Translation Services · Translation Articles · Translation quality · Translation Services Japan · Translation Services Tokyo

5 &DISCUSS response(s)

  • 1 » Akiko Akiya (2012-08-21)

    These naming and catch copy related stuffs are interesting. And some of them have a strong impact...Of course, the consequences of mistranslation have an equally powerful, but negative, impact!
  • 2 » Shoko Malsom (2012-08-26)

    Funny stuff! It's could be a way for a company to provide a topic to talk about therefore gives a chance to promote their product?!
  • 3 » Mayuko N (2012-08-31)

    Those particular names must be tricky to translate. I have heard the TV game "SEGA" also means something bad in Italian... but they never seem to change...
  • 4 » SAECULII (2012-09-18)

    Yes, in Italian slang it means male masturbation. Which raises an interesting question. SEGA the company has been around since about the 1940's, so was Italian slang influenced by the popularity of the brand name? Or, did the creators of the company simply goof up when it came to deciding on a name? The answer to this question may be the reason why the company has never changed the name SEGA.
  • 5 » Y.Kagami (2012-09-27)

    These translation errors are absolutely funny! But, I'm sure the product (image) takes a huge hit...they should try quality human translation.