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Mistranslation: Soviet Union - We will bury you


The Soviet Union (USSR) has been consigned to the rubbish dump of history.

Mistranslations: We will bury you!


Indeed, a whole generation has been born since, with little or no knowledge of the “Evil Empire,” as the USSR was famously referred to by Ronald Reagan. Few still have heard of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader in the 50s and 60s.

However, in 1956 Nikita Khrushchev supposedly declared to western ambassadors at a reception in Moscow “We will bury you (My vas pokhoronim)!”

There is a lot of controversy and misinformation surrounding this quote.

It is controversial because the quote could mean “We will outlast you.” Khrushchev himself said in a later interview "I once said, 'We will bury you,' and I got into trouble with it. Of course we will not bury you with a shovel. Your own working class will bury you."

(The quote is incorrectly reported to have been uttered at Khrushchev’s shoe thumping tirade at the United Nations General Assembly on October 12, 1960.)

For those old enought to remember, this quote is indelible in the collective memory of the West, which was interpreted as a nuclear threat. Put into perspective, the Soviets Union had just developed the hydrogen bomb, and Sputnik was launched the following year as was the world’s first ICBM (R-7).

And the implications? Would there have been an arms race or a race to the moon but for this mistranslation?

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

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2 &DISCUSS response(s) so far ↓

  • 1 » Y.Kagami (2012-09-22)

    With the possible implication of mistranslation so great, you'd think there would be a more robust regime in place to ensure no misunderstandings take place. However, there are still even today quality issues at the highest levels of translation. (Just read some of the other articles in this series.) Definitely a case of lesson not learnt!
  • 2 » Akiko Akiya (2012-09-24)

    You'd think with the stakes so high, politicians would be more careful with their choice of words, and the translation would be meticulously verified!

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