Bad Translations

I think that by this point in time, we’ve learned not to rely on Google Translate or other online translation aids.  They’re wrong more often than not.  I occasionally use Google Translate at work when I need to speak Spanish or Portuguese to a foreign vendor (I usually don’t need it for French or Italian).

Reader Christina, the German Grammar Vandal, sent me a great sign translated to English from Italian.

In Italian, the same word means pump and bomb.  Additionally, the word spia means spy or control lamp.  You have three guesses as to which words were used:


Kind of creepy!

I’d like to share my favorite story of a bad translation.  I hope you enjoy it.  It still makes me blush today.

In my French 4 class in high school, we read La Belle et La Bête, or Beauty and the Beast.  We had to write a paper about it a few days later.

In my paper, I wrote, “Elle voit l’ane de la Bête et elle devient amoureuse.” I thought that I had written, “She sees the Beast’s soul and falls in love with him.”

Well, that’s not quite right. What I should have written was, “Elle voit l’ame de la Bête.”

My paper read, “She sees the Beast’s ass and falls in love with him.”

I have to give Mr. Porter credit — he did nothing but circle the word in red. I turned the same shade of red after realizing what I had written.  I couldn’t look him in the eye for quite some time.


7 responses to “Bad Translations

  1. I laughed out loud.

  2. As a teacher myself, I have to say accidents like that one make my day. Those surprises make correcting much less tedious! 🙂

  3. Remember, that if you tell someone “estoy embarazada” (Spanish), you’re not embarrassed, you’re pregnant.

  4. And if you ask your French family to pass “le preservatif,” you’re not asking for the preserves, you’re asking for a condom!

    (That never happened to me. I read that one in Seventeen magazine back in the day.)

  5. Oh, those high school French classes! I wrote “Ce qu’il est lait!” I was very surprised that I had called the man “milk,” instead of “ugly.”

    When I was teaching college, a Japanese student wrote a paper in which he referred to his country’s worrier tradition. I was stumped. I know about Jewish and Catholic guilt, but Japanese? Finally, I figured it out. He was talking about samurais, not neurotics. The word he was looking for was “warrior.” We both had a good laugh over that one!

  6. Well, to be fair, and maybe to relieve any lingering embarrassment, what you wrote was ass as in donkey, not the other kind.

    Another good one is Spanish año (year) vs ano (anus). Combined with Spanish sentence structure that means that to describe one’s age, one says “I have ## years,” you get a lot of first-year students saying “I have ## anuses.”

  7. LOL, best French mistake I’ve ever met.

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