Từ chỉ nỗi sợ “thứ 6 ngày 13”

The word is triskaidekaphobia. Its literal meaning is ‘superstition about the number thirteen’, but it’s also used to refer to the specific fear of Friday the 13th. There is also the word paraskavedekatriaphobia, proposed by some as a more specific option, although this word is not yet in our dictionaries.

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Có từ nào chỉ “con bò”, chứ không hẳn là “con bò đực” hay “con bò cái”, không?

The truth is that there is no noun in general use that refers equally to a cow or a bull.

Zoologists use two terms. The first is ‘ox’, which is often restricted to animals of the genus Bos (i.e. the wild cattle – gaur, banteng, yak, aurochs, and kouprey – as well as domestic cattle). In popular use, though, the word ‘ox’ often refers to a castrated male animal, so that isn’t a perfect solution. The second zoological term is ‘bovine’,  which is used as a noun to refer to any animal of the wider group that comprises cattle, buffaloes, and bison. But this would be a strange choice in most general contexts.

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Choose a better verb

It’s easy to use very basic verbs such asget, start, have or make, but a great way ofimproving your English is to learn more interesting verbs that go with particular nouns. For example, while it’s fine to sayget attention or do research, your English will sound much better if you can sayattract attention or carry out research.

Sometimes it’s worth learning the verb and noun combination as a phrase because it is so common that it would sound strange to use a different verb. For instance, we commit a crime (never ‘do’), tell lies orjokes (never ‘say’), and pluck up courage (not ‘get’). And while it’s possible to ‘give’ attention, details or compliments, it’s much more common and natural topay attentiongo into details and pay someone a compliment.

If you are an intermediate or advanced learner of English, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of noticing (and perhaps writing down) interesting verb + noun partners so that you don’t have to rely on basic verbs. For example, you could usecause in all three of the following sentences, but imagine how impressed your teacher would be if you use the verbs that you see here instead:

Recent food shortages have triggered protests in the city.

            You need to find ways of generating interest in your product.

The announcement prompted speculation that their marriage was in trouble.

Similarly, you can sustain injuries rather than ‘get’ them, hold down a job rather than ‘keep’ it, strike up a conversation rather than ‘start’ it, and expend energyrather than ‘use’ it.

And don’t forget those combinations where the noun comes first. It’s fine to say that war ‘starts’, but so much better to say war breaks out. Similarly, a gamble can ‘succeed’, but your English will sound more natural if you say that a gamble pays off.

It may seem like an enormous task to learn particular verbs to use with specific nouns, but a good learner’s dictionary can help you a lot. All the examples given in this blog are shown clearly in the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. So if you find yourself using a common verb, it’s worth looking up the noun you want to use it with to see if there’s a better alternative.

If you adopt this approach, you will soon reap the rewards and win praise for your natural, fluent English.

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Vietnamese – the official language of Vietnam

Languages spoken in Vietnam

Almost all people in Vietnam speak Vietnamese  language (tiếng Việt). This is the official language of the country.

The majority of Vietnamese population (around 90%) speak this language as native, however, the other 10% also speak Vietnamese as a second language. Vietnam is an ethnically diverse country, with various minority groups living mostly in mountainous regions in the north of the country and in the Central Highlands region. Each minority group speaks their own language. From a linguistic point of view, most of these minority languages are not related to Vietnamese at all.

There is a long list of individual languages spoken in Vietnam, which amounts to 110. Of these, 109 are living and 1 is extinct. Of the living languages, 1 is institutional, 15 are developing, 51 are vigorous, 37 are in trouble, and 5 are dying. Click here for more information. Source: http://www.ethnologue.com/country/VN/languages

About Vietnamese:

Vietnamese is one of the world’s most important languages, ranked 16th by number of native speakers (2007 stastics; click here for more information).

Total population of overseas Vietnamese


~4,000,000 (estimates)[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 United States 1,799,632(2010) [1]
 Cambodia 600,000[2]
 Laos 150,000
 France 250,000[3]
 Australia 159,848(2006) [4]
 Canada 180,125(2006) [5]
 Taiwan 120,000
 Russia up to 150,000[8]
 Germany 137.000(2010)[9]
 South Korea 116,219(2011)[10]
 Czech Republic 60,000(2008) [11]
 United Kingdom 55,000[12]
 Poland 50,000[8]
 Japan 41,136(2008) [13]
 United Arab Emirates 20,000[14]
 China 20,000[8]
 Netherlands 18,913[15]
 Norway 18,333(2006) [16]
 Sweden 11,771(2003) [17]
 Thailand 10,000[18]
 Denmark 8,575(2002) [17]
  Switzerland 8,173(2008) [19]
 Qatar 8,000
 Belgium 7,151(2001) [17]
 New Zealand 4,875(2006) [20]
 Ukraine 3,850(2001) [21]
 Hungary 1,020(2001) [22]
 Finland 4,000[23]
 Slovakia 3,000[24]
 Brazil 1,000
 Italy 3,000
Elsewhere 400,000

Vietnamese is not only the national language of Vietnam, but also native language for about 4 million Vietnamese living overseas, particularly in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, China, Taiwan, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Laos, Martinique, Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, Philippines, Russian Federation, Senegal, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, and many other countries.

Source: http://www.ethnologue.com/country/VN/languages

Roots of the language:

Linguists have had a lot of trouble classifying the origins of Vietnamese. It has borrowed so much from foreign languages near and far, over the course of so many centuries, that there are several superficial characteristics that might seem to tie it to one group or another. The true roots of the Vietnamese language are still obscured by the huge impact foreign languages have had on its development, and the linguistic community has yet to reach a full consensus.

Chinese has been a major influence on Vietnamese, and so on the surface it appeared to belong to the Sino-Tibetan language family. Further investigation, however, revealed unrelated roots that dated back to an earlier language tradition. It was then thought that Vietnamese was more closely related to Thai, but this too was a surface layer. It is now generally thought that Vietnamese branched from the Austro-Asiatic language family, with its closest relatives being the Khmer language of Cambodia and several minority languages in India, Bangladesh, and other areas of Southeast Asia.

Click here for an interesting research into the roots of Vietnamese, but unfortunately the research is in Vietnamese.

Language characteristics:

Vietnamese, like Chinese, is a tonal language and therefore has a large number of vowels and different ways to pronounce them. Subtly changing the tone of a vowel can change the meaning of the entire word, making the written language at times easier to understand than the spoken one. Also like Chinese, Vietnamese is what is known as an “analytic” language, which is to say that it uses separate words to define tense and gender rather than modifying root words. Both today and in the distant past, Vietnamese has often created new terms by forming compound words. These compound words can even combine native Vietnamese words with borrowings from other languages (there are a high number of Vietnamese-Chinese compounds, for instance).

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_phonology

Written form:

The people of Vietnam originally borrowed the character set of the Chinese in order to write things, but after a while they created a variant that modified the characters to reflect their own phonetic vernacular. Educated Vietnamese have traditionally written either in Classical Chinese or using the more complicated Vietnamese variant. Latin script was then introduced to their country in the seventeenth century by Portuguese missionaries, who wanted to Romanize the Vietnamese language in order to help spread Christianity. The Vietnamese alphabet uses Latin letters as a base and modifies them to indicate non-Latin phonetic aspects.

Tone name

Tone ID


Chao Tone Contour



ngang “level”


mid level

˧ (33)

(no mark)

ba ‘three’

huyền “hanging”


low falling (breathy)

˨˩ (21) or (31)



sắc “sharp”


mid rising, tense

˧˥ (35)



nặng “heavy”


mid falling, glottalized, short

˧ˀ˨ʔ (3ˀ2ʔ) or ˧ˀ˩ʔ (3ˀ1ʔ)


bạ ‘at random’

hỏi “asking”


mid falling(-rising), harsh

˧˩˧ (313) or (323) or (31)

bả ‘poison’

ngã “tumbling”


mid rising, glottalized

˧ˀ˥ (3ˀ5) or (4ˀ5)



Once present-day Vietnam became part of the French colonial empire, the Latinized script became the official written language and has remained so even after Vietnam’s independence. The institution of a Latin-based writing system proved to be a two-edged sword for the Vietnamese people; a Latinized alphabet is far easier to learn than a system of Chinese characters, enabling most of Vietnam’s population to become literate, but at the same time distancing them from their traditional literature.

Source: http://www.mapsofworld.com/pages/tongues-of-world/languages/tongues-of-the-world-vietnamese/

Vietnamese dialects:

There are a lot of dialects of Vietnamese spoken, sometimes at even the village level, across the country. Among them, Hanoi dialect is the official variant. It would be very hard to have insights into all of them and in fact there is still no such research taken ever. For a comparison between the regional key dialects (Northen, Hanoi, Southern, Saigon, Central), click here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_phonology

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Laugh & Learn #1

Just for fun… Some of these may be true; some may be totally jokes… But they all send a serious message.

Body bag vs. Knapsack

Body Bags    2006-03-05

Almost as good as the confusion among English speakers over the term Fanny Pack, is the humor raised by the German equivalent for knapsack. Companies often use or “borrow” words from other languages to give their product names a certain cachet. Sometimes their choices are a bit odd. German makers of knapsacks refer to them as “Body Bags“.
Vielen Danke to Marc Tobias for this item.

CBS 60 Minutes    New! 2006-02-25

I use an interpreter from time to time, so I know how difficult the job is. The following Translator Mistake is reported on October 6, 2000 on the CBS News Web Siteamong other places. Look for the side bar on “Lost In Translation“. (Which has not got to be one of the most overused, unclever, cliche headings in the past few years. Strike it from the language along with “without further ado”.)

60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace, known for his tough interviewing style, drew a sharp rebute from Boris Yeltsin – thanks to a translator’s error. The confusion arose when Wallace asked Yeltsin if he had a “thin skin” when it came to public criticism, but the translation had Wallace describing Yeltsin as a “thick-skinned hippopotamus.”

Yeltsin was not amused.

“An experienced journalist like yourself,” Yeltsin said, “should express himself in a more civilized fashion. But this may be the translator’s fault, and if so, he is the hippopotamus!”
Thanks to KKWolf

Orange Co. Logo

Orange    New! 2006-02-16

During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. “The future’s bright … the future’s Orange.” That campaign is an advertising legend. However, in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist… didn’t sit well with the Catholic Irish population.
Thanks to Janet O’Sullivan

GPT    New! 2006-02-18

In 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant. A brand name was desired that evoked technology and innovation. The winning proposal was GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. A not very innovative name and not suggestive of technology and a total disaster for European branding. GPT is pronounced in French as “J’ai pété” or “I’ve farted”.
Thanks to Jem Shaw!

Life Fitness     New! 2006-01-24

LifeFitness 4FLife Fitness is a maker of exercise equipment, bikes, ski machines etc. Their logo made me laugh. I was walking around the exercise room to stretch my legs after some strenuous biking when I first noticed it. At first I thought it said “4F”. Now, for those of you that don’t know, the American military, when there was a draft, had a rating for recruits. If you were “1A”, you were healthy and fit for duty. “4F” is the code for those that are physically unfit and unacceptable to the army. So “4F” was a rather inappropriate logo for a health fitness machine. It took me about a minute to realize it wasn’t “4F”, but “LF” the initials for LifeFitness.

Waterpik     2004-12-24

Waterpik uses another name in Denmark. “Pik” is the common Danish word for male genitals. Most Danes can easily translate “water” to the danish word “vand”. And “vandpik” is a term for the morning erection.
“And you put that thing in your mouth?!?!”
Thanks to Jørgen Lykkebo!

PepsiCo India     2004-10-06

An old ad by Pepsi in IndiaI was visiting Bangalore, India when the local news (for example, rediff india) was widely reporting the legal consequences of a marketing mistake by Pepsi. Pepsi is being sued in a Hyderabad, India city court in a public interest litigation for glorifying child labor in a television ad. In the ad, the Indian cricket team is in a celebratory huddle when a young boy serves them Pepsi.

Binney & Smith Crayola    2004-11-06

Binney & Smith Crayola CrayonsCrayola has changed color names over time due to the civil rights movement and other social pressures. In 1962, Binney & Smith replaced flesh withpeach, in recognition of the wide variety of skin tones. More recently, in 1999, they changed indian red to chestnut. The color was not named after Native Americans, it was actually named for a special pigment that came from India. But school children often assumed the incorrect origin of the name. There are many sites listing the history of Crayola colors, including Crayola’s own history page.

Financial Asia Times    2004-05-13

Nick Lord writes a story for Finance Asia: “Rudi Pecker taking the head job and top slot at Misys”. Do you think Nick or the editors at Finance Asia might have had an idea about the double entendre? If the article link goes away, you can read about Mr. Pecker’s rise up, here.
Thanks to Carlos Silva!

Panasonic     2004-05-13

Internet Guide Woody WoodpeckerAccording to the EE Times, October 8, 1996 (and numerous web sites), Matsushita Electric was promoting a Japanese PC for internet users. It came with a Japanese Web browser courtesy of Panasonic. Panasonic had licensed the cartoon character “Woody Woodpecker” as the “Internet guide.”

The day before a huge marketing campaign was to begin, Panasonic stopped the product launch. The reason: the ads featured the slogan “Touch Woody – The Internet Pecker.” An American at the internal product launch explained to the stunned and embarrassed Japanese what “touch woody” and “pecker” meant in American slang.
Thanks to A. Vine for pointing me at this!

Port Wallhamn    2004-05-08

Port Wallhamn is a Swedish port. The companies that surround it used to give their employees ties with the logo “W” and an anchor. The combination forms a very nice rebus for Wanker, much to the chagrin of the British workers who had to wear it.
Thanks to Hendrik Demol!
If someone has a tie and could send me a photo of it, that would be much appreciated!

Gerber    2004-05-08

Gerber, the name of the famous baby food maker, is also the French word for vomiting. It becomes a bit limiting when you go global… Gerber is therefore not in France, and although Gerber has a French Canadian web page, it says “Les aliments pour bébés Gerber ne sont disponibles pour l’instant qu’aux États-Unis” (French for: The baby food ain’t here, try the U.S.)
Thanks to Hendrik Demol!

Bastard or Baathist?    2004-04-03

The newspaper The Australian had to apologize for changing a Senator’s use of “Baathist” to “Bastard“.

story headlined ‘Syria seeks our help to woo US‘ in Saturday’s Weekend Australian misquoted National Party senator Sandy Macdonald. The quote stated: “Syria is a country that has been a bastard state for nearly 40 years” but should have read “Syria is a country that has been a Baathist state for nearly 40 years.”

The Australian’s editorial staff then drowned their sorrows at the local pub with several “Suffering Baathists“.

My thanks to Rick C for his pointer to Samizdata’s blog report for this item.

Latte Anyone?    2004-03-16

cup of latteBook Cover- Cooking for Mr. LatteLatte means milk in Italy. In English, Latte is a coffee-drink. Many folks like to head to Starbucks or other coffee shops to take early morninglatte breaks…

In Germany, Latte is a well known word for an erection. So, “morning latte” is when you wake up in the morning with an erection! The word “break” means “destroy”, so taking that “morning latte break” is destroying that erection. I’ll leave the details to your imagination, as well as all the puns on how you take your steaming hot drink.

This item is thanks to Jochen Gumpert, a standup guy! Apparently, Germans are amused at American morning television shows called “Morning Latte” and book’s like the popular Amanda Hesser’s book “Cooking for Mr. Latte“!

Yellow Transportation    2004-3-8

yellow logoSome will think it a mistake. I think it’s brilliant. The logo for Yellow Transportation says the name “Yellow” in bold black letters on hey, wait-a-second… that’s not yellow! Right it is orange. And orange is all over their trucks, collateral, etc. It’s good marketing that stops and makes you take a second look or makes you wonder. Apparently they named the company Yellow, and later sought out the safest color for their trucks. Collaborating with Dupont they came up with “Swamp Holly Orange”. OK, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out you don’t want to rename the company Swamp anything. Nevertheless, I like their commitment to safety while maintaining their identity and having a cool marketing strategy, which goes back to the 1930’s.

Oh, you wanted mistakes. See the next item.

IKEA FARTFULL    2004-3-8

picture of fartfull desk on wheelsIKEA sells this workbench as the FARTFULL. Although IKEA’s web page says FARTFULL is not for sale on the web, I still enjoy recommending it as the perfect gift suggestion for various people.

Swedish is a Germanic language, and “Fährt” is German for travel, so I am sure “fartfull” is being used here to suggest mobility, given the desk’s wheels and design. Swedish has several words for fart, but one of them is “Fjärt”, which strikes me as close enough that their marketing department knew what it was doing. If even bad press is good public relations, then this is a case of allowing an ill wind to blow some good.

Ford Pinto, Ford Corcel    Updated! 2004-1-12

Everyone, get out your web erasers! This popular story is debunked.
Marcelo de Castro Bastos informs us (and confirmed elsewhere):
Ford Pinto (under any name) wasn’t ever sold in Brazil, except maybe as a low-volume import. The Ford Corcel was a totally unrelated product, the result of a joint project by the Brazilian subsidiary of Willys Overland and French automaker Renault (Willys used to make Renault cars, like the Dauphine and Gordini, under license in Brazil.) When Ford acquired Willys’s Brazilian operation, they inherited the almost-finished project and decided to launch it under their own brand. They MAY have considered to use the “Pinto” brand on it, but saner heads prevailed and decided on the “Corcel” name in order to keep to the “horse” theme Ford seemed to like at the time. The “Pinto” name was never used in Brazil.
Corcel” was a huge success, and remained in production for more than a decade, spawning a station wagon version called “Belina“, a second-generation “Corcel II“, a luxury version called “Del Rey” and a light pick-up version called “Pampa“. In the early eighties, almost the entire production of Ford Brazil’s automobile division was comprised of Corcel-related vehicles.


Ford’s Pinto didn’t do well in Brazil. Pinto is Brazilian slang for “male genitals“. Ford renamed the car the Corcel, which means horse or steed.
Note 1: If it were my translation marketing department I would have renamed the car “Dear God, I hope my gas tank doesn’t explode!
Note 2: “Pinto” is reported all over the web, along with this story, as meaning “tiny male genitals” or a “man with small genitals”. According to Luiz Pryzant, it just refers to “male genitals”.

SEPR Ersol    2004-1-11

Bill Leahy sends this gem: Saint-Gobain is a large French glass and ceramics company. Their subsidiary, SEPR, invented a material used in the bottom of furnaces that melt glass. The product was named “Ersol” which comes from “Electro Refractaire Sol”.
Sol is the French word for bottom (of the furnace). Electro Refractaire refers to it being refractory (resists softening at high temperature) and so is made by electrically melting it. A sensible name, until they introduced the product into the United Kingdom.
Ersol sounds too close to arsehole! However, when alerted to the language problem the company decided not to change it.

Combine the name with the product’s bottom position, and you can see why some product descriptions might read inappropriate to the British:
“contraction which occur during the solidification process must be carefully controlled, as it affects the homogeneity of the piece, the volume and location of the shrinkage cavity, and the residual stress.”

That said, I noted several companies named Ersol on the web.

Aussie Nads    2004-1-10

Boxes labeled Aussie Nads caught my attention in the local Walgreens. In my limited vocabulary “Aussie” means Australian and “Nads” is colloquial for gonads, in particular testicles. So my first thought was that the box contained the international version of “Rocky Mountain Oysters” or “Prairie Oysters“. (Here are sometesticle recipes.) But I wasn’t in the food aisle.

My second thought was that these were replacement parts… After all, I get an e-mail every 15 minutes offering me either viagara or organ extensions, so it’s not such an unreasonable conclusion. But the idea that some very macho Australians, no doubt from the Outback, decided they were man enough to sell one of their parts and still have enough left over to make out ok (pun intended) was implausible. Closer inspection of the box reveals that Aussie Nads is a hair removal product.
Another well-named product is “Nad’s for Men” and don’t forget to order “Nad’s Wand” the “facial applicator wand“. Seems like they are penetrating many new markets and so very soon they will be in a store barely a stone’s throw away from you.

Glen Thomas points out that there is a well-known greyhound named “nads” in Australia, frequently spurred on by the crowd yelling “Go Nads“.

Intimidate Dating Service    2004-1-10

Israeli radio and press ran ads for the Intimidate Dating Service. Now you might think that Intimidate tries to match up sadists with masochists. However, Hagit Rozanes informs us that “Intimi” is the Hebrew word for intimate. (Hmmm. Better hope your date speaks Hebrew or you are in for a rough night…)

Liebfraumilch Wine    2004-1-10

Liebfraumilch wineSeveral people wrote me about Germany’s most exported wine: Liebfraumilch. “Lieb” means “dear” or “beloved” sometimes a reference to “God” or “holy”. “Frau” is “woman”, and “Milch” is “milk”. Hence “beloved woman’s milk“, also translated as “Milk of the Virgin” or “Milk of Our Lady“. E-mails also offered translations of “women love milk”, and “loves woman milk”.

The name comes from its origins in about the 16th century in the vineyards of the Liebfrauenkirche (“Church of Our Lady”) in Worms, Germany. (Worms Winewould also have been a Marketing Mistake!) (Read more in the Food Dictionary.)

It would probably be a Marketing Mistake for Liebfraumilch to produce a variation of the Got Milk? ads with paintings of a woman’s breast and the milk mustache on it, next to their wine bottle. (Maybe pencil in a mustache in this El Greco…)

Götzen    2004-1-10

The european hardware store chain “Götzen” opened a mall in Istanbul. “Göt” means “ass” in Turkish. They changed the name to “Tekzen“.
Thanks to Hakan Turan!

Wang Cares    2004-1-10

In the late ’70s, the American computer company Wang was puzzled why its British branch refused to use its latest motto “Wang Cares“. However, to British ears the motto sounds too close to “wankers“. (masturbaters)
Thanks to Malcolm Howlett!

Opel Ascona    2004-1-10

General motors made a car named “Opel Ascona“. This model sold poorly in Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain. In the galician and also portuguese languages, the term is similar to the term for female genitalia.
Thanks to Anjo.

Inferno Undertaker    2004-1-4

The 1990’s saw the emergence of private-owned companies and the re-introduction of cremation in Estonia.
Kai Redone reports that during that period an undertaker in Tallinn, Estonia named itself Inferno, causing several raised eyebrows.

I didn’t see the problem right away. I thought inferno’s meaning is “a very intense and uncontrolled fire” or conflagration. However, although that is one sense for the word, inferno’s major usage is “hell“, “purgatory” or “perdition“.

I can imagine the advertisement for Inferno:
I am sorry about the loss of your loved one. Where is the funeral, so I can say goodbye to him?
He’s going to burn in the Inferno!

Mitsubishi Starion    2003-12-30

Andrew Harris of Australia writes: “Mitsubishi had a very successful small car called the Colt. They brought out a slightly larger model, but right up to the last minute, couldn’t decide on a name for it. The people here were in a last minute conference call to the Japanese execs trying to make a decision when the final word came through that ‘Stallion’ would be a suitable ‘horsey’ name to follow Colt. Trouble was, the name wasn’t written, but spoken with a thick Japanese accent and the Aussie end were mystified, but duly wrote down ‘Starion‘. By the time the mistake was realised the badging and ads had been started and it was too late to stop it.”

It’s a great story and Snopes categorizes it as a definite maybe. With so many car names on this page, you have to wonder if these marketing mistakes aren’t intentional, owing to the theory that even bad press is allegedly good marketing…

I like that Andrew’s version attributes the choice of the name to Mitsubishi’s “Aussie” management. Many of the reports I receive have a local or localized coloring. The car is of course sold internationally and othe reports (such as in Snopes) attribute the problem due to American (mis-)management. There is probably a U.K. version as well…

Donkey Kong's Gorilla

Nintendo Donkey Kong    2003-12-30

Snopes (and Nintendo) refutes the notion that Nintendo Donkey Kong was originally to be known as Monkey Kong, or that either a smudged fax or a typographic error resulted in the product’s actual name.

Yamaha Electric Grand Keyboard    2003-12-27

Yamaha had a mistranslation in their assembly instructions for their Electric Grand Keyboard, circa 1993. They should have written “screw” and ended up instead with instructions for the over-21 crowd. (And for consistency, it should have been called a Grand Organ…)

Irish Mist Liqueur

Irish Mist Liqueur    2003-12-27

Bad translations using the word “Mist” in Germany keep coming my way. (See Mist Stick and Silver Mist.)
D. Fleming reported that Irish Mist didn’t do well in Germany either. Other sources claimed it was marketed with the semi-Germanized Irischer Mist, which would translate back to English as Irish dung. (Babelfish translated it kindly as “Irish muck”.) (German Customs should just turn “Mist” products back at the border!)

Toaplan Zero Wing “All your base are belong to us”    2003-12-24

Toaplan was a video game maker that had a terrible, Japanese-to-English translation of the intro to their Zero Wing game, with great lines like: “Somebody set up us the bomb.” Although the company went out of business, the translation and in particular the line “All your base are belong to us” became a phenomenon crossing from the net into popular culture. Hey, if you are gonna blow it, blow it big! A web search will find plenty of hilarious web pages featuring the line. Here is a history page and an informative news item.

Traficante Mineral Water    2003-12-23

Traficante is an Italian brand of mineral water. In Spanish, it means drug dealer.

Volkswagen Jetta    2003-12-20

Volkswagen named the sedan version of Golf the Jetta. However, the letter “J” doesn’t exist in the Italian alphabet, so Jetta is pronounced “Ietta“, which means Misfortune…
Thanks to Alberto Malin.

Omanko writes: It’s true… the letter J don’t exist in the Italian alphabet but it is in use a long time. (e.g. There is also an old city called Jesi and Italian names likeJacopo…). The word ietta don’t exist in Italian but Jella exists (yes, you write it with the letter J!) and there are two or three words derived from this one, e.g.jettatore/iettatore (evil-eyed man) or jettatura/iettatura (bad luck). In neapolitan dialect Jetta means throw, throw away!!!
Jetta has good sales in Italy.

2003-12-23 OK, I received a few confusing if not conflicting mails on this, so I spoke with New England’s Italian language translation expert, Laura Bergamini‘The answer from Omanko is correct. Jetta by itself does not mean anything, nor is it associated with “bad luck” as “jella” is. It is part of words like “jettatore“.
‘Additionally, ever since it was introduced, the car was marketed with the English pronunciation of “J” so it IS called “jay-tta” by the Italian audience.’
OK The word Jetta is meaningless in Italian, and sales are good. Score one for VW Marketing. I would like to say case closed, but in fairness to Alberto and the others that wrote me that “Jettas were bad luck”, translationally speaking, there can be regional or dialectical differences, and so it may be more true in some Italian-speaking areas. Also, as with all the entries here, I check for other sources before posting, and did find some other mentions of it. So perhaps it is an urban legend or a case of “You say Jetta, I say Ietta”.

OK, More mail from Italy. Francesco V. of Calabria writes that Jetta does mean “throw away”, not only in Neapolitan dialect, but in southern Italy. Grazie Molto!

Hoover Zyklon, Umbro Zyklon, Siemens Zyklon    2003-12-20

Hoover Zyklon VacuumHoover, maker of vacuum cleaners, sells a model on the European market, including Germany, called the Zyklon. Zyklon is the German word for Cyclone, so it is a seemingly sensible choice for a powerful vacuum. However, Zyklon B is the lethal gas used by Nazis in concentration camps. I would think that the name would draw protests, but I see German web sites currently selling the vacuums for less than 200 euro. Perhaps, if readers are aware of either protests or reasons that it is not considered offensive, they will e-mail me.

Meanwhile, CNN.com reported on August 28, 2002, that British shoe maker Umbro received many protests for its running shoe the Zyklon. Umbro apologized and renamed it. Apparently, the shoe had been named the Zyklon since 1999, but they had not written the name on the shoe until recently.

A week later, BBC News reported that Bosch Siemens Hausgeraete (BSH) was withdrawing its trademark application for the name Zyklon. BSH had filed two applications with the US Patent & Trademark Office for “Zyklon” across a range of home products, including gas ovens.

Reed Business News    2003-12-20

A few years back Reed Business News relaunched itself with the branding: “If it’s news to you, it’s news to us.“.
It was replaced after a couple of days…

Thanks to Adam Rutherford.

Hong Kong Tourist Board     2003-12-20

According to TravelBiz.com.au in April, 2003 the Hong Kong Tourist Board tried to either pull their ads or have their slogan changed. But it was too late to change the campaign that was on billboards throughout Hong Kong and in British versions of Cosmopolitan and Conde Nast Traveller.

The slogan that was running “Hong Kong: It will take your breath away.” unfortunately coincided with the SARS epidemic that resulted in numerous deaths. Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of SARS.

(OK, I know it is not a translation mistake, just bad timing, but it caught my attention anyway.)

Sharwoods    2003-11-18

MediaGuardian.co.uk reports: Sharwoods £6m campaign to launch its new Bundh sauces received calls immediately from numerous Punjabi speakers. “bundh” sounds like the Punjai word for “arse”.

Sharwoods has no intention of changing it. “We hope that once they understand the derivation of the Bundh sauce range and taste the delicious meals they can produce, they will agree that it is miles apart from the Punjabi word that is similar but spelled and pronounced differently (with a long “u”).”

Thanks to Paul Kerins for this.

Peanut Chocolate Bars

Anyone know the name of the peanut-packed chocolate bar that lost out in the Japanese market because many Asians believe peanuts and chocolate cause nosebleeds?
Both peanuts and chocolate (actually caffeine) cause allergic reactions. I didn’t find reports on the web of their causing nosebleeds specifically, but I did find pages where individuals are avoiding them to prevent nosebleeds. Also, asian diets are very different from western diets and so tolerances differ.

General Motors Buick LaCrosse    2003-10-22

Reuters reports: General Motors Corp. will rename its Buick LaCrosse in Canada because the name for the car is slang for masturbation in Quebec, embarrassed officials with the U.S. automaker said on Thursday. GM officials, who declined to be named, said it had been unaware that LaCrosse was a term for self-gratification among teenagers in French-speaking Quebec.

GM officials in Canada are working on a new name for the car…

Pizza Hut P’Zone     2003-06-23

Pizza Hut is advertising their new dish, a calzone they named the P’Zone. It is pronounced like “pezón“, the Spanish word for “nipple”. Susana says the Pizza Hut PR dept. in Texas told her they knew about this before launching the campaign.
Maybe we shouldn’t file this under mistakes then, and instead put it under interesting marketing strategies!
Muchas gracias to Susana C. Schultz of Strictly Spanish for this report!

Honda Fitta/Jazz/Fit     2003-04-06

Car maker Honda introduced their new car “Fitta” in the Nordic countries during 2001, only to find out that “fitta” is an old word, currently used in vulgar language to refer to a woman’s genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. It was renamed to “Honda Jazz” for the Nordic market.
According to newspaper articles, Japanese ads said that “[Fitta] is small on the outside, but large on the inside”. It’s now called the Honda Fit in Japanese markets.
My thanks to Peter Karlsson for this report!

SEGA     2003-04-05

In Italy “sega” is the unofficial but most popular name for the act of male masturbation. So, the popular videogame makers SEGA Enterprises, attempting to disassociate SEGA from sega, changed the pronunciation to “see-ga” in their ads, as if to educate Italians about proper English (or Japanese?) pronunciation.

Many Italians are surprised to learn that SEGA is not pronounced see-ga, but say-ga, outside of Italy.
Also alleged, is that when the SEGA-sponsored Arsenal Gunners soccer team was to play the Italian Fiorentina team for the Championship (circa 1999), the Arsenals argued to play the game in the U.K.   Apparently, their away flag displays the sponsor prominently and it might inspire, er I mean offend the Italian TV audience.

American or Braniff Airlines

When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its “Fly In Leather” campaign literally, which meant “Fly Naked” (“vuela en cuero“) in Spanish!

Some reports say it was Braniff not American. About Spanish Language (part 2) says ‘The idiom for “buck naked” is “en cueros”, not “en cuero”. Even a beginning translator would realize that a word play such as “in leather” might not work in a literal translation.’

Interestingly, Castaways Travel of Spring, Texas thought flying naked was a good idea. See these articles: Houston Business Journal: Inaugural flight makes nudes headlines and errtravel.com: Berrly Flying

American Motors Matador

The Matador did not do well in Puerto Rico where “matador” has the connotation of “killer“. (Bull-fighting was abolished on the island more than 100 years ago, when the U.S. took control of Puerto Rico.)

Bacardi Pavane/Pavian

Popular story these days is that Bacardi marketed a drink called either Pavane, which sounds like Pavian, or it marketed a drink called Pavian. The latter sounds plausible, if they wanted to go after the healthy, aristocratic, pure water drinkers, as it sounds like the brand “Evian”. Either name would have given the fruity drink a French mystique. The claim is the Bacardi drink doesn’t do well in Germany where “Der Pavian” means “the Baboon” auf Deutsch…

Chevy Nova, Vauxhall Nova, Opel Corsa     Updated 2004-01-19

When General Motors introduced the Chevrolet (aka Chevy) Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that “no va” means “it won’t go“. After the company figured out why it wasn’t selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
This one is untrue. For more background on this, see: My '75 Chevy Nova looked something like this
About Spanish Language (part 1),
http://www.tafkac.org/products/chevy_nova_mexico.html, and

Steven Marzuola wrote me: “I grew up in Venezuela, and there were Novas all over the place. I have also learned that it did rather well in Mexico. It was not offered in many other countries, for a variety of reasons, but none of them having to do with the name.”

Steve Checkley informs me that in mainland Europe, the GM car known as the Vauxhall Nova in the United Kingdom, is known as the Opel Corsa. This is true as I have confirmed it elsewhere. The European Novas were launched in 1983. However, the American version ran from 1961 (starting with the 1962 model) through to 1979. The pictures that I have seen of the European Novas don’t look like the American Novas. There may have been some similarities under the covers of course. But I think the cars were different generations and probably only related by name. Here is a history of the American Nova and a history of the Vauxhall Nova 1983-1993

For related items, see Vauxhall Nova and Noah’s Chevy Nova

Clairol Mist Stick

Clairol introduced the “Mist Stick“, a curling iron, into German only to find out that “mist” is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the “manure stick“.

Actually, this is not quite right and confuses the curling iron story with the Rolls Royce Siver Mist example. The German word “Miststück” (pronounced similarly to Mist Stick) is how you might call a woman a bitch or slut.
(And now you know what to get your ex-wife for Christmas!)

Thanks to Peter Hofer for correcting this.

Coca-Cola Fresca

In Mexico, Fresca is a term for Lesbian. Jokes abound, but sales weren’t hurt. (Despite what you read elsewhere on the web.) There are many fruit drinks namedAgua Fresca (fresh water).

Coca-Cola, Ke-ke-ken-la, Ko-kou-ko-le

Coca-cola logoThe name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-ke-ken-laChinese characters for bite the wax tadpole Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax” depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, “ko-kou-ko-le,” Chinese characters for Coca-cola which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth.”
For more background on Coke in China, see:  Snopes.com or www.kekoukele.org/kekoukele.htm.

Colgate Cue

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno mag.

I have received several mails saying that they don’t know of a French magazine named Cue. This story goes back to the early ’90s so Cue might have existed and gone out of business since then. Others have written that they do know of a magazine named Cul, which is pronounced like cue (e.g. “kyu”).
Personally, I don’t give this story much credence. However, from the mails I get, a lot of people are out searching for this magazine. If anyone wants to join me in publishing a French porn magazine named Cue, there is a ready market for it!


Coors put its slogan, “Turn it loose” into Spanish, where it was read as “Suffer from diarrhea“.

Electrolux Vacuum

The Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux tried to sell its goods in America but didn’t help itself with this slogan, “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux.

Ford Comet, Ford Caliente

Ford’s Comet, was called “Caliente” in Mexico. “Caliente” literally means “hot” (as in temperature), but colloquially it is also used for either “horny” or “prostitute”.

Ford Cortina

Ford’s Cortina is translated as “jalopy”.

Ford Fiera

Ford’s Fiera doesn’t do well with Spanish-speaking Latin-Americans, since “fiera” means “ugly old woman“.

Gerber Baby Food

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what’s inside, since most people can’t read.

Snopes dismisses the African baby food story as an example of “cultural prejudice”. I am a big fan of Snopes, but in this case I am a little disappointed. I don’t mind if the story is totally false and completely fabricated, but it would be nice if Snopes offered some evidence such as interviews with someone(s) from Africa, or perhaps a statement from Gerber or other companies selling baby food in Africa, that they continue to market the product with baby pictures on the label. Hmm. OK I’ll write to Gerber and see if I can get a statement from them and post the result back here.

Hyundai Pony

Richard Seamon reports: Hyundai had problems with the Hyundai Pony. In Cockney rhyming slang, “Pony” is short for “pony and trap”, meaning crap. It didn’t deter Hyundai, they still marketed it in the UK (circa 1982). (Mentioned in Independent.co.uk.)

Hunt-Wesson Big John, Gros Jos

Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means “big breasts“. In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales.

International Wine Glass Symbol

Stevadores in an unnamed African port, seeing the international –but evidently not universal!– symbol for ‘fragile’ (a wine glass with snapped stem) presumed it meant that some idiot had sent a cargo of broken glass. So they obligingly pitched all the cases overboard into the harbour!
(As reported some years ago in Print, the journal for graphic design, and submitted by Margaret Tarbet.)

Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan “finger-lickin’ good” came out as “eat your fingers off.”

Kinki Nippon Tourist Agency

Japan’s second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.


locum xmas cardLocum is a Swedish company. In 1991, they sent Christmas cards to all of their customers. They thought they would give their logo a little holiday spirit, by substituting a little heart for the letter “o”. For some reason, they also used all lowercase letters. The lowercase “L” can therefore be easily misunderstood to be an “i”, and the locum logo looked like one of those “I love …” bumper stickers, with an unfortunate pornographic sentiment to it.
Thanks to Johan Inganni (Sweden) for this entry.

John Severinson writes on 2003-11-16:
Actually, it was a paper ad in the largest papers. The image you’ve got there is a scan from DN (www.dn.se), one of them. And, it was in 2001.

Locum shortly afterwards claimed ‘they had no idea the ad would send such a message but appreciates that the brand Locum is associated with love and caring’.

Mazda Laputa, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Laputa (1819)

Mazda Laputa minivanMazda‘s Laputa seems like an odd name for a minivan. The Mazda Laputa was introduced in Japan in 1991. Spanish speakers immediately think of “puta”, the word for prostitute. With that in mind the ads claiming that “Laputa is designed to deliver maximum utility in a minimum space while providing a smooth, comfortable ride” and “a lightweight, impact-absorbing body” are humorous. Distributors in Santiago, Chile asked Mazda to rename the vehicle.

Japanese speakers are likely unaware of this meaning and more likely associate “Laputa” with a popular 1986 animated film: “Laputa: Castle in the Sky“. However, the film could not be marketed in either Spain or Italy because the word “Laputa” appears onscreen and would offend.

These are not the first uses of the word. “Laputa” is referenced in Gulliver’s Travels, where author Jonathan Swift wrote that the astronomers of the island Laputa knew about the moons of Mars and European astronomers did not. Meanwhile modern astronomers have named a real asteroid (1819) Laputa.

Of course, that leaves the question of who named the asteroid… Was it a fan of Swift’s fiction, one of the many that adores Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film, a minivan enthusiast, or someone that just had an interesting evening out? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks to Sokoon for this entry.


The Dairy Association’s huge success with the campaign “Got Milk?” prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read “Are you lactating?

Mitsubishi Pajero, Montero

Mitsubishi had to rename its Pajero automobile because the word is a vulgar term for a masturbating man.
This story is true, although there was no blunder involved because the car was marketed under a different name from the beginning. In Spanish-speaking countries, this model has been sold as the Montero.


Nike has a television commercial for hiking shoes that was shot in Kenya using Samburu tribesmen. The camera closes in on the one tribesman who speaks, in native Maa. As he speaks, the Nike slogan “Just do it” appears on the screen. Lee Cronk, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati, says the Kenyan is really saying, “I don’t want these. Give me big shoes.” Says Nike’s Elizabeth Dolan, “We thought nobody in America would know what he said.”  (From an article in Forbes magazine.)

Nike Air

Nike Air shoes showing flaming logoNike Air flaming logoNike offended Muslims in June, 1997 when the “flaming air” logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked too similar to the Arabic form of God’s name, “Allah”. Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of sneakers from the market.

Nissan/Mitsubishi Pachero

For their series of landcruisers, Nissan Company invented an apparently meaningless word borrowed from the Spanish “pajaro” (bird). They named it “Pachero“. This means wanker in South America.

Thanks to Arne Schäpers for this submission.

According to other sources, e.g. About Spanish Language (part 2) it was Mitsubishi, and the company renamed the car to Montero before marketing it in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

Nissan Moco

Nissan’s minivan Moco doesn’t do so well in Spanish-speaking markets. Especially green ones. Distributors in Santiago, Chile asked that the vehicle be renamed since Moco is the Spanish word for mucous.

Thanks to Sokoon for this entry.

Orange Juice

To boost orange juice sales in predominantly continental breakfast eating England, a campaign extolled the drink’s eye-opening, pick-me-up qualities with the slogan, “Orange juice. It gets your pecker up.

Nicholas Shearer counters “… it’s a perfectly good slogan and statement. ‘keep your pecker up’ is a traditional positive get-up-and-go statement in Britain. Unlike the U.S. ‘pecker’, it has no other connotations (other than maybe a birds beak). So the statement is perfect for the English market…”
I concede, since I don’t want to start comparing peckers. Call me chicken but I don’t want to have a cock fight over it.

Parker Pen, Parker Quink Ink

When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say “It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you.” However, the Spanish word “embarazar” was used by mistake to mean embarrass. The ads actually said: “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.

Recent versions of this story claim it was an ad for Parker’s Quink Ink.


In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” came out as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”


Teeth-Whitening Toothpaste vs. Betel Nut Chewers and Teeth-Blackening

Pepsodent’s teeth-whitening toothpaste didn’t fare well in Southeast Asia where many cultures value chewing Betel Nuts which darkens the teeth. Chewing Betel Nuts is alleged to strengthen teeth (it may have anti-bacterial qualities) and is associated with various rituals and ceremonies (depending on the particular culture and changing over time) including the coming of age of women. Many cultures historically blacken teeth since only savage beasts and evil demons show their white fangs. (Why am I thinking of some marketing folks right now…)

In Japan, in the 12th century, blackening was associated with coming of age. Later in the 18th it was associated with nobility and Samurai. In the 19th century, it was used by married woman. (“I can’t tonite honey, I have to blacken my teeth.”) See the article on ThingsAsian.com by Barbara Cohen on Healthy Black Smiles.

The product slogan was racially offensive to some as well- “You’ll wonder where the yellow went…”

Perdue Chicken

Chicken-man Frank Perdue’s slogan, “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken,” got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained “It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused.

Pope T-shirt

An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope’s visit. Instead of the desired “I saw the Pope” in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed “I saw the Potato.”

Andrew Sheh explains: Capital P “Papa” means “Pope”. “papa” means potato. Finally, “papa” with an accent on the last “a” means father.

Beardo writes: el Papa (masculine) is the Pope; la papa (feminine) is the potato. VI EL PAPA. VI LA PAPA.

Powergenitalia, www.powergenitalia.com

No, Powergenitalia is not the company responsible for all that spam offering to help you with organ extensions or to invigorate you with Viagara-powered vitality. It is also not the Italian division of energy giant Powergen. When numerous English-speakers on the web took note of the web site www.powergenitalia.com, Powergen felt obligated to announce that they had no connection with the site and in fact had no Italian offices, so that people would not think that it was their Translation Marketing Mistake. No, they left that distinctive honor to the marketing folks at Powergen Italia, an Italian maker of battery chargers. Perhaps they were shockedto learn its a World Wide Web. The website now switches you over to the more aptly named for English-speakers, http://www.batterychargerpowergen.it.
(Reported by many places including Ananova.)

Puffs Tissues

Puffs tissues allegedly had trouble in Germany due to their name being a colloquial term for a house of ill-repute (prostitution). I always say “Gesundheit” when someone around me sneezes. I am afraid that now when I hand them a tissue, I will be thinking “Gesundheit” means “Thank you for that blow job”.

If you go to the Puffs website, their pages are very North American-centric, being in English and French only. The Puffs History page mentions their relatively recent (1999) expansion into Canada. Seems unlikely they tried Germany, but maybe if it was a bust they opted not to refer to it anywhere.

Rolls Royce Silver Mist, Silver Shadow

Rolls Royce changed the name of its car the Silver Mist to the Silver Shadow before entering Germany. In German, “Mist” means manure (to put it nicely).

Salem Cigarettes

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, “Salem – Feeling Free,” got translated in the Japanese market into “When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty.


Lars Bergquist tells us: Samarin is a Swedish over-the-counter remedy for upset stomachs. (Like Alka-Seltzer.) A few years back they used ads that looked like comic strips with no text. There were three pictures. The first was a man looking sick, grasping his tummy. On the second picture he drank a glass of Samarin and on the third picture he was smiling again. The ad campaign was a success in Europe.

However, when the company ran the ad in Arabic-speaking newspapers they did not do too well. I guess that they didn’t know that in those countries people read from right to left…. (See the I18nGuy page on User Interfaces For Right-To-Left Languages.)

Schweppes Tonic Water

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

Toyota MR2

Marcel Rigadin reports that Toyota makes the MR2, which in France is pronounced “merdé” or spelled ‘merdeux’, means “crappy”. (Mentioned in Dave Taylor’sGlobal Software.)

View original

Laugh & Learn #2

Just for fun… Some of these may be true; some may be totally jokes… But they all send a serious message

1. Pepsi will bring you ancestors back to life!

Several high profile western companies have had difficulties when translating their marketing copy into Chinese. Pepsi made this mistake when they unwittingly translated their “come alive with the Pepsi generation” slogan as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”. That is certainly a bold promise.

2. Parker Pens are not likely to make you pregnant.

When Parker Pen first started to market their ballpoint pen to the Mexican market, they wanted to tell their new audience that their pens “won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you”. However, the company thought that the Spanish for “embarrass” was “embarzar”, which actually means to impregnate.
So, Parker Pen’s translated marketing copy actually read “It won’t leak in your pocket and impregnate you.” Well that’s quite reassuring.

3. Sharwoods hit a bum note.

In 2003, UK food manufacturer Sharwoods launched their latest curry sauce that was said to be “deliciously rich”. The new produce was entitled “Bundh”, with the name supposedly “inspired by a traditional northern Indian ‘closed pot’ method of cooking”. Sharwoods were so confident in their latest product, that they even backed it with a £6 million television advertising campaign.

However, following the launch, Sharwoods received several calls from Punjabi speakers telling them that “Bundh” sounded like the Punjabi word for “arse”. That is certainly one way to receive a bum rap from curry lovers.

4. Honda’s Nordic embarrassment.

In 2001, Honda introduced their new car, the “Fitta”. Yet, if the company had taken the time to understand the cultural and linguistic nuances of their new market, they would have noticed that “Fitta” was an old, crass term that referred to the female genitals in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish.

Consequently, the car was renamed the “Honda Jazz”.

5. Coca Cola and a sticky situation.

When Coca Cola first translated their name into Chinese, it literally translated to “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on your dialect.

In a desperate effort to change their Chinese name, Coke researched 40,000 Chinese characters to find the phonetic equivalent, “kekoukele”, meaning happiness in the mouth” in Chinese. This instance shows that even the smallest translation error can dramatically affect the final message.

Read the original text here: http://www.translatemedia.com/5-marketing-translation-mistakes.html/#ixzz2mHQtxMRA


  1. 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 realised 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 realised its cross cultural blunder when an embarrassed American explain what “touch Woody’s pecker” could be interpreted as!

  1. The Swedish furniture giant IKEA somehow agreed upon the name “FARTFULL” for one of its new desks. Enough said..

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

10. “Traficante” and Italian mineral water found a great reception in Spain’s underworld. In Spanish it translates as “drug dealer”.

  1. In 2002, Umbro the UK sports manufacturer had to withdraw its new trainers (sneakers) called the Zyklon. The firm received complaints from many organisations and individuals as it was the name of the gas used by the Nazi regime to murder millions of Jews in concentration camps.

12. 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”.

13. 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”.

  1. 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 Stevadores saw the “internationally recognised” 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!

View original

Laugh & Learn #3

Just for fun… Some of these may be true; some may be totally jokes… But they all send a serious message.

1.  Buy Our New Car… Er, It Doesn’t Go

Most of us probably know the story of Chevy’s Nova car and how it was marketed as such in Latin America, even though what “Nova” literally means in Spanish is “It doesn’t go”. Indeed, it must be the most famous tale of its kind.

What many of us might not know, however, is that, in fact, the story isn’t true but is instead the marketing equivalent of an urban myth. Like some of the other examples quoted below, it has, nonetheless, entered the folklore of international marketing.

Some car companies, on the other hand, have been guilty of putting more effort into coming up with a funky name for a new model than into checking what it means in the languages of key target markets, as the blog mediamaquiladora.com recently pointed out:

“A couple of years ago Kia, to much fanfare and with a Hispanic audience among its primary targets, launched the rugged “Borrego” which translates literally to “lamb”. Not to be outdone, though only sold in Asia, Nissan unveiled their own booger, or “Moco” to an adoring public. But the favorite of all, even better I think than Chevy’s NO VA, has to be Mazda’s Laputa*. Who wouldn’t want to jump in that ride?”

[* “La puta” in Spanish, of course, means “the whore”.]

2. The Future’s Bright, The Future’s… Er, Protestant Loyalist?

The telecoms brand, Orange is generally considered a great marketing success story, as was the launch across the UK in the 1990s of what was to become its famous slogan: “The future’s bright… the future’s Orange”.

This was an uncontroversial suggestion in most parts of the UK but rather less so among the Catholic population of Northern Ireland, where the term “Orange” is linked to the Orange Order, the Protestant organization, viewed by many Catholics as both sectarian and hostile.

So, the best way to sell a mobile phone to a Northern Ireland Catholic is not to pronounce that “The future’s bright… the future’s Protestant Loyalist”.

As often with translation, the problem in this case hinged not just on the word but on the culture.

3. Buy Our Baby Food… Er, If You Want “To Vomit”

Gerber is the name of one of America’s best-known makers of baby food but “gerber” can also be translated into French as “to vomit” – somewhat limiting for the brand’s next global marketing push.

Wisely therefore, the name is not marketed in France but, according to adweek.com, “…there is a French Canadian Web page that reads, ‘Les aliments pour bébés Gerber ne sont disponibles pour l’instant qu’aux Etats-Unis’ (French for: The baby food Gerber [to vomit] is not here, try the U.S.).”

Meanwhile, when Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they placed a picture of a cute baby on the label of their jars, just as they do in America – but without realising that the practice in some African markets, where many consumers are illiterate, is for brands to put pictures of the contents on the labels. This led some horrified Africans to conclude that the jars contained… well, you get the gist. Or, at least, so the story is told.

4. Nothing… Er, Sucks Like An Electrolux.

Unfamiliar with the finer points of English slang, the Scandinavian company Electrolux marketed its vacuum cleaner in the English-speaking world with the slogan, ‘Nothing sucks like an Electrolux’.

Or, so the story is told.

In fact, there is some debate both over whether this ad ran in the UK or the US and over whether it was an unwitting mistake or a deliberate one, made for comic effect.

Meanwhile, a copy of the actual poster can be found here

5. Fly Braniff Airlines, Fly… Er, Naked 

There’s nothing like the smell and feel of real leather. That, at least, was the message that Braniff Airlines was trying to communicate when it launched its “Fly in Leather” to the Hispanic and Latin America market, in order to promote the airline’s new first-class seats.

Braniff translated the call to “Fly in Leather” too literally for the purpose of the local market, rendering it with the slogan “Vuela in Cuero”, which literally means “Fly in leather”, but which sounds identical in a radio ad to “Vuela en Cueros”, the Spanish for “Fly Naked”.

6. I Saw His Holiness, The… Er, Potato 

When the Pope paid an official visit to Miami, a local T-shirt maker produced commemorative T-shirts for hawking to the Hispanic market… but with only one teeny problem – instead of declaring, “I saw the Pope” (“el Papa”), the T-shirts allegedly read, “I saw the Potato” (“la Papa”).

7. Buy Our Pens. They Won’t Make You… Er, Pregnant

Parker Pens are proud of the fact that, unlike some cheap ballpoints, its pens won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you. And that was just the message they sought to convey to the Mexican market, but without realising the Mexican Spanish word for “embarazar” does not mean “to embarrass” but “to impregnate”. Result, an ad for Parker Pens that read, “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant.”

8. Are You… Er, Lactating? 

Why do so many of these stories seem to involve Mexico? The answer might be because it’s often the first foreign language market into which American marketers venture.

Anyway, The US Dairy Association was reportedly so pleased with the success of its “Got Milk?” campaign that it decided to extend it to take in neighbouring Mexico.  The only problem was that the Spanish translation of “Got Milk?” that it came up with allegedly read as “Are you lactating?”

9. Pepsi… Er, Brings Your Ancestors Back From The Dead  

Western companies can find translating their marketing messages into Chinese a particular challenge. Or, so Pepsi allegedly found when insufficient attention to translation nuances led it to translate  “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”.

Now, THERE’S a brand promise.

10. Things Go Better With … Er, Bite The Wax Tadpole 

When Coke first looked into rendering the name “Coca-Cola” into Chinese it came up with a translation that, depending on the precise dialect, meant either “Bite the wax tadpole” or “Female horse stuffed with wax.”

Or, so the tale is told. Another version of it, however, is that such unfortunate translations were the work of some local Chinese shop-keepers, anticipating Coke’s arrival in China, and producing their own unofficial marketing material, without the knowledge or authority of Coke.

According to this version, Coke’s entry to the Chinese market was meticulously planned. It involved Coke researching 40,000 Chinese characters, until it found the perfect translation, which literally meant, “Happiness in the mouth.”

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