Hello, again! Or,
Shubh Dhin (Hindi) Dzien dobry (Polish)
Pryviet (Russian) Jambo! (Swahili)
Hola! (Spanish) Buon giorno (Italian)
Apa kabar (Indonesian) Shalom (Hebrew)
Dumela (Afrikaans) Konnichi-wa (Japanese)
Selamat Sejahtera (Malay) Hei paa deg (Norwegian)
Bonjour (French) Salaam (Arabic)
Nin How Mah? (Mandarin Chinese)
Goeden Dag (Dutch) Ho Yat (Cantonese)
Guten Tag (German) Aloha (Hawaiian)
I guess that ought to cover most of you, though I haven't a
clue how to say it in some of the more obscure languages.
Fortunately, we can all communicate in English on this line, or
I'd really be sunk. Like most Americans, I can't manage much of
a conversation in any language other than English. As any of you
who have checked out the names on this list have noted, you folks
cover some pretty wide linguistic ground. Except for Antarctica
and Australia, we have the continents pretty well covered,
anyway. As the world gets smaller and smaller with modern
communications, like this line here, moving things from one
language to another becomes a big issue. Many times the
translations can go amiss and sound pretty strange to a native
speaker, and pretty funny.
An apology to those of you with names O to Z (you know who
you are) for the multiple sends of last week's Funnies.
CompuServe was having Internet gateway problems, and the send
text kept disappearing into the ether, though you all got a
number of repeats of the name header. Great stuff... I hope
that never happens again! Thanks to John Zeman and Caterina
Sukup for catching the fault and letting me know that it was
happening and when it was fixed. If any of you didn't get the
send, just let me know and I'll be happy to re-send it for you.
More special thanks go out this week to: Libin He, Eva Lu,
Bob Martens, Dan Butler, Caterina Sukup (again!) and Peter Adler.
Hmmm... I make that to be about five countries right there, one
way or another. Now, 'something'-to-English Dictionaries at the
ready, we're off to the department of Foreign Languages.
Have a great week - However you say it!
P.S. My spell checker just hated this week's Funnies!
HOW TO AVOID TRANSLATION DEPARTMENT:
In Quebec, Canada there is an official requirement to use
both French and English in all government and business
communications. The official policy at one company required
sending the same thing out in both English and French, which some
of the employees may have taken too literally with the following
* English/Anglais - *
* Disregard the fire alarm today. Technicians are *
* working on the system and there will be a lot of *
* audible tests. *
* Francais/French - *
* La meme chose. *
Nope, it isn't that the French have a more efficient
language. The French part of the above translates as 'The Same
IN DUTCH -
- AMSTERDAM, (01-16) -- A robbery attempt by a masked gunman
failed after a foreign employee did not understand the
robber's request for cash. "The only staff member present
at the time barely spoke Dutch and the robber was apparently
unable to make it clear to him that he wanted money," a
spokesman said. "Language barriers have their advantages,"
he added. (Reuters)
EASIER THAN YOU THOUGHT INTERNATIONAL FINANCE DEPARTMENT -
Q: What is the exchange rate between dollar, pound, and ruble?
A: One pound of rubles equals one dollar.
MORE MESSAGE THAN THEY WANTED -
In 1966, a NASA team doing work for the Apollo moon mission
took the astronauts near Tuba City, New Mexico where the terrain
of the Navajo Indian Reservation looks very much like the Lunar
surface. Along with all the trucks and large vehicles, the
astronauts practiced walking in full lunar spacesuits.
Nearby an old Navajo sheep herder and his son were watching
the strange creatures walk about. The NASA folks eventually
noticed the Navajo watching them, and went over to say Hello.
Since the old man did not know English, his son asked for him
what the strange creatures were and the NASA people told them
that they are just men that are getting ready to go to the moon.
The man became very excited and asked if he could send a message
to the moon with the astronauts.
The NASA personnel thought this was a great idea so they
gathered up a tape recorder. After the man gave them his
message, they asked his son to translate the message. But the
Later, they tried to get some of the other people on the
reservation to translate the message and every person they asked
would chuckle and then refuse tell them what the old man had
said. Finally, they found someone who agreed to translate the
message. The old man had said: "Watch out for these guys, they
come to take your land."
PERPENDICULAR TRANSLATION DEPARTMENT -
There was an American businessman who spent three days
negotiating a tough deal with a Japanese businessman. By the
third day, things were going well, and he said, "Well, I think
that at last we're thinking along parallel lines" He intended
this to mean that they had finally come to agreement on things.
The next day the Japanese businessman didn't show up. The
American checked the hotel and discovered that the Japanese had
checked out! So the American rushed to the airport and found the
Japanese businessman in the departure waiting room. He said, "Why
are you leaving? I though we were finally coming to an
The Japanese businessman nodded, and said, "Yes, yes. I
looked in my dictionary. Parallel lines will never meet. So now
I go home!"
THE PROBLEMS OF GLOBALIZATION -
Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing
corporations. It shouldn't be that hard, yet even the big
multi-nationals run into trouble because of language and
cultural differences. For example...
The Scandinavian vacuum cleaner manufacturer Electrolux used
the following in an American ad campaign: "Nothing Sucks Like an
Think we here in the US do any better? Here's a look at how
shrewd American business people translate some of their names and
slogans into other languages:
When Coca-Cola was first shipped to China, they named the
product 'Ke-kou-ke-la' in Chinese characters so that when
pronounced it sounded something like "Coca-Cola."
Unfortunately, the Coke company didn't discover until after
thousands of signs and bottles had been printed that the phrase
translates as "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed
with wax" depending on the dialect.
Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a
better phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," which can be loosely
translated as "happiness in the mouth."
On the other side of the 'cola wars', when Pepsi started
marketing its products in Taiwan a few years back, they
translated their slogan, "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" pretty
literally. The slogan in Chinese really meant, "Pepsi Brings
Your Ancestors Back from the Grave."
MicroSoft has started selling their products on the Chinese
market recently. In trying to learn from Coca-Cola's mistake
with sound translations, they chose a more literal translation of
their name as 'Wei Ruan'. Chinese is a particular problem for
Westerners, since a perfectly good word-for-word translation can
be an idiom with an unexpected meaning.
That's certainly true in this case, since the phrase 'Wei
Ruan' means 'small, soft'. It isn't considered a very wise
choice of translation. Used that way, it doesn't take too much
imagination to have it sound like a sexual reference to the
Chinese, causing giggles every time they hear it. Men in
particular say they are reluctant to purchase software with such
an unmanly sounding name.
Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan
finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."
Microsoft had problems in Japan, too, with their Windows '95
promotions. They translated the English slogan, "Where Do You
Want To Go Today?" into what might be more accurate, "Windows
'95, if you want to get taken."
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
The Chevy Nova never sold well in Spanish speaking
countries. "No va" can be interpreted "it doesn't go" in Spanish.
After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it
renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the "Caribe".
Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped.
The company found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny
male genitals". Ford renamed the car Corcel.
When Braniff Airlines translated a slogan touting its
upholstery, "Fly in leather," it came out in Spanish sounding
like "Fly naked."
The hair products company, Clairol, introduced the "Mist
Stick", a curling iron, into Germany only to find out that 'mist'
is slang there for manure. Not too many people had use for the
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 that it's name sounded like a reference to
a fetish, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its
Hunt-Wesson foods 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 seem to have a bad effect on sales.
Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose," into Spanish, where
it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea."
When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads
were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass
However, the company's mistakenly thought the Spanish word
"embarazar" meant embarrass. Instead, what the ads said in
Spanish was that "It won't leak in your pocket and make you
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
Famous chicken salesman 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 sexually stimulated man to make a chicken
The Colgate company introduced a toothpaste in France called
'Cue', unknown to them, the name of a notorious French porno
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated
the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.
When Vicks first introduced its cough drops on the German
market, they were embarrassed to learn that the German
pronunciation of a "v" is "f" - which makes their name sound like
a very dirty German word for 'sexual penetration.'
Not to be outdone, Puffs tissues tried later to introduce
its product, only to learn that "Puff" in German is a colloquial
term for a whorehouse.
The English weren't too fond of that name either, as over
there it's a bad slang word for homosexual.
The Gerber company has long used its famous label showing a
happy baby for selling baby food in the US. But when Gerber
first started selling baby food in Africa, they made the mistake
of using the same packaging as here in the USA. Later they found
out that since many people can't read in Africa, companies'
labels are expected to be pictures of what's inside the jar.
© 1997 by Bill Becwar. All Rights Reserved.