5 Most Famous Consequences of Mistranslation

Being able to translate is quite different from knowing two languages. Like all skills, this needs to be earned, and professionals work hard to develop it.

The world of translation is filled with fascinating stories about the consequences of mistranslation. Following are famous mistakes that caused mistranslation to do some serious damage.

1. When Japan ‘Demanded’ Atomic Bombing

In July 1945, the Allied leaders sent proposed terms regarding Japan’s surrender to the Japanese government. Staring at defeat, the Japanese leaders went into a huddle to weigh the options at hand. When the impatient press asked them about their response, they replied – ‘mokusatsu’ – a Japanese word that meant either ‘no comment’ or ‘we’re ignoring them with contempt’.

The Japanese media reported what the leaders actually meant (i.e. ‘no comment’). However, American translators chose the second meaning of the word. The American media reported that the Japanese were treating the country’s proposal of surrender with contempt.

The translation error may have influenced the American Government’s decision to use the atom bomb! Could you think of more dire consequences of a translation error?

2. ‘Assume Nothing’ Changed to ‘Do Nothing’

A mistake in multilingual translation resulted in The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) spending millions of dollars for rebranding. In 2009, their catchphrase ‘Assume Nothing’ was rephrased to ‘Do Nothing’ in several global markets. This was totally different from the persuasive pitch the HSBC marketing team wanted to make.

3. When Carter Abandoned the United States

A Russian interpreter accompanied US President Jimmy Carter when he traveled to Poland in 1977. However, the interpreter too prepared in the to-be-translated language. He mistakenly translated Carter’s statements like ‘When I left the United States’ and ‘Your desire for the future’ in Polish as ‘When I abandoned the United States’ and ‘Your lust for the future’. This cause quite a shock – and a few laughs – and Carter’s staff had to work hard to control the damage done, while people in both the countries got a funny story out of the episode.

4. Sharp’s Shares Fell Sharply

When Sharp Corp., a Japanese company, released its earnings report in late 2012, it reflected its weak performance compared to the other electronic giants and its consistently shrinking market share. However, the translation of the earnings report into English referred to the company’s struggles as ‘material doubt’. It also stated the company continued to be an ‘ongoing concern’. These were only a couple of several glaring errors present in the report.

The faulty language in the translated version made the situation look even gloomier than what the original statement had actually intended to. The company was talking about its own imminent fall. Outcome – Sharp’s stock nosedived to an annual decline of 75%.

5. ‘Intoxicado’ vs ‘Intoxicated’

A translation error made a man paralyzed for life and the hospital where he had been admitted ended up paying a malpractice settlement worth 71 million dollars.

In 1980, an unconscious person was brought into the emergency room of a Florida hospital. People who brought him thought said he was suffering from food poisoning. However, they didn’t know how to speak English; so, they used the Spanish word ‘intoxicado’ that means ‘poisoned’ to convey the patient’s state.

A hospital member mistakenly translated the word as ‘intoxicated’ and the doctors treated him as a case of drug overdose. This resulted in the patient getting paralyzed forever.

Please add some conclusion about the importance of translated messages and the dangers of relying on stuff like google translate