It’s a question of… getting lost in translation

English is not my first language; neither is French for that matter. Even after 25 years in France, I sometimes say funny things – that aren’t supposed to be. Normally this happens when different languages get entwined. When I use a word from one language and transpose it directly to another, or when I translate an expression word by word. Even something simple like “no hard feelings” or “you should take that with a pinch of salt” doesn’t really make sense when said in French. (Not to mention “I was bored stiff” or “I’m going to wet my whistle first”).

I’ve also sometimes had difficulties when the same word has different meanings in the same language. When I first came to a French-speaking country (and hardly understood a word), I was sent to the school doctor for a check-up. She asked me something about “règle” and I gave her my ruler. Had I been using my head I’d probably thought it strange that a doctor would want my ruler. But how was I to know that “règles” also means “period” (yet another word with different meanings!)?

All this to say that I have a big tolerance and a lot of affection for confusion and comical situations that happen when different languages merge or meanings get lost in translation (for example when you use a translator found online). It makes me laugh when I hear stories like the one about Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux using a slogan in an American advertising campaign saying “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”, or about Parker marketing a ballpoint pen in Mexico with an ad saying “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant” (instead of “and make you embarrassed”).

A few days ago, I found a website where people send in photos of translation mishaps. A lot of them made me laugh out loud. If you need to smile a little (and who doesn’t?) – the link is here.


Filed under Speak and spell

6 responses to “It’s a question of… getting lost in translation

  1. Vesper de Vil

    Thanks for posting. I really do need something to make me laugh right now, and this worked.

  2. Janet

    I like the silly name of a local dairy product shop here in Paris “Cheese in Madness.” It makes me laugh but it doesn’t make me want to buy any brie.

  3. Big Opinions

    Having spent some time in an international school in France, I am now blessed with many friends who speak English as a second or third or fourth language. Hey I make no judgements, their English is better than my French but I just can’t help the frustrated English teacher coming out in me. I have a little laugh at their phraseology sometimes and correct them with a 😉 and I hope they don’t take it personally. At least it gives me a chuckle a little “lost in translation”.

  4. Hans

    A Chinese restaurant with a telling name:

  5. Jingle


    I agree with you strongly, meanings often get lost in translations, especially when it comes to diverse cultures, you highlighted a vital point in life, very impressed!
    Exceptional Thoughts, Keen Observations!
    Merry Christmas!

  6. sandrine

    It made me laugh out loud !!!!
    and we will feel better when we try to speak english .
    We can’t help it . that’ life !

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