I have always been fascinated by amusing translations into English, many of which have appeared over and over in magazine articles. Here are some examples:
- "The manager has personally passed all of the water served here" (Acapulco hotel)
- "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, tootle him with vigour" (instructions in a Japanese car rental guide)
- "Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose (sign in Zurich hotel)
- "Special today -- no ice cream." (Swiss restaurant)
- "Push button of wishing floor. If the cabin should enter more persons, each should press number of wishing floor. Driving is then going alphabetically by natural order." (elevator instructions in Yugoslavia)
- "Violent love. Let's catch an escaped lover!" "Let's sport violent all day long!" and "OD on Bourgeoisie Milk Boy Milk." (slogans on Tokyo T-shirts and shopping bags)
- "The lift is being fixed for the next days. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable." (hotel in Bucharest)
- "The Egyptian Co-operative Unions celebrate the 75 th Anniversary of Co-operation, the first co-operative had been founded in Egypt on 1909. Thought and applied cooperative are promoted till the number of agricultural cooperatives have become more than 6000, consuming cooperatives more than 10,000 the productive cooperative more than 3,50. and cooperatives for construction more than 1,000." (announcement of a new Egyptian stamp)
- "Daily sweat is nullified by this admirable coffee set at free chatting." (description of a coffee set in a Tokyo trade guide)
- "You can afford to grind coffee grains while having coffee itself & enjoying hand works to powder, befitted to lay on the interior item made of wooden at anywhere wanted to. Coffee fragrance matches to the article in a cute and quiet
circumstance." (description of a coffee grinder in same guide)
- "During the reconstruction of the mosque, a three-metre layer of cultural accumulaton had to be removed." (Russian tourist brouchure)
- "Help savering apparata in emergings behold many whistles! Associate the stringing apparata about the bosoms and meet behind. Flee then to the indifferent lifesavering shippen obediencing the instructs of vessel chief." (life jacket instructions on a Soviet cruise ship)
- "Our watches are waterproof, shock-proof and time-proof." (Beijing watch ad)
- "A thorough extermination of the building is presently necessary." (notice to tenants of a Montreal apartment building)
- "Is fobitten to steal the hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing please not to read notis." (sign in Tokyo hotel)
There are also situations where foreign companies do not quite undestand that certain perfectly respectable English words have certain unintended nuances. Chinese companies were set to market "Pansy" mens' wear, "White Elephant" batteries and "Typical" sewing machines (although the Typical people reportedly protested that their brand name should be fine -- after all, "Standard" Oil is a big, successful American company, as is "General" Electric).
A recent article in Utne Reader listing similar linguistic faux pas generated a storm of protest letters, accusing it of displaying cultural superiority over those for whom Emglish is not a first language, noting that Americans (in their case) are not noted for their proficiency in other tongues. This is a case of oversensitivity. English is a fiendishly difficult language for anyone, and one can collect examples from native speakers, including:
- "Our establishment serves tea in a bag like Mother" (British restaurant)
- "Ordinary People has been falling in popularity ever since Mary Tyler Moore's real life son committed death." (from the Montreal Gazette)
- "Visitors: two to a bed and half an hour only." (London hospital)
- "During the renovation of the main entrance, members should use the old ladies' entrance." (sign on Montreal club)
And one of my favourites, which doesn't really fit in anywhere here, but struck me as amusing is a sign outside an establishment on the way to Ithaca, NY, which offered travellers:
"BOOZE! FUN!!! SANDWICHES!!!!"
Finally, I do have some examples of foreign language screwups by English speakers. Signs in Banff National Park had some interesting French translations.
- "Look out for bears" in English became "Look at the bears" in French.
- "Massages downstairs" became "Massages to lower parts."
Even some big companies end up with egg on their faces.
- In Belgium, the Flemish translation of "Body by Fisher" read "Corpse by Fisher."
- A German advertising campaign that was supposed to tell Germans to "Come alive with Pepsi" came out as "Come out of the grave with Pepsi."
- Chevrolet couldn't understand why Chevy Novas were not selling well in Latin countries until someone pointed out that, in Spanish, no va means "it doesn't go."
- And, in a story which may be apocryphal, an unnamed company offered "car enemas" in Argentina, rather than car washes.