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:

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:

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.

Even some big companies end up with egg on their faces.


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