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chinadaily.com.cn 2018-08-17 10:51


We live in an age when there is a lot of talk about robots equipped with artificial intelligence taking over the jobs now performed by human beings.

Indeed, there have been many huge strides made in machines helping humans with daily tasks. Spell-checking programs help editors avoid typographical mistakes. Autopilot programs help pilots avoid “pilot error”, which can be fatal.

Still, computerized spell checks aren’t always good at detecting the incorrect use of a correctly spelled word. Airlines have had to retrain human pilots who became too dependent on having machines doing the flying — a dependence that can cause disaster.

So, too, it goes with translation and interpretation, those most delicate of language arts.

It’s easy to make mistakes. When I was in a college summer program in Mexico, we used to laugh at English-speaking students who would use the word embarazada to mean embarrassed. It’s true that they sound alike. But what the students were saying was that they were pregnant.

When my wife and I went to dinner at a nice restaurant in Shanghai, I noticed with some discomfort that “husband” was on the menu. I never learned what exactly that was but, not wishing to tempt fate, I ordered something else.

No doubt we soon will move beyond the rudimentary apps and computer programs that help us bumble through communication with speakers of languages we don’t know well. The mistakes created using today’s programs are epic, and the risks are increased exponentially by slang or regional expressions.

Marketing is where translation can turn into hilarity or even failure for a business.

One example that has always given me a chuckle is Colgate, the name of a famous toothpaste produced by a US giant consumer products company, Colgate-Palmolive.

The toothpaste is also marketed in Latin America, which for the most part raises no eyebrows. But in some parts of South America, especially in Argentina and Uruguay, a nonstandard verb form is used that turns the name of the toothpaste into “Go hang yourself”.
高露洁牙膏也在拉丁美洲市场销售,这里的绝大部分地区是不会出现问题。但是在南美洲的一些地区,尤其是阿根廷和乌拉圭,由于使用不标准的动词形式,使得牙膏的名字变成了“Go hang yourself(吊死自己)”。

The Coca-Cola Co explains on its website that when the company began selling their flagship soft drink in China in 1927, they found shopkeepers had used a variety of Chinese characters that sounded like the brand — without considering the meaning. One meant “female horse fastened with wax,” and another, “bite the wax tadpole”. A myth grew that the company had used those names, it says.

The company compromised a little on the phonetics and decided on Ke Kou Ke Le, which has the more pleasing meaning of “to permit the mouth to be able to rejoice” in Mandarin.

Inc.com contributing editor Geoffrey James compiled a list of some of the epic fails in global branding. Here are a few examples:

•Clairol branded its curling iron for hair with the name Mist Stick in German, even though “mist” is German slang for manure.
克雷洛尔在德国用“Mist Stick”来命名电卷发器,而“mist”在德语俚语中表示肥料。

•Coors beer translated its Turn It Loose slogan into Spanish by using a colloquial term for having diarrhea.
库尔斯啤酒将其广告语“Turn It Loose(放松一下)”翻译为西班牙语,而其使用的一个口语词汇有腹泻之意。

•Mercedes-Benz entered the Chinese market using the homonym Bensi, meaning “rush to die”.

•The slogan for Pepsi Cola, Pepsi Brings You Back to Life, was debuted in China as “Pepsi brings you back from the grave”.
百事可乐的口号“Pepsi Brings You Back to Life”,在中国首次亮相时被理解为“百事可乐把你从坟墓中带回来”。

•Nike had to recall thousands of shoes because a decoration meant to resemble fire on the back resembled the Arabic word for Allah.

James notes, however, that his list does not include what is often called the most famous translation blunder — that selling the Chevrolet Nova under that name in Spanish-speaking countries led to poor sales. (No va means “won’t go” in Spanish.) That’s because it didn’t happen. No va in Spanish is distinct from Nova, which retains its original Latin meaning of “suddenly bright star” in English and Spanish as one word.
然而,詹姆斯指出,他所列名单不包括通常被认为最著名的翻译失误——在西班牙语国家用“错误”译名销售雪佛兰新星汽车被认为会导致销量不佳。(在西班牙语中,No va的意思是“不会走”。)那是因为这个失误并不存在。西班牙语中No va与Nova有所不同,Nova保留了拉丁语最初的意思,即“突然闪亮的星星”,在英语和西班牙语中是一个词。

The fact-checking site Snopes says the Nova sold from 1972 to 1978 in Mexico and several other Spanish-speaking countries with no apparent problem.

Also, Mexico’s national oil company, Pemex, also has used the name in marketing gasoline.

审校:董静 丹妮
来源:CHINA DAILY 微信公众号:

About the author & broadcaster

Matt Prichard is a copy editor and writer who works on the front page team of China Daily. He has lived in China for more than four years, in Shanghai and Beijing. Before that, he had a 30-year career as a reporter and editor in the United States and Latin America. He has an ABJ from the University of Georgia and did postgraduate work at the Universidad Nacional del Sur in Argentina. He speaks Spanish fluently and is still learning Mandarin.

Contact the writer at mattprichard@chinadaily.com.cn