6 Mistranslations That Changed The World

In a rapidly shrinking world, it's becoming more and more important to have translations that are both lightning-fast and actually understandable. To underline how hard this is, here's that sentence translated from English to Thai to Russian to Japanese and back to English, courtesy of Google Translate: Become increasingly important in order to convert the world to fall faster, as well as lightning, to understand the actual.

And as much as that sucked, it's nothing compared to these doozies.

#6. A Missed "I" Gives Us Martians

Back in 1877, Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported a rather shocking discovery: There were "canali," or canals, on Mars. Since canals are artificial by definition, this caused a shitstorm of speculation about the possibility of a long-vanished race of Martians who must have made the structures to irrigate their crops.

Another common misinterpretation: "Mars is covered with cannoli."

But it wasn't Schiaparelli who really got Martian fever going. Astronomer Percival Lowell read Schiaparelli's work and his Mars boner got so hard that he moved to Arizona, constructed his own observatory and spent years publishing papers speculating that A) Mars was once populated by a civilized race of brilliant engineers, and B) those engineers created these canals as a last-ditch effort to save a dying planet.

There were only two problems: First off, Lowell was basically just drawing canals at random, apparently, as no one has been able to correlate any of his lines with actual stuff on Mars. He might as well have claimed he found ancient Rome in a cow turd.

"Hmm ... that's either the Vatican or a piece of sweet corn."

Second, and more importantly, "canali" doesn't mean "canals," it actually means "channels" or "trenches,' and Schiaparelli was just noting some totally natural terrain differences.

Via Wikimedia Commons
"Come on a-guys, did none of you actually a-look at Mars?" -- Giovanni Schiaparelli [citation needed]

By all accounts, Schiaparelli was understandably pissed at the way everyone kept connecting his observations with Lowell's hogwash, but by the time the truth actually got out, it was too late. Lowell's wildass imagination spurred the science fiction fantasies of everyone from H.G. Wells, whose The War of the Worlds also featured the last-ditch efforts of a dying Martian race, to Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose novel A Princess of Mars is also about -- guess what? A dying civilization on the planet Mars.

Venusians, hypothetical inhabitants of our closest neighbor on the sun-side, never witnessed the same popularity. By the time the 20th century got going, Martians on Mars were a done deal, and it was all because of one itty-bitty "i."

#5. Nikita Khrushchev Wants to Respectfully Mourn You

In 1956, the Cold War was in full swing, which meant that as far as America was concerned, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was Enemy Asshole No. 1. And he cemented his reputation for douchebaggery when he gave a speech at the Polish Embassy in Moscow. After some opening remarks, Khrushchev went off on how capitalism sucked and communism ruled, capping off the speech with the now-legendary phrase, "We will bury you."

And then after that we can go make snow angels!

Which, when coupled with the fact that the Soviets had just tested a successful H-bomb, made it sound remarkably like Khrushchev was challenging us to a game of nuclear chicken. The American media jumped on this story like a fat kid on cake, calling Khrushchev a "red-faced and gesticulating" windbag, and millions of Americans shit their pants at the thought of this uber-aggressive Russian who apparently wanted them all dead. And remember, this guy wasn't some Moammar Gadhafi or Third World despot talking out of his ass. Not only was Soviet Russia 100 percent capable of blowing the United States to kingdom come, but now Khrushchev sounded like he was itching to pull the nuclear trigger.

Via Wikimedia Commons

There was only one problem: Nikita Khrushchev didn't actually say those words.

As it turns out, a better literal translation of his words would have been, "We will be present when you are buried."

This was actually a pretty common saying in Soviet Russia. What Khrushchev really meant was, "We will outlast you." It was just the usual "communism is better than capitalism" posturing that went on all the time in the Cold War, but thanks to misinterpretations like the one in a Time article, Americans thought Khrushchev was threatening to literally bury us in the rubble of a nuclear attack. And he didn't clarify his statement for three whole years. While the U.S. operated under the assumption that Khrushchev was chomping at the bit to kill us, we watched as the U.S.S.R. launched both Sputnik and the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile, and we consequently went space missile crazy ourselves. Would we have landed on the moon if it hadn't been for our misunderstanding of Khrushchev's bluster? We'll never know.

Uh, thanks?

#4. President Carter Creeps Out a Nation

Twenty years after Khrushchev's outburst, the Cold War was still raging and America was due for her own linguistic gaffe. Fortunately, President Jimmy Carter was just the man for the job. In 1973, Carter traveled to Poland to hold the United States' first-ever news conference in a communist country, one where he would be fielding questions from actual Communists. So the stakes of this little visit were mega-huge. Imagine President Barack Obama holding a news conference in Taliban country. Now imagine that the night before the huge news conference, Obama says he wants to have sex with the Taliban. Congratulations -- you just imagined Jimmy Carter's Poland visit.

"I appreciate the comment, but you will die for it"

Carter was speaking through a $150-a-day freelance translator who barely spoke Polish. The guy's mistakes started early on and never let up: When Carter opened with "I left the United States this morning," it got translated to, "I left the United States, never to return." When he said, "I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future," it was translated into, "I desire the Poles carnally." If the people of Poland weren't creeped out enough by Carter's apparently insatiable lust for some Polish sausage, the interpreter made things even more confusing by using archaic words and Russian syntax, and while he was at it, he made fun of the Polish constitution, too. Carter couldn't catch a break with this guy.

Via Wikimedia Commons
"The American president also asks if all of your country's walls are painted with the color of feces."

So that guy was fired, and a new translator was hired for a state banquet. Carter delivered the first line of his speech, paused for the translator ... and heard nothing. Carter said the next line, paused again, and again there was silence. Apparently Translator No. 2 was having the opposite problem -- he couldn't understand Carter's English -- and so he decided silence was the best option, forcing the Polish leader's own translator to step in and pick up the slack. When Carter finally left the country, he was the butt of a thousand Polish jokes.

Via Wikimedia commons
Question: How many Jimmy Carters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: Two -- one to abandon it and one to know it carnally.

Recommended For Your Pleasure

To turn on reply notifications, click here


The Cracked Podcast

Choosing to "Like" Cracked has no side effects, so what's the worst that could happen?

The Weekly Hit List

Sit back... Relax... We'll do all the work.
Get a weekly update on the best at Cracked. Subscribe now!