5 Translation Fails That Led To Comedy And Madness
Hilarious mistranslations -- they're not just for baffling foreign movie posters. Tools like Google Translate are remarkable accomplishments that can expand the frontiers of human communication, but like all technologies, sometimes they mess up in really goofy ways and we can laugh at them. Way to try to change the world, ya dunderheads! Here are five times translation attempts -- and the humans doing them -- didn't quite nail it.
Google Translate Turns A Broccoli Raab Festival Into The World's First "Clitoris Festival"
What does grelo, the leafy-green vegetable native to northwestern Spain, have in common with the human vagina? Unless there are any exotic sex positions we're unaware of, not much. That is, unless you live in the town of As Pontes in Galicia, which holds a yearly festival honoring the vegetable, also known as "rapini," or "broccoli raab" in the U.S. It's the Galician equivalent of Lollapalooza, we're guessing.
When local officials attempted to translate the Galician word "grelo" into Castilian Spanish for their website, Google Translate mistook it for the Portuguese word "grelo." Which, it turns out, is slang for a part of the female anatomy. The resulting translation invited tourists to take part in a "Clitoris Festival" -- or to be more exact, "the Fair of the Clitoris Bridges," which sounds like something out of Tolkien's private notebooks.
The announcement also contained some VERY interesting info about this local product, claiming "The clitoris is one of the typical products of Galician cuisine. Since 1981 ... the festival has made the clitoris one of the star products of its local gastronomy." OK, that sounds way better than seeing Radiohead surrounded by drunken hipsters. Festival-goers were likely a little disappointed when they showed up, unless that town had some dang good leafy greens.
Skype's Auto-Translator Wouldn't Stop Swearing In Mandarin
Photojournalist Tom Carter was filming a commercial for Skype with a simple, lighthearted concept: He travels abroad to China to talk to locals, runs into some difficulties with the language barrier, but then logs into Skype Translator (a speech-to-speech translation tool), and both sides can now comfortably speak the same language! And few, if any, F-words are exchanged, as is the case with most commercials!
Well, they ran into a little bit of an effing problem, so to speak. Carter found that the translations kept glitching in extremely bizarre, R-rated ways:
That would've been a pretty bold new choice of tagline for the software, right there. But instead, they kept reshooting it and had to plow through a bunch of other translation mistakes, and filming took way longer than expected. The glitch was reportedly caused by China's "Great Firewall," the nationwide censorship net that often interrupts certain services in unexpected ways ... although "adding random F-words to banal sentences" probably isn't the most efficient way to censor information. It relays the same message, just more rudely. Carter compared the speech patterns to "the icebox robot from the 1970's flick Logan's Run, but with Tourette Syndrome." Which, again, would be an awesome slogan for the product, were the target market Spencer's Gifts and not, y'know, schools and businesses.
Officials Asked For A Welsh Translation Of A Road Sign, Then Put The "Out Of Office" Response They Got On The Sign
In Swansea, a town in coastal Wales, all the road signs are posted in both English and Welsh, because car accidents are tragic in any tongue. When town officials wanted to add a sign dissuading trucks from going down a certain road, they emailed their local translator to get the Welsh version of the sign and received a speedy reply. Why, it was practically instantaneous. Not knowing Welsh, they assumed the words made sense and posted them straight on the sign:
Theoretically, Welsh-speaking truck drivers were so baffled by this cryptic motto that they'd turn around anyway.
Yep, they manufactured and installed a sign with an "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated" out of office auto-reply on it, and at no point did anyone think to show it to an actual Welsh person. It wasn't a onetime blunder, either. Welsh speakers had already pointed out tons of comical errors on other signs throughout the country, including one telling pedestrians to "look right" in English and "look left" in Welsh (close!), and another telling cyclists in Cardiff that they had problems with an "inflamed bladder."
At least it keeps things entertaining for the local Welsh speakers, even if they're all clearly gonna die in traffic accidents.
The Norwegian Olympic Team Orders 1,500 Eggs In Korean, Gets 15,000
The chefs for the Norwegian Olympic team in Pyeongchang set out on a relatively easy task: ordering 1,500 eggs to cook breakfast for their 109 athletes. And like any good nation-guests, they placed the order in Korean using Google Translate. And sure enough, the next day, they received their 1,500 eggs. And 1,500 more. And another 1,500, and another ... ultimately 15,000 freaking eggs in their kitchen.
This might have something to do with the ways you write 1,500 and 15,000 in Korean:
It wasn't entirely clear whether the mistake was a translation error, a typo, or intentional mischief by Korean yolk-loving leprechauns, but the end result was, let's say, enough for some leftovers.
Chef Stale Johansen (yes, the chef's name is "Stale") said the team was able to return the extra eggs, but not before taking one of those "Oops too many eggs" selfies the teens are always snappin' nowadays:
Fingers crossed this becomes the next hot inexplicable YouTube trend.
Tore Ovrebo, the head of the Norwegian team, also called the mix-up "not a big deal." Yeah, maybe not to you, but those chickens were shitting bricks.
Google Translates The Ukrainian Word For "Russia" As "Mordor," And The Name Of A Russian Diplomat As "Sad Little Horse"
For a brief period in 2016, Google Translate made a number of extremely interesting mistakes whenever anyone used the service to translate Ukrainian into Russian. The Ukrainian word for "Russia" was translated as "Mordor," a word for "Russians" became "occupiers," and the name "Sergey Lavrov" (Russia's foreign minister) turned into "Sad Little Horse." Even being called a big joyful horse would be insulting enough, but a sad and little one? Disgraceful.
The potential consequences went beyond getting some Ukrainian high school students bad grades on their homework, since at least one major Ukrainian newspaper uses Google Translate to turn their entire site into Russian for the international edition.
While some noticers of obvious things might claim this looked an awful lot like an intentional hacking, Google attributed the ultra-specific glitch to an automatic bug, adding that the translator tool operates "without the intervention of human translators." Which makes total sense. Sometimes, two broadly similar languages can have little coincidences, like the names of countries turning into fictional Tolkien hellscapes, or proper names turning into goofy insults. That's just normal, easily-correctable stuff you'll encounter with any algorithm. It's like how Amazon will see products you've recently purchased, then suggest, "The Israelis have NO CLAIM to the Golan Heights. Also, need more printer ink?"
On the plus side, surely if any two countries can easily forgive and forget, it's Russia and Ukraine, right? Two best buds with virtually zero history of tension. If anything, they probably laughed it off arm-in-arm over a nice cold ... what's the Russian word for vodka? *Types it into Google Translate.* "Imperialist Murder Juice?" That can't be right ...
Vodka is actually derived from the Russian word for water. Maybe pick up a Rosetta Stone guide to Russian and learn more, lord knows it's a valuable language nowadays.
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