What Are the Biggest Translation
Mistakes and Their Consequences?

By Melia Yanat, Lingolet Team

We often don't think about it, but simple translation errors can have grave consequences or lead to comical situations. The job of a translator requires knowledge and know-how.

Here are some of these errors.


 

The French “Demand” 

 

In the 1830s, Paris and Washington came into conflict because of a message received at the White House sent by the French government.

The beginning of the message was: "The French Government demands...", which was translated as "The French Government demands...".

Because of this false friend, the American President at the time, Andrew Jackson, answered, angry, that if the French government dared to "demand" anything, it would not get anything at all.

Fortunately, the translation error was quickly corrected, and the tension soon subsided.


 

The "Mars channels"

 

In 1877 in Italy, the astronomer Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli launched, without realizing it, a theory on Martian life.

Indeed, he tried to map Mars by distinguishing the dark areas from the red planet's weak spots. For ease, he named them "sea" and "continent" and drew kinds of "canals" called "Canali" in Italian. Only the word "canali" underwent a very fanciful interpretation to the point of being the name of a theory about the Martians' life.

This is not a joke because the theory was taken seriously by the American astronomer Percival Lowell who drew hundreds of "canals" on Mars, so much so that he published three books on the theory. His work inspired H.G Wells, the author of "War of the Worlds" in 1897.

A word has many meanings

If there is one translation error that has had severe consequences, it is this one.
In July 1945, when the Allies set an ultimatum of surrender for the Japanese. The Japanese government replied in a communiqué "that it refrains from commenting for the time being."
The problem is that they used the term "Mokusatsu," a word that has several meanings, including "to ignore with contempt."
This mistranslation resulted in Truman's order to launch the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

 

In summary, errors of translation or interpretation are frequent and have consequences.

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On your web browser:

 

1. Access https://www.lingolet.io/#/register

2. Create your account with your phone number or email

3. Log in to your account

4. Select the human interpreter tab in the left menu

4. Select the language pairs amongst 200+ languages

5. Select audio or video

6. Call the interpreter

 

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Learn more about medical translation: 

 

  • Why are medical translation errors unacceptable, and how can they be avoided

  • Is there a difference in medical language between Quebec French and French from France?