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Examples of Translation Errors with Serious Consequences

By Melia Yanat, Lingolet Team

Examples of Translation Errors with Serious Consequences

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.

In order not to be confronted with these situations, Lingolet is the first to offer an on-demand solution with more than 4,000 interpreters and a complete management platform for administrators.


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