Why learn German? – Apocryphal translation errors

Exeter University has pages for beginners in German including some material on Why learn German?

There is sobering material, including links, about anti-German feelings in Britain. There are links on accentuating the positive. There is a list of ten reasons why to learn German.

I think it’s a shame that the last item, Lost in translation, regurgitates some apocryphal poor foreign-language advertising campaigns and a list of mistranslations from all over the world that I didn’t believe the first time I saw it:

bq. In a Bucharest hotel lobby: “The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret you will be unbearable.”

Enter “In a Bucharest hotel lobby” (in inverted commas) in Google and you get 785 hits, or at least I do.

Does anyone know where these two collections are debunked? I know they’re not all true, but the Urban Legends site is rather thin on the topic of mistranslations (although there is more than one page on the topic).

9 thoughts on “Why learn German? – Apocryphal translation errors

  1. Have you looked at any translation agency websites recently? I swear most of them list all the same mistranslations, under the irritating heading of “Bloopers”. They were funny the first time I read them – three or four years ago.

  2. Not only are they very old, but I wonder if highlighting mistranslations sends the right message. Mind you, I can’t resist commenting sometimes. But showcasing translation errors, especially ones that have been circulating on the Internet for a few years, doesn’t really appeal to me.

  3. Yes. I wonder if they were taken from a book, for instance by Richard Lederer. A few years ago, that was how these circulars started.

  4. One down:

    While ‘Got Milk?’ was an instant success with the general market, it could have led to embarrassment and chaos in the Hispanic arena. As Santiago pointed out to Manning during the initial stages of the Hispanic campaign, ‘Got Milk?’ can translate to ‘Are you lactating?’ in Spanish. As importantly, Hispanic women did not find running out of rice, beans or milk funny, thus negating the general market Milk Deprivation Strategy.

    Instead, Manning and Santiago took a different, far more traditional approach. The Hispanic campaign was founded on a Milk Generations Strategy. The original campaign carried the tag line “Y Usted, Les dio suficiente leche hoy?” (“And you, did you give them enough milk today?”) and was built around family recipes that used milk as the main ingredient.

    Two down: A UL page devoted to the alleged Spanishismes dismantles the Nova for sure.

  5. As for the “cue” French pr0n fiasco, we suspect the origin to have been in this form, since we can find no evidence of a Frenchy-French pr0n rag called Cue:

    Colgate’s Cue toothpaste encountered problems in France since Cue stands for “butt” in French

    Which of course it doesn’t: that would be “cul”.

  6. On the other hand, I saw “Please your luggage, give to the wardrobe” in Prague in the late 80s with my own eyes. I also saw a flyer advertising dental work (!) using “the latest americal methods” to tourists in Budapest a couple of years later. Wish I’d kept it…. Not to mention all the stuff on engrish.com.

  7. A bit off topic, but I do know of one true and relatively recent foreign-advertising faux pas – General Motors was about to introduce a Buick “LaCrosse” model until they found out it was Quebec slang for masturbation.

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