I18n Guy, your I18n advisor

Marketing Translation Mistakes

People forward translation and cultural mistakes to me, and I love them. I hope you enjoy these as well. Often I receive the same ones over and over. Please only send me ones that are not listed here. (Please search this page first.) Also if possible, please provide a reference with your submission. I try to research and confirm these before posting.

Also, take these with a grain of salt...They may be contrived and not true, or if true, unrecognizably transformed.

The site About Spanish Language indicates many of these are patently untrue. Snopes, and other urban legends sites also have articles on some of these items. I suspect reality lies somewhere in between total truth and total falsehood.

Acknowledgements: Some of the original sources are credited here.

Tex "I am a jelly doughnut" Texin     Copyright © 1999-2009 Tex Texin. All rights reserved.     Do not copy this page!

Also see: Product Instructions Snafus,    Hotel Signs,    Odd Signs,    Newspaper Headlines
But why bother with apocryphal stories, when you can read absolutely true ones? See:
True Incidents and Japanese For "That Poor Woman".

Translations That (Allegedly) Embarassed Their Marketing Departments

Body bag vs. Knapsack

Body Bags    2006-03-05

Almost as good as the confusion among English speakers over the term Fanny Pack, is the humor raised by the German equivalent for knapsack. Companies often use or "borrow" words from other languages to give their product names a certain cachet. Sometimes their choices are a bit odd. German makers of knapsacks refer to them as "Body Bags".
Vielen Danke to Marc Tobias for this item.

CBS 60 Minutes    New! 2006-02-25

I use an interpreter from time to time, so I know how difficult the job is. The following Translator Mistake is reported on October 6, 2000 on the CBS News Web Site among other places. Look for the side bar on "Lost In Translation". (Which has not got to be one of the most overused, unclever, cliche headings in the past few years. Strike it from the language along with "without further ado".)

60 Minutes' Mike Wallace, known for his tough interviewing style, drew a sharp rebute from Boris Yeltsin - thanks to a translator's error. The confusion arose when Wallace asked Yeltsin if he had a "thin skin" when it came to public criticism, but the translation had Wallace describing Yeltsin as a "thick-skinned hippopotamus."

Yeltsin was not amused.

"An experienced journalist like yourself," Yeltsin said, "should express himself in a more civilized fashion. But this may be the translator's fault, and if so, he is the hippopotamus!"
Thanks to KKWolf

Orange Co. Logo

Orange    New! 2006-02-16

During its 1994 launch campaign, the telecom company Orange had to change its ads in Northern Ireland. "The future's bright … the future's Orange." That campaign is an advertising legend. However, in the North the term Orange suggests the Orange Order. The implied message that the future is bright, the future is Protestant, loyalist... didn't sit well with the Catholic Irish population.
Thanks to Janet O'Sullivan

GPT    New! 2006-02-18

In 1988, the General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a new telecommunications giant. A brand name was desired that evoked technology and innovation. The winning proposal was GPT for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications. A not very innovative name and not suggestive of technology and a total disaster for European branding. GPT is pronounced in French as “J’ai pété” or “I've farted”.
Thanks to Jem Shaw!

Life Fitness     New! 2006-01-24

LifeFitness 4F Life Fitness is a maker of exercise equipment, bikes, ski machines etc. Their logo made me laugh. I was walking around the exercise room to stretch my legs after some strenuous biking when I first noticed it. At first I thought it said “4F”. Now, for those of you that don't know, the American military, when there was a draft, had a rating for recruits. If you were “1A”, you were healthy and fit for duty. “4F” is the code for those that are physically unfit and unacceptable to the army. So “4F” was a rather inappropriate logo for a health fitness machine. It took me about a minute to realize it wasn't “4F”, but “LF” the initials for LifeFitness.

Waterpik     2004-12-24

Waterpik uses another name in Denmark. "Pik" is the common Danish word for male genitals. Most Danes can easily translate "water" to the danish word "vand". And "vandpik" is a term for the morning erection.
"And you put that thing in your mouth?!?!"
Thanks to Jørgen Lykkebo!

PepsiCo India     2004-10-06

An old ad by Pepsi in IndiaI was visiting Bangalore, India when the local news (for example, rediff india) was widely reporting the legal consequences of a marketing mistake by Pepsi. Pepsi is being sued in a Hyderabad, India city court in a public interest litigation for glorifying child labor in a television ad. In the ad, the Indian cricket team is in a celebratory huddle when a young boy serves them Pepsi.

Binney & Smith Crayola    2004-11-06

Binney & Smith Crayola Crayons Crayola has changed color names over time due to the civil rights movement and other social pressures. In 1962, Binney & Smith replaced flesh with peach, in recognition of the wide variety of skin tones. More recently, in 1999, they changed indian red to chestnut. The color was not named after Native Americans, it was actually named for a special pigment that came from India. But school children often assumed the incorrect origin of the name. There are many sites listing the history of Crayola colors, including Crayola's own history page.

Financial Asia Times    2004-05-13

Nick Lord writes a story for Finance Asia: "Rudi Pecker taking the head job and top slot at Misys". Do you think Nick or the editors at Finance Asia might have had an idea about the double entendre? If the article link goes away, you can read about Mr. Pecker's rise up, here.
Thanks to Carlos Silva!

Panasonic     2004-05-13

Internet Guide Woody Woodpecker According to the EE Times, October 8, 1996 (and numerous web sites), Matsushita Electric was promoting a Japanese PC for internet users. It came with a Japanese Web browser courtesy of Panasonic. Panasonic had licensed the cartoon character "Woody Woodpecker" as the "Internet guide."

The day before a huge marketing campaign was to begin, Panasonic stopped the product launch. The reason: the ads featured the slogan "Touch Woody - The Internet Pecker." An American at the internal product launch explained to the stunned and embarrassed Japanese what "touch woody" and "pecker" meant in American slang.
Thanks to A. Vine for pointing me at this!

Port Wallhamn    2004-05-08

Port Wallhamn is a Swedish port. The companies that surround it used to give their employees ties with the logo "W" and an anchor. The combination forms a very nice rebus for Wanker, much to the chagrin of the British workers who had to wear it.
Thanks to Hendrik Demol!
If someone has a tie and could send me a photo of it, that would be much appreciated!

Gerber    2004-05-08

Gerber, the name of the famous baby food maker, is also the French word for vomiting. It becomes a bit limiting when you go global... Gerber is therefore not in France, and although Gerber has a French Canadian web page, it says "Les aliments pour bébés Gerber ne sont disponibles pour l'instant qu'aux États-Unis" (French for: The baby food ain't here, try the U.S.)
Thanks to Hendrik Demol!

Bastard or Baathist?    2004-04-03

The newspaper The Australian had to apologize for changing a Senator's use of "Baathist" to "Bastard".

A story headlined 'Syria seeks our help to woo US' in Saturday's Weekend Australian misquoted National Party senator Sandy Macdonald. The quote stated: "Syria is a country that has been a bastard state for nearly 40 years" but should have read "Syria is a country that has been a Baathist state for nearly 40 years."

The Australian's editorial staff then drowned their sorrows at the local pub with several "Suffering Baathists".

My thanks to Rick C for his pointer to Samizdata's blog report for this item.

Latte Anyone?    2004-03-16

cup of latte Book Cover- Cooking for Mr. Latte Latte means milk in Italy. In English, Latte is a coffee-drink. Many folks like to head to Starbucks or other coffee shops to take early morning latte breaks...

In Germany, Latte is a well known word for an erection. So, "morning latte" is when you wake up in the morning with an erection! The word "break" means "destroy", so taking that "morning latte break" is destroying that erection. I'll leave the details to your imagination, as well as all the puns on how you take your steaming hot drink.

This item is thanks to Jochen Gumpert, a standup guy! Apparently, Germans are amused at American morning television shows called "Morning Latte" and book's like the popular Amanda Hesser's book "Cooking for Mr. Latte"!

Yellow Transportation    2004-3-8

yellow logoSome will think it a mistake. I think it's brilliant. The logo for Yellow Transportation says the name "Yellow" in bold black letters on hey, wait-a-second... that's not yellow! Right it is orange. And orange is all over their trucks, collateral, etc. It's good marketing that stops and makes you take a second look or makes you wonder. Apparently they named the company Yellow, and later sought out the safest color for their trucks. Collaborating with Dupont they came up with "Swamp Holly Orange". OK, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out you don't want to rename the company Swamp anything. Nevertheless, I like their commitment to safety while maintaining their identity and having a cool marketing strategy, which goes back to the 1930's.

Oh, you wanted mistakes. See the next item.

IKEA FARTFULL    2004-3-8

picture of fartfull desk on wheels IKEA sells this workbench as the FARTFULL. Although IKEA's web page says FARTFULL is not for sale on the web, I still enjoy recommending it as the perfect gift suggestion for various people.

Swedish is a Germanic language, and "Fährt" is German for travel, so I am sure "fartfull" is being used here to suggest mobility, given the desk's wheels and design. Swedish has several words for fart, but one of them is "Fjärt", which strikes me as close enough that their marketing department knew what it was doing. If even bad press is good public relations, then this is a case of allowing an ill wind to blow some good.

Ford Pinto, Ford Corcel    Updated! 2004-1-12

Everyone, get out your web erasers! This popular story is debunked.
Marcelo de Castro Bastos informs us (and confirmed elsewhere):
Ford Pinto (under any name) wasn't ever sold in Brazil, except maybe as a low-volume import. The Ford Corcel was a totally unrelated product, the result of a joint project by the Brazilian subsidiary of Willys Overland and French automaker Renault (Willys used to make Renault cars, like the Dauphine and Gordini, under license in Brazil.) When Ford acquired Willys's Brazilian operation, they inherited the almost-finished project and decided to launch it under their own brand. They MAY have considered to use the "Pinto" brand on it, but saner heads prevailed and decided on the "Corcel" name in order to keep to the "horse" theme Ford seemed to like at the time. The "Pinto" name was never used in Brazil.
"Corcel" was a huge success, and remained in production for more than a decade, spawning a station wagon version called "Belina", a second-generation "Corcel II", a luxury version called "Del Rey" and a light pick-up version called "Pampa". In the early eighties, almost the entire production of Ford Brazil's automobile division was comprised of Corcel-related vehicles.


Ford's Pinto didn't do well in Brazil. Pinto is Brazilian slang for "male genitals". Ford renamed the car the Corcel, which means horse or steed.
Note 1: If it were my translation marketing department I would have renamed the car "Dear God, I hope my gas tank doesn't explode!"
Note 2: "Pinto" is reported all over the web, along with this story, as meaning "tiny male genitals" or a "man with small genitals". According to Luiz Pryzant, it just refers to "male genitals".

SEPR Ersol    2004-1-11

Bill Leahy sends this gem: Saint-Gobain is a large French glass and ceramics company. Their subsidiary, SEPR, invented a material used in the bottom of furnaces that melt glass. The product was named "Ersol" which comes from "Electro Refractaire Sol".
Sol is the French word for bottom (of the furnace). Electro Refractaire refers to it being refractory (resists softening at high temperature) and so is made by electrically melting it. A sensible name, until they introduced the product into the United Kingdom.
Ersol sounds too close to arsehole! However, when alerted to the language problem the company decided not to change it.

Combine the name with the product's bottom position, and you can see why some product descriptions might read inappropriate to the British:
"contraction which occur during the solidification process must be carefully controlled, as it affects the homogeneity of the piece, the volume and location of the shrinkage cavity, and the residual stress."

That said, I noted several companies named Ersol on the web.

Aussie Nads    2004-1-10

Boxes labeled Aussie Nads caught my attention in the local Walgreens. In my limited vocabulary "Aussie" means Australian and "Nads" is colloquial for gonads, in particular testicles. So my first thought was that the box contained the international version of "Rocky Mountain Oysters" or "Prairie Oysters". (Here are some testicle recipes.) But I wasn't in the food aisle.

My second thought was that these were replacement parts... After all, I get an e-mail every 15 minutes offering me either viagara or organ extensions, so it's not such an unreasonable conclusion. But the idea that some very macho Australians, no doubt from the Outback, decided they were man enough to sell one of their parts and still have enough left over to make out ok (pun intended) was implausible. Closer inspection of the box reveals that Aussie Nads is a hair removal product.
Another well-named product is "Nad's for Men" and don't forget to order "Nad's Wand" the "facial applicator wand". Seems like they are penetrating many new markets and so very soon they will be in a store barely a stone's throw away from you.

Glen Thomas points out that there is a well-known greyhound named "nads" in Australia, frequently spurred on by the crowd yelling "Go Nads".

Intimidate Dating Service    2004-1-10

Israeli radio and press ran ads for the Intimidate Dating Service. Now you might think that Intimidate tries to match up sadists with masochists. However, Hagit Rozanes informs us that "Intimi" is the Hebrew word for intimate. (Hmmm. Better hope your date speaks Hebrew or you are in for a rough night...)

Liebfraumilch Wine    2004-1-10

Liebfraumilch wine Several people wrote me about Germany's most exported wine: Liebfraumilch. "Lieb" means "dear" or "beloved" sometimes a reference to "God" or "holy". "Frau" is "woman", and "Milch" is "milk". Hence "beloved woman's milk", also translated as "Milk of the Virgin" or "Milk of Our Lady". E-mails also offered translations of "women love milk", and "loves woman milk".

The name comes from its origins in about the 16th century in the vineyards of the Liebfrauenkirche ("Church of Our Lady") in Worms, Germany. (Worms Wine would also have been a Marketing Mistake!) (Read more in the Food Dictionary.)

It would probably be a Marketing Mistake for Liebfraumilch to produce a variation of the Got Milk? ads with paintings of a woman's breast and the milk mustache on it, next to their wine bottle. (Maybe pencil in a mustache in this El Greco...)

Götzen    2004-1-10

The european hardware store chain "Götzen" opened a mall in Istanbul. "Göt" means "ass" in Turkish. They changed the name to "Tekzen".
Thanks to Hakan Turan!

Wang Cares    2004-1-10

In the late '70s, the American computer company Wang was puzzled why its British branch refused to use its latest motto "Wang Cares". However, to British ears the motto sounds too close to "wankers". (masturbaters)
Thanks to Malcolm Howlett!

Opel Ascona    2004-1-10

General motors made a car named "Opel Ascona". This model sold poorly in Galicia, the northwestern region of Spain. In the galician and also portuguese languages, the term is similar to the term for female genitalia.
Thanks to Anjo.

Inferno Undertaker    2004-1-4

The 1990's saw the emergence of private-owned companies and the re-introduction of cremation in Estonia.
Kai Redone reports that during that period an undertaker in Tallinn, Estonia named itself Inferno, causing several raised eyebrows.

I didn't see the problem right away. I thought inferno's meaning is "a very intense and uncontrolled fire" or conflagration. However, although that is one sense for the word, inferno's major usage is "hell", "purgatory" or "perdition".

I can imagine the advertisement for Inferno:
"I am sorry about the loss of your loved one. Where is the funeral, so I can say goodbye to him?"
"He's going to burn in the Inferno!"

Mitsubishi Starion    2003-12-30

Andrew Harris of Australia writes: "Mitsubishi had a very successful small car called the Colt. They brought out a slightly larger model, but right up to the last minute, couldn't decide on a name for it. The people here were in a last minute conference call to the Japanese execs trying to make a decision when the final word came through that 'Stallion' would be a suitable 'horsey' name to follow Colt. Trouble was, the name wasn't written, but spoken with a thick Japanese accent and the Aussie end were mystified, but duly wrote down 'Starion'. By the time the mistake was realised the badging and ads had been started and it was too late to stop it."

It's a great story and Snopes categorizes it as a definite maybe. With so many car names on this page, you have to wonder if these marketing mistakes aren't intentional, owing to the theory that even bad press is allegedly good marketing...

I like that Andrew's version attributes the choice of the name to Mitsubishi's "Aussie" management. Many of the reports I receive have a local or localized coloring. The car is of course sold internationally and othe reports (such as in Snopes) attribute the problem due to American (mis-)management. There is probably a U.K. version as well...

Donkey Kong's Gorilla

Nintendo Donkey Kong    2003-12-30

Snopes (and Nintendo) refutes the notion that Nintendo Donkey Kong was originally to be known as Monkey Kong, or that either a smudged fax or a typographic error resulted in the product's actual name.

Yamaha Electric Grand Keyboard    2003-12-27

Yamaha had a mistranslation in their assembly instructions for their Electric Grand Keyboard, circa 1993. They should have written "screw" and ended up instead with instructions for the over-21 crowd. (And for consistency, it should have been called a Grand Organ...)
Irish Mist Liqueur

Irish Mist Liqueur    2003-12-27

Bad translations using the word "Mist" in Germany keep coming my way. (See Mist Stick and Silver Mist.)
D. Fleming reported that Irish Mist didn't do well in Germany either. Other sources claimed it was marketed with the semi-Germanized Irischer Mist, which would translate back to English as Irish dung. (Babelfish translated it kindly as "Irish muck".) (German Customs should just turn "Mist" products back at the border!)

Toaplan Zero Wing "All your base are belong to us"    2003-12-24

Toaplan was a video game maker that had a terrible, Japanese-to-English translation of the intro to their Zero Wing game, with great lines like: "Somebody set up us the bomb." Although the company went out of business, the translation and in particular the line "All your base are belong to us" became a phenomenon crossing from the net into popular culture. Hey, if you are gonna blow it, blow it big! A web search will find plenty of hilarious web pages featuring the line. Here is a history page and an informative news item.

Traficante Mineral Water    2003-12-23

Traficante is an Italian brand of mineral water. In Spanish, it means drug dealer.

Volkswagen Jetta    2003-12-20

Volkswagen named the sedan version of Golf the Jetta. However, the letter "J" doesn't exist in the Italian alphabet, so Jetta is pronounced "Ietta", which means Misfortune...
Thanks to Alberto Malin.

Omanko writes: It's true... the letter J don't exist in the Italian alphabet but it is in use a long time. (e.g. There is also an old city called Jesi and Italian names like Jacopo...). The word ietta don't exist in Italian but Jella exists (yes, you write it with the letter J!) and there are two or three words derived from this one, e.g. jettatore/iettatore (evil-eyed man) or jettatura/iettatura (bad luck). In neapolitan dialect Jetta means throw, throw away!!!
Jetta has good sales in Italy.

2003-12-23 OK, I received a few confusing if not conflicting mails on this, so I spoke with New England's Italian language translation expert, Laura Bergamini: 'The answer from Omanko is correct. Jetta by itself does not mean anything, nor is it associated with "bad luck" as "jella" is. It is part of words like "jettatore".
'Additionally, ever since it was introduced, the car was marketed with the English pronunciation of "J" so it IS called "jay-tta" by the Italian audience.'
OK The word Jetta is meaningless in Italian, and sales are good. Score one for VW Marketing. I would like to say case closed, but in fairness to Alberto and the others that wrote me that "Jettas were bad luck", translationally speaking, there can be regional or dialectical differences, and so it may be more true in some Italian-speaking areas. Also, as with all the entries here, I check for other sources before posting, and did find some other mentions of it. So perhaps it is an urban legend or a case of "You say Jetta, I say Ietta".

OK, More mail from Italy. Francesco V. of Calabria writes that Jetta does mean "throw away", not only in Neapolitan dialect, but in southern Italy. Grazie Molto!

Hoover Zyklon, Umbro Zyklon, Siemens Zyklon    2003-12-20

Hoover Zyklon Vacuum Hoover, maker of vacuum cleaners, sells a model on the European market, including Germany, called the Zyklon. Zyklon is the German word for Cyclone, so it is a seemingly sensible choice for a powerful vacuum. However, Zyklon B is the lethal gas used by Nazis in concentration camps. I would think that the name would draw protests, but I see German web sites currently selling the vacuums for less than 200 euro. Perhaps, if readers are aware of either protests or reasons that it is not considered offensive, they will e-mail me.

Meanwhile, CNN.com reported on August 28, 2002, that British shoe maker Umbro received many protests for its running shoe the Zyklon. Umbro apologized and renamed it. Apparently, the shoe had been named the Zyklon since 1999, but they had not written the name on the shoe until recently.

A week later, BBC News reported that Bosch Siemens Hausgeraete (BSH) was withdrawing its trademark application for the name Zyklon. BSH had filed two applications with the US Patent & Trademark Office for "Zyklon" across a range of home products, including gas ovens.

Reed Business News    2003-12-20

A few years back Reed Business News relaunched itself with the branding: "If it's news to you, it's news to us.".
It was replaced after a couple of days...

Thanks to Adam Rutherford.

Hong Kong Tourist Board     2003-12-20

According to TravelBiz.com.au in April, 2003 the Hong Kong Tourist Board tried to either pull their ads or have their slogan changed. But it was too late to change the campaign that was on billboards throughout Hong Kong and in British versions of Cosmopolitan and Conde Nast Traveller.

The slogan that was running "Hong Kong: It will take your breath away." unfortunately coincided with the SARS epidemic that resulted in numerous deaths. Shortness of breath is one of the main symptoms of SARS.

(OK, I know it is not a translation mistake, just bad timing, but it caught my attention anyway.)

Sharwoods    2003-11-18

MediaGuardian.co.uk reports: Sharwoods £6m campaign to launch its new Bundh sauces received calls immediately from numerous Punjabi speakers. "bundh" sounds like the Punjai word for "arse".

Sharwoods has no intention of changing it. "We hope that once they understand the derivation of the Bundh sauce range and taste the delicious meals they can produce, they will agree that it is miles apart from the Punjabi word that is similar but spelled and pronounced differently (with a long "u")."

Thanks to Paul Kerins for this.

Peanut Chocolate Bars

Anyone know the name of the peanut-packed chocolate bar that lost out in the Japanese market because many Asians believe peanuts and chocolate cause nosebleeds?
Both peanuts and chocolate (actually caffeine) cause allergic reactions. I didn't find reports on the web of their causing nosebleeds specifically, but I did find pages where individuals are avoiding them to prevent nosebleeds. Also, asian diets are very different from western diets and so tolerances differ.

General Motors Buick LaCrosse    2003-10-22

Reuters reports: General Motors Corp. will rename its Buick LaCrosse in Canada because the name for the car is slang for masturbation in Quebec, embarrassed officials with the U.S. automaker said on Thursday. GM officials, who declined to be named, said it had been unaware that LaCrosse was a term for self-gratification among teenagers in French-speaking Quebec.

GM officials in Canada are working on a new name for the car...

Pizza Hut P'Zone     2003-06-23

Pizza Hut is advertising their new dish, a calzone they named the P'Zone. It is pronounced like "pezón", the Spanish word for "nipple". Susana says the Pizza Hut PR dept. in Texas told her they knew about this before launching the campaign.
Maybe we shouldn't file this under mistakes then, and instead put it under interesting marketing strategies!
Muchas gracias to Susana C. Schultz of Strictly Spanish for this report!

Honda Fitta/Jazz/Fit     2003-04-06

Car maker Honda introduced their new car "Fitta" in the Nordic countries during 2001, only to find out that "fitta" is an old word, currently used in vulgar language to refer to a woman's genitals in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish. It was renamed to "Honda Jazz" for the Nordic market.
According to newspaper articles, Japanese ads said that "[Fitta] is small on the outside, but large on the inside". It's now called the Honda Fit in Japanese markets.
My thanks to Peter Karlsson for this report!

SEGA     2003-04-05

In Italy "sega" is the unofficial but most popular name for the act of male masturbation. So, the popular videogame makers SEGA Enterprises, attempting to disassociate SEGA from sega, changed the pronunciation to "see-ga" in their ads, as if to educate Italians about proper English (or Japanese?) pronunciation.

Many Italians are surprised to learn that SEGA is not pronounced see-ga, but say-ga, outside of Italy.
Also alleged, is that when the SEGA-sponsored Arsenal Gunners soccer team was to play the Italian Fiorentina team for the Championship (circa 1999), the Arsenals argued to play the game in the U.K.   Apparently, their away flag displays the sponsor prominently and it might inspire, er I mean offend the Italian TV audience.

American or Braniff Airlines

When American Airlines wanted to advertise its new leather first class seats in the Mexican market, it translated its "Fly In Leather" campaign literally, which meant "Fly Naked" ("vuela en cuero") in Spanish!

Some reports say it was Braniff not American. About Spanish Language (part 2) says 'The idiom for "buck naked" is "en cueros", not "en cuero". Even a beginning translator would realize that a word play such as "in leather" might not work in a literal translation.'

Interestingly, Castaways Travel of Spring, Texas thought flying naked was a good idea. See these articles: Houston Business Journal: Inaugural flight makes nudes headlines and errtravel.com: Berrly Flying

American Motors Matador

The Matador did not do well in Puerto Rico where "matador" has the connotation of "killer". (Bull-fighting was abolished on the island more than 100 years ago, when the U.S. took control of Puerto Rico.)

Bacardi Pavane/Pavian

Popular story these days is that Bacardi marketed a drink called either Pavane, which sounds like Pavian, or it marketed a drink called Pavian. The latter sounds plausible, if they wanted to go after the healthy, aristocratic, pure water drinkers, as it sounds like the brand "Evian". Either name would have given the fruity drink a French mystique. The claim is the Bacardi drink doesn't do well in Germany where "Der Pavian" means "the Baboon" auf Deutsch...

Chevy Nova, Vauxhall Nova, Opel Corsa     Updated 2004-01-19

When General Motors introduced the Chevrolet (aka Chevy) Nova in South America, it was apparently unaware that "no va" means "it won't go". After the company figured out why it wasn't selling any cars, it renamed the car in its Spanish markets to the Caribe.
This one is untrue. For more background on this, see: My '75 Chevy Nova looked something like this
About Spanish Language (part 1),
http://www.tafkac.org/products/chevy_nova_mexico.html, and

Steven Marzuola wrote me: "I grew up in Venezuela, and there were Novas all over the place. I have also learned that it did rather well in Mexico. It was not offered in many other countries, for a variety of reasons, but none of them having to do with the name."

Steve Checkley informs me that in mainland Europe, the GM car known as the Vauxhall Nova in the United Kingdom, is known as the Opel Corsa. This is true as I have confirmed it elsewhere. The European Novas were launched in 1983. However, the American version ran from 1961 (starting with the 1962 model) through to 1979. The pictures that I have seen of the European Novas don't look like the American Novas. There may have been some similarities under the covers of course. But I think the cars were different generations and probably only related by name. Here is a history of the American Nova and a history of the Vauxhall Nova 1983-1993

For related items, see Vauxhall Nova and Noah's Chevy Nova

Clairol Mist Stick

Clairol introduced the "Mist Stick", a curling iron, into German only to find out that "mist" is slang for manure. Not too many people had use for the "manure stick".

Actually, this is not quite right and confuses the curling iron story with the Rolls Royce Siver Mist example. The German word “Miststück” (pronounced similarly to Mist Stick) is how you might call a woman a bitch or slut.
(And now you know what to get your ex-wife for Christmas!)

Thanks to Peter Hofer for correcting this.

Coca-Cola Fresca

In Mexico, Fresca is a term for Lesbian. Jokes abound, but sales weren't hurt. (Despite what you read elsewhere on the web.) There are many fruit drinks named Agua Fresca (fresh water).

Coca-Cola, Ke-ke-ken-la, Ko-kou-ko-le

Coca-cola logo The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-ke-ken-la. Chinese characters for bite the wax tadpole Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means "bite the wax tadpole" or "female horse stuffed with wax" depending on the dialect. Coke then researched 40,000 Chinese characters and found a close phonetic equivalent, "ko-kou-ko-le," Chinese characters for Coca-cola which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
For more background on Coke in China, see:  Snopes.com or www.kekoukele.org/kekoukele.htm.

Colgate Cue

Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a notorious porno mag.

I have received several mails saying that they don't know of a French magazine named Cue. This story goes back to the early '90s so Cue might have existed and gone out of business since then. Others have written that they do know of a magazine named Cul, which is pronounced like cue (e.g. "kyu").
Personally, I don't give this story much credence. However, from the mails I get, a lot of people are out searching for this magazine. If anyone wants to join me in publishing a French porn magazine named Cue, there is a ready market for it!


Coors put its slogan, "Turn it loose" into Spanish, where it was read as "Suffer from diarrhea".

Electrolux Vacuum

The Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux tried to sell its goods in America but didn't help itself with this slogan, "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."

Ford Comet, Ford Caliente

Ford's Comet, was called "Caliente" in Mexico. "Caliente" literally means "hot" (as in temperature), but colloquially it is also used for either "horny" or "prostitute".

Ford Cortina

Ford's Cortina is translated as "jalopy".

Ford Fiera

Ford's Fiera doesn't do well with Spanish-speaking Latin-Americans, since "fiera" means "ugly old woman".

Gerber Baby Food

When Gerber started selling baby food in Africa, they used the same packaging as in the US, with the beautiful Caucasian baby on the label. Later they learned that in Africa, companies routinely put pictures on the label of what's inside, since most people can't read.

Snopes dismisses the African baby food story as an example of "cultural prejudice". I am a big fan of Snopes, but in this case I am a little disappointed. I don't mind if the story is totally false and completely fabricated, but it would be nice if Snopes offered some evidence such as interviews with someone(s) from Africa, or perhaps a statement from Gerber or other companies selling baby food in Africa, that they continue to market the product with baby pictures on the label. Hmm. OK I'll write to Gerber and see if I can get a statement from them and post the result back here.

Hyundai Pony

Richard Seamon reports: Hyundai had problems with the Hyundai Pony. In Cockney rhyming slang, "Pony" is short for "pony and trap", meaning crap. It didn't deter Hyundai, they still marketed it in the UK (circa 1982). (Mentioned in Independent.co.uk.)

Hunt-Wesson Big John, Gros Jos

Hunt-Wesson introduced its Big John products in French Canada as Gros Jos before finding out that the phrase, in slang, means "big breasts". In this case, however, the name problem did not have a noticeable effect on sales.

International Wine Glass Symbol

Stevadores in an unnamed African port, seeing the international --but evidently not universal!-- symbol for 'fragile' (a wine glass with snapped stem) presumed it meant that some idiot had sent a cargo of broken glass. So they obligingly pitched all the cases overboard into the harbour!
(As reported some years ago in Print, the journal for graphic design, and submitted by Margaret Tarbet.)

Kentucky Fried Chicken, KFC

Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good" came out as "eat your fingers off."

Kinki Nippon Tourist Agency

Japan's second-largest tourist agency was mystified when it entered English-speaking markets and began receiving requests for unusual sex tours. Upon finding out why, the owners of Kinki Nippon Tourist Company changed its name.


locum xmas card Locum is a Swedish company. In 1991, they sent Christmas cards to all of their customers. They thought they would give their logo a little holiday spirit, by substituting a little heart for the letter "o". For some reason, they also used all lowercase letters. The lowercase "L" can therefore be easily misunderstood to be an "i", and the locum logo looked like one of those "I love ..." bumper stickers, with an unfortunate pornographic sentiment to it.
Thanks to Johan Inganni (Sweden) for this entry.

John Severinson writes on 2003-11-16:
"Actually, it was a paper ad in the largest papers. The image you've got there is a scan from DN (www.dn.se), one of them. And, it was in 2001.

Locum shortly afterwards claimed 'they had no idea the ad would send such a message but appreciates that the brand Locum is associated with love and caring'."

Mazda Laputa, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Laputa (1819)

Mazda Laputa minivan Mazda's Laputa seems like an odd name for a minivan. The Mazda Laputa was introduced in Japan in 1991. Spanish speakers immediately think of "puta", the word for prostitute. With that in mind the ads claiming that "Laputa is designed to deliver maximum utility in a minimum space while providing a smooth, comfortable ride" and "a lightweight, impact-absorbing body" are humorous. Distributors in Santiago, Chile asked Mazda to rename the vehicle.

Japanese speakers are likely unaware of this meaning and more likely associate "Laputa" with a popular 1986 animated film: "Laputa: Castle in the Sky". However, the film could not be marketed in either Spain or Italy because the word "Laputa" appears onscreen and would offend.

These are not the first uses of the word. "Laputa" is referenced in Gulliver's Travels, where author Jonathan Swift wrote that the astronomers of the island Laputa knew about the moons of Mars and European astronomers did not. Meanwhile modern astronomers have named a real asteroid (1819) Laputa.

Of course, that leaves the question of who named the asteroid... Was it a fan of Swift's fiction, one of the many that adores Hayao Miyazaki's animated film, a minivan enthusiast, or someone that just had an interesting evening out? Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks to Sokoon for this entry.


The Dairy Association's huge success with the campaign "Got Milk?" prompted them to expand advertising to Mexico. It was soon brought to their attention the Spanish translation read "Are you lactating?"

Mitsubishi Pajero, Montero

Mitsubishi had to rename its Pajero automobile because the word is a vulgar term for a masturbating man.
This story is true, although there was no blunder involved because the car was marketed under a different name from the beginning. In Spanish-speaking countries, this model has been sold as the Montero.


Nike has a television commercial for hiking shoes that was shot in Kenya using Samburu tribesmen. The camera closes in on the one tribesman who speaks, in native Maa. As he speaks, the Nike slogan "Just do it" appears on the screen. Lee Cronk, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati, says the Kenyan is really saying, "I don't want these. Give me big shoes." Says Nike's Elizabeth Dolan, "We thought nobody in America would know what he said."  (From an article in Forbes magazine.)

Nike Air

Nike Air shoes showing flaming logo Nike Air flaming logo Nike offended Muslims in June, 1997 when the "flaming air" logo for its Nike Air sneakers looked too similar to the Arabic form of God's name, "Allah". Nike pulled more than 38,000 pairs of sneakers from the market.

Nissan/Mitsubishi Pachero

For their series of landcruisers, Nissan Company invented an apparently meaningless word borrowed from the Spanish "pajaro" (bird). They named it "Pachero". This means wanker in South America.

Thanks to Arne Schäpers for this submission.

According to other sources, e.g. About Spanish Language (part 2) it was Mitsubishi, and the company renamed the car to Montero before marketing it in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America.

Nissan Moco

Nissan's minivan Moco doesn't do so well in Spanish-speaking markets. Especially green ones. Distributors in Santiago, Chile asked that the vehicle be renamed since Moco is the Spanish word for mucous.

Thanks to Sokoon for this entry.

Orange Juice

To boost orange juice sales in predominantly continental breakfast eating England, a campaign extolled the drink's eye-opening, pick-me-up qualities with the slogan, "Orange juice. It gets your pecker up."

Nicholas Shearer counters "... it's a perfectly good slogan and statement. 'keep your pecker up' is a traditional positive get-up-and-go statement in Britain. Unlike the U.S. 'pecker', it has no other connotations (other than maybe a birds beak). So the statement is perfect for the English market..."
I concede, since I don't want to start comparing peckers. Call me chicken but I don't want to have a cock fight over it.

Parker Pen, Parker Quink Ink

When Parker Pen marketed a ballpoint pen in Mexico, its ads were supposed to say "It won't leak in your pocket and embarrass you." However, the Spanish word "embarazar" was used by mistake to mean embarrass. The ads actually said: "It won't leak in your pocket and make you pregnant."

Recent versions of this story claim it was an ad for Parker's Quink Ink.


In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan "Come alive with the Pepsi Generation" came out as "Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead."


Teeth-Whitening Toothpaste vs. Betel Nut Chewers and Teeth-Blackening

Pepsodent's teeth-whitening toothpaste didn't fare well in Southeast Asia where many cultures value chewing Betel Nuts which darkens the teeth. Chewing Betel Nuts is alleged to strengthen teeth (it may have anti-bacterial qualities) and is associated with various rituals and ceremonies (depending on the particular culture and changing over time) including the coming of age of women. Many cultures historically blacken teeth since only savage beasts and evil demons show their white fangs. (Why am I thinking of some marketing folks right now...)

In Japan, in the 12th century, blackening was associated with coming of age. Later in the 18th it was associated with nobility and Samurai. In the 19th century, it was used by married woman. ("I can't tonite honey, I have to blacken my teeth.") See the article on ThingsAsian.com by Barbara Cohen on Healthy Black Smiles.

The product slogan was racially offensive to some as well- "You'll wonder where the yellow went..."

Perdue Chicken

Chicken-man Frank Perdue's slogan, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," got terribly mangled in another Spanish translation. A photo of Perdue with one of his birds appeared on billboards all over Mexico with a caption that explained "It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused."

Pope T-shirt

An American t-shirt maker in Miami printed shirts for the Spanish market which promoted the Pope's visit. Instead of the desired "I saw the Pope" in Spanish, the shirts proclaimed "I saw the Potato."

Andrew Sheh explains: Capital P "Papa" means "Pope". "papa" means potato. Finally, "papa" with an accent on the last "a" means father.

Beardo writes: el Papa (masculine) is the Pope; la papa (feminine) is the potato. VI EL PAPA. VI LA PAPA.

Powergenitalia, www.powergenitalia.com

No, Powergenitalia is not the company responsible for all that spam offering to help you with organ extensions or to invigorate you with Viagara-powered vitality. It is also not the Italian division of energy giant Powergen. When numerous English-speakers on the web took note of the web site www.powergenitalia.com, Powergen felt obligated to announce that they had no connection with the site and in fact had no Italian offices, so that people would not think that it was their Translation Marketing Mistake. No, they left that distinctive honor to the marketing folks at Powergen Italia, an Italian maker of battery chargers. Perhaps they were shocked to learn its a World Wide Web. The website now switches you over to the more aptly named for English-speakers, http://www.batterychargerpowergen.it.
(Reported by many places including Ananova.)

Puffs Tissues

Puffs tissues allegedly had trouble in Germany due to their name being a colloquial term for a house of ill-repute (prostitution). I always say "Gesundheit" when someone around me sneezes. I am afraid that now when I hand them a tissue, I will be thinking "Gesundheit" means "Thank you for that blow job".

If you go to the Puffs website, their pages are very North American-centric, being in English and French only. The Puffs History page mentions their relatively recent (1999) expansion into Canada. Seems unlikely they tried Germany, but maybe if it was a bust they opted not to refer to it anywhere.

Rolls Royce Silver Mist, Silver Shadow

Rolls Royce changed the name of its car the Silver Mist to the Silver Shadow before entering Germany. In German, "Mist" means manure (to put it nicely).

Salem Cigarettes

The American slogan for Salem cigarettes, "Salem - Feeling Free," got translated in the Japanese market into "When smoking Salem, you feel so refreshed that your mind seems to be free and empty."


Lars Bergquist tells us: Samarin is a Swedish over-the-counter remedy for upset stomachs. (Like Alka-Seltzer.) A few years back they used ads that looked like comic strips with no text. There were three pictures. The first was a man looking sick, grasping his tummy. On the second picture he drank a glass of Samarin and on the third picture he was smiling again. The ad campaign was a success in Europe.

However, when the company ran the ad in Arabic-speaking newspapers they did not do too well. I guess that they didn't know that in those countries people read from right to left.... (See the I18nGuy page on User Interfaces For Right-To-Left Languages.)

Schweppes Tonic Water

In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into Schweppes Toilet Water.

Toyota MR2

Marcel Rigadin reports that Toyota makes the MR2, which in France is pronounced "merdé" or spelled 'merdeux', means "crappy". (Mentioned in Dave Taylor's Global Software.)

Vauxhall Nova, Opel Corsa, Chevy Nova

Interesting that an article in MediaGuardian.co.uk also alleges that Vauxhall (UK for Chevrolet) tried to sell Nova in Spain. Apparently this is the British version of the failed Chevrolet Nova in Spanish-speaking Latin America.

Actually, the first Vauxhall Novas were manufactured in Zaragoza, Northern Spain (for sale in the UK). They are sold as the Opel Corsa in Mainland Europe. See the section on Chevrolet Nova above and the history of the Vauxhall Nova 1983-1993.

From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner:
"Cooles and Heates; if you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself."
From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
"When passengers of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage, then tootle him with vigor."
Two signs from a Majorcan shop entrance:
- English well talking.
- Here speeching American.
Sign in a Bombay hotel (where water is still routinely fetched from the Ganges potentially giving you diarrhea or worse):
All water has been personally passed by the management.
(Thanks to Arne Schäpers for this submission.)

Note for the internationally minded: The Ganges is some 600 miles from Bombay. - Tex

If you like these signs, try this page of Odd Signs.


David A. Ricks' book "Big Business Blunders - Mistakes in Multinational Marketing1" (ISBN 0-256-02850-8, 1983 now out of print.) and Dave Taylor's Global Software published many similar items. See Taylor's chapter online.

1See instead Ricks' "Blunders in International Business" (ISBN: 0631217762, 2000 in its third printing.)

I18nGuy Home Page
Top of page