Latte means milk in Italian, but in Germany it means an erection. No wonder the Germans giggle when certain well-known coffee chains invited them to enjoy a hot morning latte before work
KNOWING two languages does not make one a translator. It is a highly-skilled job requiring extensive knowledge of the languages involved – especially the target language, or the one being translated to. Still, over the years this hasn't stopped marketing and advertising staff producing some odd, sometimes hilarious, taglines and ad campaigns. We collected 'ten of the best' for your entertainment.
Latte. In Italian latte means milk and in the English-speaking world latte means a coffee-drink with milk. But in Germany Latte is a well-known word for an erection, leaving many Germans giggling at the English and US usage of a 'hot morning latte'.
GPT. In 1988, General Electric Company (GEC) and Plessey combined to create a communications giant: GPT. The acronym stands for GEC-Plessey Telecommunications and is hardly the most exciting company name in the world. However, in France GPT raised more than a few chuckles, as it is pronounced 'J'ai pété' which means 'I've farted'.
Siemens Zyklon. Electrical goods manufacturers Siemens withdrew a number of their new Zyklon range of vacuum cleaners from the German market about ten years back. Zyklon means cyclone in German – great idea for the name of a vacuum cleaner. Except Zyklon-B was the gas used by the Nazi regime to kill people in concentration camps. And this from a company was implicitly involved in the use of slave labour during the war.
Wang cares. During the 1980s American computer manufacturers Wang were surprised by the reaction to the new ad campaign in the UK. They didn't see the Wang Cares, when spoken, sounds a little too close to 'wankers'. How careless.
Woody Woodpecker. In 1996 Matsushita Electric and Panasonic were working on the launch of a Japanese PC and Web browser. Panasonic has decided to use Woody Woodpecker as the browser's Internet guide. User were to be invited to 'Touch Woody – the Internet Pecker', before some of Panasonic's American employees pointed out what 'touching woody' and 'pecker' implied in the US. Cue expensive delayed product launch and major rethink.
Samarin. This one oddly involves no words whatsoever. Swedish-made Samarin is a regular over-the-counter remedy for stomach upsets. A few years back they used a simple cartoon strip style ad campaign. First picture: a man feeling ill and holding his stomach. The second picture: he drinks Samarin. Third picture: he is smiling and feeling much better. It worked quite well. Except in Arabic-speaking countries were people read from right to left. Oops.
Do Nothing. In 2009 HSBC bank had to launch a $10 million rebranding campaign to repair the damage done when its catchphrase 'Assume Nothing' was mistranslated as 'Do Nothing' in various countries.
Inferno Undertakers. In the 1990s a funeral service and crematorium in Estonia marketed itself as Inferno Undertakers – taking the meaning of the word inferno as 'a very intense fire'. Sadly inferno also has the connotation of hell and purgatory – not where you want a loved one to burn. Ouch.
Mist, in general. In German mist means horse shit – though with a slightly stronger edge than the English usage. This caused serious problems for Irish Mist (cream liqueur), Rolls Royce Silver Mist (car) and Clairol Mist Stick (hair curling iron), when they were originally marketed in Germany.
P'Zone. A few years back Pizza Hut marketed a new calzone pizza as the P'Zone. It is pronounced like the Spanish word pezón, meaning nipple. Rumour has it the Pizza Hut's PR department were aware of this before marketing the product in Spanish-speaking countries, so maybe this is less of a mistake and more of a clever, but cheeky, marketing ploy.
The simple message: leave it to the professionals. Unless you want to find yourself covered in mist.
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