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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Wed, 12 Feb 97 16:28:30 -0800
Subject: Foreign Translations
Forwarded-by: firstname.lastname@example.org (Bob Stein)
Forwarded-by: "Truscello, Roberta" <RT@sswhb.com>
Forwarded-by: Jarfas, Josephine
Forwarded-by: Bruce Guthrie @ nmaa.org
Cracking an international market is a goal of most growing corporations.
It shouldn't be that hard, yet even the big multi-nationals run into trouble
because of language and cultural differences. For example...
Scandinavian vacuum manufacturer Electrolux used the following in an
American ad campaign: "Nothing sucks like an Electrolux."
The name Coca-Cola in China was first rendered as Ke-kou-ke-la.
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," which can be loosely translated as "happiness in the mouth."
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
Also in Chinese, the Kentucky Fried Chicken slogan "finger-lickin' good"
came out as "eat your fingers off."
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."
When General Motors introduced the 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.
Ford had a similar problem in Brazil when the Pinto flopped. The company
found out that Pinto was Brazilian slang for "tiny male genitals". Ford
pried all the nameplates off and substituted Corcel, which means horse.
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
company's mistakenly thought the spanish word "embarazar" meant embarrass.
Instead the ads said that "It wont leak in your pocket and make you
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."
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."
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.
Colgate introduced a toothpaste in France called Cue, the name of a
notorious porno mag.
In Italy, a campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water translated the name into
Schweppes Toilet Water.
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
[psl adds two stories...
While I was visiting my father in Japan he introduced me to a beverage
that he really liked. It had pretty much the appearance of a vanilla egg
cream (something like an ice-cream soda with milk instead of ice cream) but
had a little sharper taste. My father said, "It will never sell in the US;
for one thing, it's made from sour milk; for another, it's called 'Calpis'"
(try saying that out loud). He was right, of course. Another popular
Japanese beverage is called Pocari Sweat... Yum!
I used to work at a very ritzy firm in New York City whose initials were
C.U.L.C. It was commonly referred to as CULC (see-you-ell-see). One year
the firm decided to give all the employees and clients of the firm a nice,
oversize, canvas tote-bag (for carrying around all those corporate ledgers,
piles of print-out, and stacks of currency). Someone made a design out of
the corporate logo, (the logo was CULC), by overlapping the initial and
final C, so the material used for the tot-bags ended up looking something
Apparently the designer was blissfully unaware that in French slang cul =
ass (the body part), but a lot of New Yorkers know! My favorite comment was
from a guy on the subway who wanted to know where I got the "assinine
© 1997 Peter Langston