Literally Lost in Translation - Phrases That Have Taken a Left Turn |

Literally Lost in Translation – Phrases That Have Taken a Left Turn

We’ve wittingly assembled 10 error driven phrases that have been awkwardly miscommunicated and simply lost in translation. The list will take you through the not so good, the bad and the ugly realities of translations that haven’t gone accordingly.


1. American Airlines (South America)

When American Airlines advertised their new leather seats, the literal translation for their slogan “Fly Leather” translated into “Fly naked” in the Spanish language.

2. Pepsi (China)

“Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead.” This was the hair-raising translation of Pepsi’s slogan into Taiwanese. In 1963 Pepsi launched a new marketing campaign in an attempt to rival competitor Coca Cola. The new slogan was very effective in the west, however in China, it didn’t prove as effective and was in fact culturally inappropriate.

3. The Dairy Association (South America)

“Are you lactating?” The Dairy Association’s “Got milk?” campaign didn’t translate so well into Spanish.

4. Kentucky Fried Chicken (China)

Have you ever been told to “eat your fingers off?” Well in China they have. KFC’s “finger licking good” slogan couldn’t be correctly translated, resulting in an awkward adaptation.


5. Ikea (USA)

Swedish furniture company Ikea tends to brand its products in Swedish. However when Ikea decided to call a children’s work bench ‘Fartful’ the product left a lingering aroma with English speakers. The Swedish meaning for Fartful is speedy which is very different from its translation into English.

6. Coors (Spain)

“Turn it loose” was the slogan for beer manufacturer Coors, which in Spanish translated as “suffer from diarrhoea”.

7. Schweppes Tonic Water (Italy)

When Schweppes launched Tonic Water in Italy, they probably didn’t intend on advertising ‘Toilet Water’ which is the literal translation.

8. Clairol (Germany)

Would you use a “manure stick” to curl hair? Well for Clairol that was an awkward mistake they made when introducing their “Mist Stick” curling iron into Germany. The word for word translation for the product was “manure stick”. Ops!

9. General Motors (South America)

Advertising a car with the slogan “It won’t go” proves to be ineffective, and it wasn’t too long before General Motors found this to be case. The American car manufacturer launched the Chevy Nova in South America oblivious that “No Va” meant “It won’t go”.

10. Coca Cola (China)

When Coca Cola was first introduced in China, it was named Ke-Kou-Ke-La which in actuality meant “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”. Surprisingly, after such a mismatched translation Coca Cola was able to find a different meaning. This time “Ko-Kou-Ko-Le” translated as “happiness in the mouth”

As you can clearly see from the above examples, translating and localising marketing messages are not as easy as it would seem at first. We hope you’ve managed to find the humour in these mistakes! Share some ideas with us on Facebook and Twitter!