Saturday, 14 November 2009

One mistranslated word can make a big difference

There's a story making the rounds of the internet, reporting that a tourism advertising campaign for the city of Riga in Latvia accidentally printed the wrong captions on posters. Instead of saying Riga City: easy to go, hard to leave, it said Riga City: easy to go, hard to live.

A rather bad mistake!

Here are pictures of the posters. Some seem to have the correct word.

Given that more are correct than incorrect, I suppose it was a mistake at the printers, rather than at the translation level.

It's all too easy to criticise translations into English, but I can't be too smug if they've taken the trouble to learn my language and I don't know one word of theirs.

I couldn't say the promotion would encourage me to include Riga on my next travel itinerary, because I dislike the puffy heart-thing that appears in the photos, and the fact that Riga is Birthplace of Christmas tree. Now for 499 years is totally uninteresting in terms of tourism. (And that piece of clumsy English does seem to be the responsibility of a translator.)

All this reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story that Mitsubishi accidentally named one of their car models the Starion, intending it to be the Stallion. has an interesting discussion of this and other possible translation disasters in relation to automobiles. (Surely it can't be true that Mitsubishi had a car called The Lettuce!)

The Northern Echo features a discussion of the pitfalls of naming a vehicle that will be sold all around the word.

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