The translation literature is full of anecdotes about errors which
illustrate the foreign-language barrier in operation. Some errors are
simply funny; others can provoke a diplomatic incident. The following
were taken from From David Crystal's The Cambridge Encyclopedia of
Language (Cambridge University Press. 1995).
- "L'Afrique n'erige plus des autels aux dieux ("Africa
no longer erects altars to the gods.")", said one United
Nations Delegate. The sentence was misheard as . . . "hotels
odieux" and translated as "Africa no longer builds horrible
- During a television interview in the United States, Soviet premier
Khrushchev was told he was "barking up the wrong tree."
However, this was translated into Russian as "baying like a hound"—a
highly insulting expression.
- Many problems occur during Bible translation. In a translation into
an Indian language of Latin America, "ass" was translated
as "a small long-eared animal." The effect was to suggest
that Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on something which closely resembled
- In tone languages, it is almost impossible to adapt the words to
a western melody and preserve the meaning. In one Latin American tone
language, as a consequence, the missionaries found that a sung translation
about "sinners" was in fact about "fat people."
- "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." This English
saying has been translated into Russian as "The vodka's good
but the steak is rotten."