Famous Language Faux Pas

Despite their best efforts, people don’t always get it right when they’re trying to communicate in a foreign language. From ordinary individuals to some of the most high-profile companies and public figures, there have been countless examples of language faux pas. Here are some of the most famous, not to mention amusing!

Politicians slip up

These days, it’s easy to turn to specialist professional translation providers to get accurate translations. Some of those who turn to expert third parties like this may be inspired by the mistakes made by senior politicians throughout the decades. Despite their prominence, it seems these individuals don’t always take the time to get their words spot on when they make speeches abroad.

A classic case in point was John F. Kennedy. Over half a century ago when he was president of America, he travelled to Germany to make a ground-breaking public address. Kennedy was expressing solidarity with the citizens of the then West Germany. In front of a crowd of some 120,000, the charismatic political leader stated: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Of course, he meant to express the fact that he was a Berliner. Unfortunately for the president, due to the nickname of a particular local sweet treat, his phrase actually translated to: “I am a jam doughnut.”

Fellow US president Jimmy Carter was also guilty of foreign language faux pas. On one occasion, he caused confusion while speaking to an audience in Poland. In a 1977 address, he stated that he aimed to learn the Poles’ “desires for the future”. However, his interpreter translated this into the altogether more surprising phrase of “I desire the Poles carnally”.

Advertisers fail to impress

Big business is also guilty of language slipups. One classic error made by the American Dairy Association involved the organisation translating the phrase “Got Milk” to “Are You Lactating” in Mexico.

Meanwhile, fast food giant KFC no doubt caused alarm in China when it translated the well-known phrase “Finger-lickin’ good” into “We’ll eat your fingers off”.

Companies usually try to inspire confidence in their products, but vehicle manufacturer Ford may not have achieved this when it translated the slogan “Every car has a high quality body” into “Every car has a high quality corpse” in Belgium.

Of course, these are just some of the many and varied language faux pas that have been made throughout the years. There are countless more.