Catastrophic mistakes by translators with serious consequences

The translation is a demanding job that requires precision and competence. If you are negligent about translation, a mistake can lead to disaster.

We have been working with translations for many years, and we have studied the most serious mistakes in the history of mankind. We want to tell you the most interesting stories of translation mistakes that have had disastrous consequences:

A mistranslation can leave you disabled for life

The story happened in the States with a Spanish family. The mother came to visit a boy who lived in the United States. She did not speak English well. At home, the young man felt sick, dizzy, and in sharp pain. He lost consciousness and did not regain consciousness for many hours. The mother, frightened, called an ambulance, and when the ambulance arrived, she assumed that her son had been poisoned because he had dined at a cafe before. She explained to the EMT that her son had been poisoned, which in Spanish sounds like “intoxicado.
In English, ‘intoxicated’ means an overdose of alcohol and drugs. The doctor thought the teenager had overdosed and the hospital treated him for an overdose. But as it later turned out, he had a hemorrhagic stroke, a brain hemorrhage.
Instead of being treated for a stroke, the teen was treated for an overdose. The stroke turned into total body paralysis.
It turns out that because of one mistranslated word, the man was left disabled for life. By the way, the family received a large compensation of 71 million dollars.

Incorrect translation of a phrase can cause a war between nations

At the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1956, there was a translation error that could have caused a war.
During Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the Polish embassy, he used an idiomatic expression:
‘Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you.’
In this phrase, Khrushchev interpreted Marx’s thesis that ‘the proletariat is the gravedigger of capitalism,’ but the translator translated the phrase word for word, which caused an international scandal.
All American magazines printed Khrushchev’s phrase, ‘We will bury you!’ If the translator had not mistakenly translated it as ‘We shall be present at your funeral’ or ‘We shall outlive you’, the scandal would have been avoided.
Khrushchev apologized for his phrasing and said that he had not meant to dig a literal grave.
All the same, Khrushchev’s manner of speaking remained the same, in 1959 he wanted to show the USA ‘Kuzka’s mother’, the translator translated as: ‘we shall show you Kuzka’s mother’. The U.S. assumed that it was about the new nuclear bomb of the USSR.

The cause of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

The cause of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is generally considered to be a terrible mistake by the interpreter. After 1945, after the Potsdam Conference, demands were made to the Japanese Empire to surrender immediately, if they refused, they would be destroyed.

A few days later, Minister Kantaro Suzuki said:

I believe that the joint declaration is essentially the same as the earlier declarations. The Japanese parliament does not consider it to have any special significance. We are simply mokusatsu suru. The only alternative for us is to continue our struggle to the end.

Mokusatsu means ‘not to give importance,’ ‘to remain silent. Suzuki said Japan would remain silent. But in English it was translated as ‘we ignore that.

After this response, the decision was made to scare the Japanese with an atomic bomb. On August 6, a 15 kiloton bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and on August 9, a 21 kiloton bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Working with translation is a very difficult and responsible job. Learn your languages correctly!

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