The importance of correct translation becomes especially obvious when mistakes are found. A translator’s talent is not only about the knowledge of foreign languages, but also about attention to detail and the ability to see and analyze the big picture. Even the tiniest errors can sometimes lead to serious and even tragic consequences. History could even turn a completely different way as a result of the smallest mistake.
Bright Side feels like it is absolutely necessary to share these fatal translator’s mistakes, some of which changed the course of history.
Many of us are convinced that the first woman, Eve, was made of the first man, Adam’s rib. And we don’t even ask the question “Why the rib?” But in fact, this piece of knowledge is nothing more than the mistake of a translator who didn’t know that the Hebrew word tsela has 2 meanings: “rib”, and “reflection.” So, the phrase should sound like this, “God created woman as a reflection of man.”
In 1977, US president Jimmy Carter visited Poland. He invited a Polish language expert interpreter to accompany him. Carter started his speech with a greeting, “I have come to find out your opinion and understand what the people of Poland want from the future.” The interpreter turned his innocent words into something like “I want to have intimacy with the people of Poland.”
But this wasn’t the end of Carter’s problems. The president’s words, “I left the United States this morning...” were turned into, “I left the United States, never to return.” This president’s speech was laughed at for a long time after that.
The famous words of Jesus Christ, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” is found in the Bible twice. While some people believe it was just a mere hyperbole, others believe that the eye of the needle is a narrow fortress gate in Jerusalem.
But in fact, this poetic quote appeared because of a translator’s sloppy words who confused the word kamelos (camel) with kamilos — rope, thread. So, it’s more correct to say, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
There is a popular misconception that the Canary Islands were named after the canaries that live there. Amazingly, it’s actually the other way around — the birds were named after the islands. The islands were named Canary because of the huge number of dogs living there, both wild and domestic.
The name Canary comes from the Latin Canariae Insulae which can be literally translated as Dog Islands. According to a different version, seals that lived in big groups used to be called dogs in the past.
In 1840, the British signed a treaty with Māori chiefs that established the fact that New Zealand was going to be a British colony. This treaty is believed to be the beginning of the country of New Zealand. Initially, the treaty was written in English and then, in one night, it was translated by a local missionary. The text in the Māori language contained a lot of mistakes and differences from the original which is why it had a lot of contradictions. But the locals agreed to the terms without actually reading the text.
After both parties signed the treaty, the British gained full control over the indigenous people and had the right to sell land which was not part of the translated document. The Māori people started armed rebellions and the new government fought against them. By the end of the 19th century, the authorities of New Zealand decided that the papers had no legal precedence.
In 1980, a Spanish man named Willie Ramirez got admitted into an American hospital. He was in critical condition, but his family could not explain what happened because none of them spoke English. Ramirez had food poisoning. One of the employees of the hospital translated poisoning as intoxicated meaning that he had taken a lot of drugs or drank too much alcohol.
After he was given the wrong diagnosis, doctors prescribed a treatment for him which led to complications and limb paralysis. Later, the hospital paid him $71 million in damages.
Have you ever been “lost in translation”?
Preview photo credit Wikimedia