The phrase “lost in translation” usually refers to the meaning of something being metaphorically misinterpreted. Sometimes, though, it applies to honest-to-goodness mix-ups in the translations between languages.
Every language has nuances specific to its cultural and grammatical context; it’s why we’ve long been fascinated by “untranslatable” words around the world. These nuances are also why mistranslations are so apt to happen — and when they do, they’re often hilarious.
Mistranslations can cause some big problems, though. During negotiations between the U.S. and France in 1830, the French word “demander” (which means “to ask”) was translated into English as “to demand” — making for some tense political negotiations.
And on a 1977 visit to Poland, President Jimmy Carter said, “I left the United States this morning.” However, his Polish translator interpreted this as, “I left the United States, never to return.”
More commonly, though, mistranslations are simply funny moments of communicative crossed wires. Here, we’ve gathered 12 examples of low-stakes mistranslations that are sure to add some levity to your day.
Per un corretto servizio siete pregati di accendere l’aspiratore quando usate la doccia. Grazie
For a proper service, please turn on the vaacum [sic] cleaner when using the shower. Thank you
The key to this mistranslated Italian hotel sign lies in the word “aspiratore”: It’s similar to the word for “vacuum cleaner” in other languages, such as the French “aspirateur,” but in Italian it actually means “exhaust fan.” And that makes a lot more sense!
DO NOT DISTURB / TINY GRASS IS DREAMING
While the image of blades of grass sleeping soundly is undeniably adorable, this Chinese public lawn sign is actually meant to read, “Grass is resting. Do not disturb.”
Interdit de monter
Do not stair
“Monter” means “to go up/climb” in French, but the English translation of this French staircase sign opted to phrase things a bit differently.
LE NON RESPECT DU REGLEMENT ENTRAINE L’EXCLUSION
ANYONE OBEYING THE SWIMMING POOL REGULATIONS MAY BE REQUIRED TO LEAVE
There’s just one crucial word (“not”) missing from this French public pool warning sign, but that tiny word makes all the difference. What kind of place kicks you out for following the rules?
Translate server error
Unlike the other translations on this list, the one on this Chinese restaurant sign can be chalked up to a technological snafu. It’s likely that the person charged with translating the sign punched their phrase into a translator, only to get a computer error. The sign is simply meant to say “dining hall.”
THERE IS NO ESCAPE
This translation turned a standard Russian street sign (which should read “no exit”) into something much more ominous.
Please urinate with precision and elegance.
While this Japanese bathroom sign is meant to kindly thank the urinal user for keeping the toilet clean, the English translation asks a little more of the reader.
SOREN VARDIR KULLANMAYINIZ
DO NOT USE THE PROBLEM
This Turkish bathroom sign is meant to denote an out-of-order toilet (the true translation is “there is a problem, do not use”), but the mistranslation is more likely to provoke some kind of existential crisis.
Moscow mule scomposto
Decomposed Moscow mule
This Italian-to-English translation from a multilingual cocktail menu took the original phrase a bit too literally. It’s not uncommon to find “deconstructed” or “broken down” (aka “scomposto”) cocktails on more avant-garde menus. According to this translation, though, drinking the cocktail in question may be ill-advised.
Paul is dead
It may be hard to believe, but this Arabic buffet sign is just meant to say “meatballs.” However, as “meatball” is not a word used in Arabic, this sign has been transliterated into something … very different.
Please keep quiet and take care of your children. No romping in potato.
This mistranslated Chinese restaurant sign makes a lot more sense once you know the name of the restaurant is actually “Potato.” The sign is trying to tell customers that silence is respectful of others and asks people not to let their children play in the restaurant.
Cút lộn rang me
Get away from me
“Cút lộn rang me” is a Vietnamese dish of fried quail egg with tamarind sauce, which would make sense for this sign from a Vietnamese restaurant. However, the word “cút” has another, far ruder meaning — the more polite version of which appears in this incomplete English translation.
Featured image credit: jayk7/ Moment via Getty Images