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  • Writer's pictureCarlie Sitzman MA, CT

Funny Translation Errors

If you’ve ever been to a country where a foreign language is used, you have probably seen some dubious translations. On my travels, I have encountered texts ranging from the mildly strange to the completely unintelligible. Luckily, I captured photos along the way! Join me to explore my top five funniest translation errors from Europe.

1. I can close the door whenever I want? Nice!

In German, this sign instructs readers to ALWAYS close the door to the balcony. In English, it says quite nearly the opposite. Just close it whenever you feel like it. Everything will be fine………..

2. Take a relax?

I always feel torn about this sign from Italy. To me, it looks like they failed miserably at using the phrase “take a break” and ended up with an awkward sign. I also wonder if it was intended as a clever copywriting switchup. Or do they actually say it that way in Italian and it is a direct translation? What do you think happened here? Comment below.

3. Oooooh, forbidden. I MUST see what is in there!

This is a prime example of how word connotations can throw the entire meaning of a translation off and direct translations are no guarantee of accuracy. The English here is a direct translation of the French term “Entrée Interdite”, which basically means “you’re not allowed to go in there”. In English, a sign intended for the same purpose would usually read “Do Not Enter”, “No Public Access”, or “No Trespassing”. This is what English speakers expect from a sign forbidding them to go somewhere. The word “forbidden”, on the other hand, is usually used to make something seem mysterious and attractive. It arouses curiosity and makes you want to break the rules, just to get a peek. There are movies about “the forbidden forest”, “the forbidden city”, “the forbidden xyz” – all of these places intriguing and attractive places to trespass. I don’t know about you, but I would not want people getting excited about my “forbidden storage closet”, “forbidden kitchen”, or “forbidden living room”. Nothing here to see people.

4. Oooooohhh, a forbidden lawn!

Another example of a literal translation gone wrong. Doesn’t that sign just make you want to put a toe on the forbidden lawn and see what happens? In English, I sign like this would typically say something like "stay off lawn", "no walking on lawn", "keep off", or "no access".

5. Vegetable Abuse!

I don’t speak Italian, but I would guess they aren’t in the back beating their vegetables to create this dish. This is a great example of how double meanings can really get you in trouble if you don’t know a language well. Sure, “batter” is a liquid mixture vegetables can be dipped in before frying. Yes, you can often add “ed” on the end of a noun in English to create a sort of adjective. But no one ever does that with “batter”, because it is also a verb meaning “to beat, hit” and that meaning dominates when the “ed” is added. This word is also commonly associated with cases where one person is brutally beating another – not something you want your dinner menu associated with. To help everyone avoid this quagmire, there is a very fancy word in English for something dipped in batter and fried – tempura. It is also quite common to say vegetables have been "breaded". Unfortunately, these words did not make it onto the menu.

I hope you have enjoyed my top five funny translation errors from Europe! If you would like an English text without errors, contact me.

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