5 of the worst translation and interpretation mistakes in history. Undoubtedly, translation and interpretation are not easy tasks. You must have high knowledge not only of the respective languages, but also of culture, history and certain productive sectors. Languages can be very complex and you don’t always have the exact words to translate from one language to another. There are also very similar words that have totally different meanings. All this only demonstrates the important and complex work of translators and interpreters.
The internet is full of bad translations made by automatic translators and we have probably come across them more than once. However, there are translation and interpretation errors that have been so serious that they have changed the history of the world. When it comes to important situations, business, medicine, law, etc. It is essential to have good translators who prevent any mistakes from being made. Some of these errors that have come to change history are:
- The word that set off the atomic bomb: In 1945 the Allied powers published the Potsdam Declaration, demanding redemption from Japan. After this, the Japanese Prime Minister called a press conference in which he replied “No comment. We are still thinking about it.” The interpretation problem was that he used the word “mokusatsu” which can mean “without comment” or “we ignore and despise him”. The allies understood it as “we ignore and despise it”, therefore ten days later the United States dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
- The horns of Moses: For many centuries Christian artists drew and sculpted Moses with horns. This is because Saint Jerome, the saint who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, confused the word “karan” which means resplendent or radiant in Hebrew, with “keren” which means horned. Although this did not make sense, it was maintained for many years since no one doubted the sacred text.
- Nikita Khrushchev Threat: During the Cold War in 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made a speech at the Polish embassy in Moscow. During his speech he expressed “Like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury them!” This was interpreted by the Western press as a threat, so the Soviets had to explain that it was just a misunderstanding. The correct translation of the speech was a reference to the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in which it is mentioned that the bourgeoisie produces its own gravediggers.
- Jimmy Carter’s speech in Poland: In 1997, US President Jimmy Carter made a trip to Poland in which he made a speech to the Polish people. For which, the hired interpreter made a very bad interpretation, giving a sexual tone to the speech. Jimmy Carter said “I have come to know your opinions and listen to your wishes for the future” and the interpreter implied that the president had sexual desires for the Poles. Also, when he expressed how happy he was to be in Poland he translated it as “being happy to see the private parts of Poland”.
- Giovanni Schiaparelli and the channels on Mars: In 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli made one of the first descriptions of the surface of Mars. He spoke of seeing “seas,” “continents,” and “canals.” In 1908, Percival Lowell reviewed the work and concluded that the canals had been built by intelligent beings to carry water. Although this came from a translation error, it unleashed madness for the Martians. The Italian astronomer never referred to the canals of Mars as constructions. He had used the Italian word “canali” referring to a wholly natural structure like gorges or canyons.