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Written by Javier Arizpe

June 9, 2019

7 translation horrors on signs

Have you ever walked down the street, saw an announce or sign and tell yourself “That is nonsense”? It is not bad to make mistakes once in a while, at the end of the day we all are human beings that can get something wrong. But, translating a sign wrong? That is some serious matter.

Every time we translate something, we need to ensure that our job was made correctly so we can deliver a quality translation. With this, we keep a good image as well as the source message in the target language.

The following article introduces 7 of the most known translation errors, or rather, translation horrors on signs.

Warning: This article is not suitable for linguistically sensitive people.


1. Welcome strike?

A coffee house from San Francisco hung an announce to welcome their customers in different languages, and they must have a lot of creativity for the translation!

They translated “Welcome” as “Huelga” (strike) in Spanish… We do not know if the person that wrote it thought that the customers had to be on strike so they can be welcomed. If that was the case, he/she made a mistake.


2. “None“: The new word

A sign near a lake said “No swimming” in its source language, and this was translated to Spanish as “Ninguana natación” (None swimming). When you read the word, you do not know if it is referring to “no one”, or if it is just a big spelling error or a meaning error.

If you analyze the phrase, this does not even have sense ignoring the spelling error. That was a harsh situation the translator had there, wow! Imagine if he/she was asked to translate “Prohibido nadar aquí“(No swimming)”


3. The “changing room”

A department store was incredibly creative and gave one of its departments a funny name. Why translating “fitting rooms” as “probador” (fitting rooms) when “cuarto de cambiar” (changing room) is even better? We can notice that the translator had no problem.


4. “None” smoking

Someone wanted to challenge the readers and create confusion in their minds, when he/she did not choose to translate “No smoking in building” as “Prohibido fumar” (No smoking). This time the translator wanted to be creative and wrote “Ningún fumar” (None smoking).

How can this phrase be translated? At least he/she did not think on translating it as “No fumar” (No smoking)? and where is “building” on the translation?


5. Medieval restrooms

In some restrooms of a place in Spain, they wanted to put its signs and announces in English for the tourists to understand everything they read. But, why “baño de caballeros” (men’s restrooms) was translated as “knights room“? Maybe this was because the translator wanted to get back to the medieval era or his/her best friend is the machine translator. But, the word “caballeros” (men or gentlemen) was referring to the men’s restroom.


6. The success of Starbucks

This is one of the worst translations ever as the responsibility is in charge of a multinational company. And I am talking about the famous multinational company, Starbucks.

As this is an American company, all of its signs and ads are originally in English. But the signs of the branch offices in the Spanish speaking community must be translated so they can be understood. Inside the branch offices, the end of the had a sign of “Exit only” and this was translated to Spanish as “Éxito aquí” (Success here). But what the sign meant was “La salida es por aquí” (Exit only).

Not only the translator was mistaken, this problem also involved a whole advertising agency, its corresponding managers, the company and the printing house. A series of huge mistakes.


7. Another one from Starbucks

A branch office of Starbucks in a Latin American country had the name of “Café Starbucks Coffee” (Coffee Starbucks Coffee). If you did not know that “coffee” means “café” (coffee), well there you have.

I hope that you have never seen a horror like that. And if you did, consult a dictionary right away! That is the home remedy to cure seeing a translation horror.


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