Even famous brands like Sega, Hulu, Waterpik, and Coca-Cola have unfortunate foreign translations that mean very different things in other languages
The two lists I published previously this week (Legend of Zelda a-holes and Jay-Z’s 99 Problems) were both very well received, but both a bit esoteric. So I wanted to do something a little more universal for today.
Of course, “universal” on this site generally means a broad subject loaded up with obscure jokes about streaming TV services, World Wars, and Irish airlines. But, ya know, that’s why people keep coming back. It’s not the hypnotic effect of the pink stripes.
We’re about to delve into a list of brand names that took a wrong turn at the language intersection and ended up in the land of unintentional hilarity. I’m quite surprised how these multi-million dollar companies missed this part.
Brand names that don’t translate well in other languages
So here are 11 brand names with unfortunate foreign translations. This is the side effect of naming your brand without going on a world tour and asking hundreds of different people if your brand is a slang term in their language. Typical lazy Big Business.
1 | Audi E-Tron
Translation: étron means “excrement or turd” in French.
It’s like the Germans weren’t even paying attention all those times they invaded France or something.
What’s more surprising is that Germany shares 280 miles of border with France, and both their citizens (including Audi’s top brass) travel freely in and out of that country. They should have known.
It’s inspiring to hear Audi CEO Markus Duesmann say, “We are on the verge of the biggest product initiative in our history.” However, knowing what E-tron (étron) actually translates to in French makes me want to steer clear of that model.
2 | Hulu
Translation: “butt” in Indonesian, “hair” in Hawaiian, and “cease” and “desist” in Swahili
“Butt” is the translation that turns on the Gawkers and Huffington Posts of the world… “cease/desist” has the most sly TV streaming-related nuance… but my favorite is the Hawaiian “hair” one. It’s just so… random. Fact: There’s an actual island off Maui called Hulu Island. Where, I assume, people have absolutely incredible hair and watch Detroit 187 and Modern Family all day and all night.
(Hulu Plus Island is similar — they see all the same ads as the people on Hulu Island, but have eight extra episodes of Designing Women to choose from.)
3 | SyFy
Translation: “syphilitics” in Polish
Let’s call this reason number 23341 that it was foolish to change the network’s name from SciFi to SyFy. (We get it. You hate the fact that you’re a science fiction-oriented network, but too afraid to completely distance yourself from it lest your handful of loyal viewers flee. At least you could’ve piqued the curiosity of the masses if you’d gone with a more overt STD reference than SyFy. Like The Gonorrhea Channel? Chlamydia Media? Or, to keep your nerdy roots, Hepatitis Andronicus?)
Well, anytime I bring up the Polish translation, I like to interject a POLISH JOKE BREAK. Keep your eyes peeled for it later in the list. I think you’ll probably catch it.
4 | Gerber
Translation: “vomit” in French
It seems that many brand names that don’t translate well usually come from the French language. You can even search Gerber in broad internet daylight and the translation’s there.
The consistency, color and taste of baby food… plus the expression on the Gerber baby’s mouth… really could make someone think they were buying a tiny lil’ jar o’ vomit.
Funny thing is, and even if they knew that the product is another case of lost in translation, this “vomit in a jar” is sold in France.
5 | Sega
Translation: “masturbate, wank, or hand job” in Italian
So, by that logic, Sega Dreamcast is Italian for a nocturnal emission… Sega Saturn is Italian for masturbating with a cockring… and if you say Sega CD really fast it means wisdom and sound judgment.
Shame on YOU for thinking I was setting up a “Sega SeeDeez Nuts” joke.
And do you remember the iconic SEGA startup sound, the very first one they released before they dubbed it to “SEH-GAAH” to cover up the blunder? It doesn’t say anything but if you understood Italian, it would pretty much sounded like “HAAAAND JOOOOB!”
6 | Mensa
Translation: “stupid (female)” in Spanish
How ironic that this brand name does not translate well. Looks like none of the geniuses in charge or the high IQ society bothered to check their name in Spanish.
I guess they were too busy updating the “clubs/organizations” sections of their resumes and getting ready to interview for the job opening at Barnes and Noble.
7 | Coca-Cola
Translation: original Chinese version “ke-ke-ken-la” means “bite the wax tadpole”
Eventually they weeded through enough Chinese characters to string together an audibly-accurate/on point translation of “ko-kou-ko-le.” They tried, but I still think it’s another case of translation gone wrong because it roughly means “happiness in the mouth.”
Which, ya know, would make this list if I was translating from Chinese into pervert.
8 | Waterpik
Translation: water is “vand” in Danish, “pik” is penis; “vandpik” is slang for “morning erection”
It could just be “water penis.” Which is what Polish teenagers do to make their penises grow. Way to go putting that thing in your mouth.
Now I’m curious and you might have noticed as well. Why is it that many brands with unfortunate foreign translations often end up being sexual or related to penises or genitals?
9 | Wii
Translation: slang for “penis” in English
The video game console that spawned an infinite number of “Johnny’s at home playing with his Wii” jokes. Fortunately, the Internet has seemed to burn those out, much as it’s burned out iPad menstruation jokes and even, arguably, Aer Lingus jokes.
It will, however, never be strong enough to burn out shuttlecock jokes. As long as badminton and school children exist, they will live on.
I’m predicting that Nintendo’s next generation video game console will be named “Pii” (Pee).
10 | Wang Computers
Translation: slang for “penis” in English
Another brand name that don’t translate well, and it’s once again, about the male genitals in another language. Seem’s like we’re never running out of this as long as men are running the show.
The real folks at Wang Computers don’t have Bart’s vision of a bus-destroying gremlin to distract people away from their name.
11 | Colgate
Translation: “hang yourself” in some Central and South American Spanish dialects
For it to work, you have to pronounce it cahl-gah-tay. Basically how Gloria on Modern Family would pronounce Colgate.
Which you’d know if you lived on Hulu Island.