These translation errors have changed our world

In the beginning was the Word, then came the Scripture. Translation errors are as old as the languages themselves. Since the dawn of time, they sneak into speeches, manuscripts or prints of all kinds.Some of them have now been exposed, others we know nothing! They are still slumbering unrecognised in their texts. Some mistakes are centuries or even millennia old and have led to misconceptions that continue to exist today. It goes without saying that we accept them as true or true.

In the following we have put together a few truly astonishing mistakes for you.


Adam’s rib

Let’s make one thing straight from the outset: Eve was not created from Adam’s rib! It is true that the Bibles in German represent this, but the Hebrew word on which this translation is based is ambiguous and actually denotes a “flank” or “side” rather than a “rib.” When Eve appeared in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were thus – almost equal – side by side. This should remove some of the widespread prejudices, should it not?

The horned Moses

Michelangelo was really embarrassingly sticking to the Latin text when he carved his impressive statue of Moses into stone. Unfortunately, the two horns on his head are due to a translation error. In fact, the figure of Moses was depicted in this way in art for centuries. However, the Hebrew version of the Bible says that “the skin of Moses shone” as he descended from Mount Sinai. The Hebrew verb for “to shine” was confused here with the word for horns. This confused Saint Jerome, who had to equip the prophet with a pair of unsightly and rather inappropriate horns when translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin.

YOU don’t know, JON SNOW

An Invalid Agreement

In January 2018, Ecuadorian footballer Bryan Cabezas, who was signed to an Italian club at the time, was to be loaned to an Argentine club for the remainder of the season. All parties agreed to this temporary transfer, but then a colossal mistake in the translation of the contract into English brought the transaction to a halt. In order to save time and money, no professional translation agency was commissioned by those responsible. They simply had the contract text transferred automatically. The athlete was renamed “Bryan Heads” (“cabezas” in Spanish also means “the heads,” which in English became “heads”). As a result, the contract was invalid and the transfer was null and void. A truly headless action!


Put them in chains!

In 2013, the Spanish brand Mango should have taken a closer look at its labels. When it was launched on the European market, an accessory known as “Esclava” from her jewellery collection stirred spirits: The bracelet had suddenly become a “slave chain” in French. Great outcry in the francophone countries! The fashion company had to apologise publicly and claimed a translation error: In Spanish, “esclava” means not only “slave,” but also “bracelet.” Oops!

Chinese brain teaser

In order to promote the special edition of its “Air Force One” shoe collection internationally, Nike embroidered two Chinese characters on the back of its basketball shoes. One of them meant “prosperity,” the other “happiness.” So far, so good, except that sales of these shoes suddenly collapsed in China. Why would I? Because the two signs, placed next to each other, gave a completely different, less glamorous sense, namely “to increase.” Did you also want to have these poetic and exotic characters tattooed on your skin? Maybe you’ll reconsider...


Cinderella shoe

Let’s be honest: A glass shoe, that sounds rather uncomfortable, doesn’t it? In his story “Cendrillon ou La petite pantoufle de verre” in 1697 Perrault actually speaks of this material. The transcript, however, goes back to oral predecessors of the well-known fairy tale, which at that time had already been circulating for a long time. This is why the famous “glass spoon” can be traced back to a spelling or misunderstanding error: The French word “vair” is pronounced just like “verre” (glass), but denotes the fur of a species of squirrel. Faced with a choice, we would probably all prefer “vair”!


Translation errors can happen, but often have serious consequences. They may be entertaining at times, but sometimes they change the course of history. Consider, for example, the legendary “Mokusatsu” of Hiroshima or the famous “Nuts” pronounced by General Anthony McAuliffe during the Second World War. Professional translators bear a great responsibility. After all, the importance of correct interpretation should never be underestimated.

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