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poisonedantidote's avatar

What is your favorite bilingual blunder?

Asked by poisonedantidote (21638points) November 14th, 2010

When you know more than one language, you some times come across blunders or unintentional hilarity. Some times things are not translated properly, and some times words with double meaning, or meaning in more than one language can lead to unintentional laughter.

What ones have you heard over the years that have really made you laugh?

My English mother onced asked the Spanish butcher for “A pair of chicken tits” instead of chicken breast. I also know a sign in the next town over that is advertising a pearl factory. The owner of the factory is Mr. Dumafe. a name that is very similar to “stupid monkey” in German. Something that is made even funnier by the coaches full of Germans who go there each day.

What are some of the ones you have noticed over the years?

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18 Answers

DrasticDreamer's avatar

One of my anthropology professors told us a story about when she was in Italy. She was trying to catch a bus, but didn’t know where to do it, so she kept asking people in Italian, “Where do I catch the bus?”, and only getting looks of shock, horror and hilarity from Italian citizens. By about the tenth person who would just not help her, she asked the last person again, “Where do I catch the bus?” Only this time, the person looked at her and said, “Um, miss? You do know that you said ‘Where do I fuck the bus’, right?”

I thought that was pretty damn hilarious.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I read one in a Reader’s Digest magazine that made me laugh:

A company decided to post all of their billboards in English as well as their native language. The man who was tasked with this did not speak English, so he used a translation company and would submit the original messages via e-mail.

One day, he sent a request to his contact for a translation. A response came back in English, and it was printed on the billboards. The English portion of the message said, “I am on vacation this week and will respond to your message when I return.”

flutherother's avatar

Monty Python did a funny sketch on this theme.

whitenoise's avatar

It wasn’t really a blunder, but I enjoyed our former prime minister “Wim Kok”, traveling together on trade missions with Wim Dik, former CEO of a bif Dutch Telecom company.

Supposedly they were introduced during a banquet in the US as “Mr. Dik” and “Mr. Kok”.

Kayak8's avatar

The ASL sign for lunch and the sign for lesbian are very similar. Let’s just say I now ask people out for breakfast or dinner to avoid making that mistake again.

iamthemob's avatar

All of mine are on

Seelix's avatar

I visited Japan when I was in my last year of high school (my sister was teaching English there). I had studied Italian in high school.

We were out to dinner with a bunch of my sister’s Japanese friends, and someone was making a toast. My sister said, at the end, “Cheers!” I said “Cin cin!” (an Italian “cheers”, pronounced “chin chin”). Everyone started laughing… apparently, I had raised my glass and said, in Japanese, “small penis!”

iamthemob's avatar

I also really like the marketing story of the Chevy “Nova.” Of course, a nova is an exploding star. They marketed it in Spain under it’s U.S. name.

“No va”, in Spanish, means “It doesn’t go.”

crisw's avatar


The Nova story is an urban legend.

My favorite is the Spanish verb “embarazar,” which sounds like to should mean “to embarrass.” But it actually means “to be pregnant!”

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw – it’s still my favorite bilingual blunder, cause linguistically, it’s still true.

flutherother's avatar

When starting to learn French at school I saw a paragraph headed ‘La Salle a Manger’. I thought, I am getting the hang of this that must mean the Sales Manager. Massive fail. It went downhill from there on.

filmfann's avatar

When Kennedy went to Germany, and mispronounced “Ich bin ein Berliner” (translation: “I am a citizen of Berlin”), and announced that he was a jelly donut.

Another favorite was when the Japanese company was trying to find a cool American name for their new trouser line, they chose “Trim Pecker”.

answerjill's avatar

My French teacher told us a story about an American student in France who was bring pursued down the street by an overly amorous Frenchman. She wanted to call him a pig—un cochon—but by mistake, she was saying “couchons,” which means “let’s sleep together!” (I may have gotten this a bit mixed-up. Feel free to correct my French.)

crisw's avatar


“When Kennedy went to Germany, and mispronounced “Ich bin ein Berliner” (translation: “I am a citizen of Berlin”), and announced that he was a jelly donut.”

That one is an urban legend too.

janbb's avatar

I used to send post cards in French to my daughter-in-law’s dog when I was in France (don’t ask why.) Apparently, one time I meant to write “When I see you, I will give you a kiss” but the colloquial meaning for the phrase I used was, “When I see you, I will screw you!” Postmen don’t read psot cards to dogs, do they?

JLeslie's avatar

My husband once was spelling a word out for his father, and said, “ce como gato.” Which is c like cat, except gato begins with a g of course.

jlelandg's avatar

I have two Chinese stories. both involving fowl

I was teaching some 2nd graders a few years ago and told them they had homework (and the obligatory cry came from the students). I tried saying 没关系你的作业很简单 (meiguanxi, ni de zuoye hen jiandan) Don’t worry! The homework is very easy, but instead said 没关系你的作业很鸡蛋 (meiguanxi ni de zuoye hen jidan) No worries! The homework is very chicken’s egg.

The other is from my friend in a taxi, he wanted to say 在那街,左拐 (zai na jie, zuo guai) Take a left turn at that street, instead he said 在那鸡,左拐 (zai na ji, zuo guai) Turn left at that chicken.

mattbrowne's avatar

Germans call a cell phone, a handy. And vintage cars are oldtimers. There are more examples. They are called

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