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Historical Misunderstandings Due to Poor Translations

by Cameroon Trum

The ability to speak another language isn't the same as being able to translate that language into another. Take, for example, the translation errors that occurred during President Jimmy Carter's visit to Poland in 1977. The translator hired by the U.S. State Department knew Polish, but he had no experience translating in that language. Through his interpreter, Carter unintentionally ended up making several hilarious translation mistakes. Most notable was his statement "your desires for the future," which the interpreter translated as "your lusts for the future."

Poor translations can also have tragic consequences, like the 1980 case of 18-year-old Willie Ramirez, who was brought to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. Ramirez's family told the hospital's translator that he was "intoxicado," which meant "poisoned" in the context of their explanation. However, the translator told the doctors that Ramirez was "intoxicated," leading doctors to treat his condition as a drug overdose. The delay in proper treatment resulted in Ramirez becoming a quadriplegic. While he won a $71 million settlement from the hospital, no amount of money can ever restore Ramirez's ability to use his arms and legs.

As you can see, even a minor mistake in translation can lead to all sorts of havoc. Check out the infographic below for more examples of historical misunderstandings caused by poor translations.

Translation and Interpretation Mistakes with Huge Consequences – Infographic

Infographic by Lighthouse Translations

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