Funny and Dangerous: the tricky business of translating

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Good quality, good price, good service

In an ideal world translating would be as easy as typing random Japanese characters [Japanese translations] in an online database to obtain the equivalent meaning in English, but this is not the way things work.

Have you ever heard about Google Translator? I bet you do, and that you would agree with me that it could be considered as the most catastrophic ”translation tool” ever invented in the whole history and the strongest testimony that cheap translation is always synonym for atrocious translation.

Preferring cheap translation on the detriment of a good quality and good price translation can both lead to very funny or very dangerous results.

Funny as the case of an Italian restaurant owner in Tuscany, whose delicious “Pappardelle agli scampi” went viral because of a wrong translation: instead of translating something similar to “Pappardelle pasta with scampi shrimps” he simply translated “Pappardelle to you escape him”.

Pappardelle agli scampi - Pappardelle to you escape him

Those of you who speak a bit of Italian are probably laughing their eyes out right now, but just not to be unfair to our non-Italian-speaking readers just let me explain: in Italian “scampi” is both the name of a certain type of shrimps and part of the verb “to escape”.

Obviously the Italian restaurant owner didn’t choose the correct option. But the real question is: from whom do you need to escape while sitting on a restaurant’s table by Tuscany seaside eating delicious food and drinking fine wine?? Come on, just hire a good translator and keep in mind that Absolute policy is the key: Good quality, good price and good service.

But bad translations can also lead to serious consequences, above all if like Absolute you require medical translations.

What happened in Florida in 1980 was just one of the thousands of example of negligence in translation: 18-years-old Willie Ramirez was admitted to a Florida hospital in a comatose state. His friends and family tried to describe his condition to the paramedics and doctors who treated him, but the problem was that they only could speak Spanish.

And here comes the tragedy: There was no Spanish interpreter in the hospital at the time and the translation was provided by a bilingual staff member. No matter if you are a bilingual, you lived 10 years in Mexico City or you are married to a Mexican mariachi, if you don’t have a degree in Interpreting and Translation you cannot pretend to be a professional and you cannot translate in a hospital.


What the bilingual staff member did was translating “intoxicado” as “intoxicated.” A professional interpreter would have known that “intoxicado” is closer to “poisoned” and doesn’t carry the same connotations of drug or alcohol abuse that “intoxicated” does.

The damage had already been done. The Ramirez’s family believed Willie was suffering from food poisoning, but he was actually suffering from an intracerebral haemorrhage, and the doctors proceeded as if he were suffering from an intentional drug overdose. Because of the delay in treatment, Ramirez was left quadriplegic. He received a malpractice settlement of $71 million.

Interpreting and Translation is not a joke, what you need is simple: Good quality, good price, and good service.